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Office Prisoners, You Have Met Your Match: Core Values

January 23, 2018
Cynic Office Prisoner - Aartrijk

By Peter van Aartrijk

Is it possible to absolutely love coming to work every day? Sure, why not? You’ve heard the phrase, “If you love what you do, you’ll never work a day in your life.”

Some people, though, appear to hate their jobs. Most of these folks, I’ll bet, are cynical sorts. Cynics breed ambivalence, mistrust and even contempt throughout an organization.

Perhaps you work with a cynic. They’re easy to spot. They’re the ones, for example, who always joke, complain or sneer in the hallways after the meeting where a manager introduced a new corporate initiative. And then the undermining perpetuates from there.

I’ve always called them “office cynics.” But a study by consulting firm Aon Hewitt defines an estimated 8% of workers as “office prisoners.” Awesome – I’m all over it!

Prisoners stay at their jobs despite feeling unmotivated, disengaged and generally negative about their employers, Aon Hewitt says. They complain all the time. They slow down important initiatives. They keep you from achieving your goals.

And, to make matters worse, cynics hang around. In fact, among workers with 26 or more years at their company, 17% are prisoners. Since they stay, guess what — they’re higher paid as well! Why would they leave when they’re paid more and more to apparently do less and less?

So … What do we do about office cynics?

Written and shared core values should guide preferred, positive behavior at your company. If your firm has value statements that include words such as “mutual respect,” “trust” and “honest communication,” that would be a clue that “cynicism” would be the opposite behavior and it shouldn’t be tolerated, period.

In author Patrick Lencioni’s world, office cynics wouldn’t exist — even well-performing cynics. “When leaders take the difficult step of letting a strong performer go because of a values mismatch, they not only send a powerful message about their commitment to their values,” he says in his excellent book, The Advantage, but “they also usually find that the performance of the remaining employees improves because they are no longer being stifled by the behavior of their former colleague.”

If you’re in a management position and make hiring and firing decisions, be wary of cynicism on your team. Your troops may not seem to care or talk much about these prisoners, who mostly stay hunkered down in their office bunkers, but they’re probably wreaking havoc right now at the water cooler.

If these cynical patients can’t be saved, it’s time to make them someone else’s issue. Prune the rose bush.

 

Christopher Windus

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