How Cynicism and Sarcasm Sap Creativity from Your Organization

3 min read
Apr 27, 2015

iStock_000043840004_SmallWe all have a finite amount of mental and emotional energy. That is why we are tired at the end of a busy day where we have been processing information and making decisions throughout the day. Thus, effective leaders learn how to prioritize and channel their mental energy into completing the most important tasks and not waste it on non-productive activities.

One major drain of emotional energy often is ignored by leaders, however. That is the presence of sarcasm and cynicism in your organization. Both stem from negative thoughts and perceptions among team members that are then communicated and bounced around in the workplace.  

Both cynicism and sarcasm steal energy that could be used for positive, creative, and productive activities.  They are like holes in the wall of your office that waste the electricity used to heat or cool your office space. And they are fueled by a lack of trust of the motives of management and supervisors.

Employees Feeling Unvalued

One of the biggest barriers to positive workplace relationships is when team members don’t feel valued by their supervisor or colleagues. While a majority of companies have some form of an employee recognition program, these activities aren’t working.

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We have found that common characteristics of most employee recognition programs actually undermine the perceived genuineness of the recognition given. These include the recognition is:

  • Generic: Everyone gets the same certificate and gift card

  • General and impersonal: Getting the employee of the month award for “doing a great job”

  • Group-based: “Way to go, team; we met our goals for the quarter!”

  • Uninviting: Communicated in ways not important to the recipient; some people hate to go up to receive an award in front of a group

Common Reactions

When employees do not believe that others are genuine in their communication of appreciation, cynicism and sarcasm follow. They don’t trust others’ motives (“They just do this to ‘look good’). Unfortunately, this can lead to an overall negative mindset where employees begin to question the motives of management and supervisors in multiple areas.

Obviously, when a lack of trust and negativity are present — collaboration and creativity grind to a halt (although team members may “go through the motions” to look like they are collaborating, results are few and the quality is poor.)

Getting Past Perceived Inauthenticity

You can never fully “prove” your authentic appreciation for a person.  At the same time, there are practical steps that can be taken:

  • Only communicate appreciation when it is true. It is not helpful to try to “fake it.”  People have good “radar” for communication that isn’t true.

  • Acknowledge the interfering causes. Statements like, “I know I haven’t communicated much appreciation to you in the past…” or “I know we’ve had our conflicts and differences in the past… but I really do value …” can be quite helpful.

  • Be specific. Avoid global phrases like “Great job!”  Tell the person specifically what they did that you value and why it is helpful (to you, to the organization or for the client.)

  • Be consistent over time. If you communicate one message of appreciation every six months, the likelihood of being perceived as being genuine is low.  

  • Don’t focus solely on performance. Employees are more than production units – they are people.  Acknowledge non-work related skills that are positive (for example, their cheerfulness or how they treat others kindly) can be very impactful. 

When employees and staff members truly feel valued and appreciated good things happen. Morale improves, productivity increases, and creative problem-solving is more likely to occur. The small steps taken to communicate appreciation can have a huge positive impact on a business.



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