The Interactive Effects of Politics Perceptions and Trait Cynicism on Work Outcomes

By Hochwarter, Wayne A.; James, Matrecia et al. | Journal of Leadership & Organizational Studies, Spring 2004 | Go to article overview
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The Interactive Effects of Politics Perceptions and Trait Cynicism on Work Outcomes


Hochwarter, Wayne A., James, Matrecia, Johnson, Diane, Ferris, Gerald R., Journal of Leadership & Organizational Studies


The current study examined the interactive relationship of politics perceptions and trait cynicism on two work outcomes: job satisfaction and citizenship behaviors. Trait cynicism is characterized as a personality trait that is stable across settings. Using a diverse sample of 311 full-time employees drawn from a variety of organizations, trait cynicism moderated the relationship between politics perceptions and both outcomes. Specifically, for those possessing higher levels of trait cynicism, politics perceptions were associated with lower job satisfaction scores and less participation in citizenship behaviors. Implications of these findings, strengths and limitations, and avenues for additional research are provided.

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Organizational politics is a prevalent element of virtually all work environments, and its influence has been substantiated across a variety of domains (Kacmar & Baron, 1999). It is also acknowledged that the detection of political activity at work is largely perceptual. Specifically, individuals react to what is observed in the absence of subjective measures of political activity (Ferris, Adams, Kolodinsky, Hochwarter, & Ammeter, 2002; Mintzberg, 1983). Whereas it may well reflect the demonstration of political behavior, the fact remains that perceptions of organizational politics represent an important scientific construct in their own right because these perceptions have been found to consistently relate to employee attitudes and behavior (Cropanzano, Howes, Grandey, & Toth, 1997; Ferris et al., 2002; Kacmar & Baron, 1999).

Much previous research has identified contextual factors that serve to moderate the relationship between politics perceptions and work outcomes (Ferris, Brand, Brand, Rowland, Gilmore, King, Kacmar, & Burton, 1993). What is currently lacking in the literature, however, is a disciplined examination of dispositional variables that may influence the relationship between politics perceptions and work outcomes (Hochwarter, Perrewe, Ferris, & Guerico, 1999). One variable that holds considerable promise in this regard is trait cynicism. Specifically, we see trait cynicism as a dispositional quality that has the potential to exert considerable influence on the politics perceptions-work outcomes relationship. In the current study, we characterize trait cynicism as a stable dispositional characteristic that is consistent across situations (Costa, Zonderman, McCrae, & Williams, 1985) instead of a specific attitude directed toward a particular organizational phenomenon (Tesluk, Vance, & Mathieu, 1999).

The influence of cynical cognition has emerged only in recent years as a topic of interest to organizational scientists (Andersson, 1996; Andersson & Bateman, 1997; Dean, Brandes, & Dharwadkar, 1998; Wanous, Reichers, & Austin, 2000). With regard to the current study, scholars have made reference to the potential relationship between trait cynicism and politics (Ferris et al., 2002; Kanter & Mirvis, 1989). However, there has not been a systematic articulation to date of the role that trait cynicism might play in terms of its ability to influence the relationship between politics perceptions and work outcomes. The purpose of the present study is to address this gap in our knowledge base by investigating the interactive effects of politics perceptions and trait cynicism on employee affective reactions and behaviors. More specifically, we develop the rationale for testing the moderating influence of trait cynicism on the relationship between politics perceptions and the two work outcomes of job satisfaction and organizational citizenship behavior.

Politics Perceptions in Organizational Settings

The perspective taken in the present research is that shared with Mintzberg (1983, 1985) who characterized organizations as "political arenas." Further, we adopt Mintzberg's definition of organizational politics as "individual or group behavior that is informal, ostensibly parochial, typically divisive, and above all, in a technical sense, illegitimate--sanctioned neither by formal authority, accepted ideology, nor certified expertise (although it may exploit any one of these" (1983, p.

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The Interactive Effects of Politics Perceptions and Trait Cynicism on Work Outcomes
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