Employee cynicism is on the rise, and thus is increasingly part of the social fabric in modern workplaces. In this paper, we investigate whether interactions with cynical others may produce undesirable effects on employee energy. We integrate social information processing theory (e.g., Salancik & Pfeffer, 1978) with self-regulatory theories of energy (e.g., Kotabe & Hofmann, 2015), to argue that employees look to each other daily for information that can inform their energy investments at work. Specifically, we examine how coworkers’ expressed cynicism about their work can determine employees’ motivation to withhold or invest energy in their daily tasks. We hypothesize that cynical coworkers provide cues that result in reduced investment of energetic resources (i.e., engagement), leading to reduced task performance and increased withdrawal. Our model further suggests energetic capacity reduces employees’ susceptibility to cynical others, positing that optimal sleep mitigates these effects. Two studies largely support our hypotheses. First, an experience sampling study examines start-of-day interactions and supervisor performance ratings in a nursing context where cynicism is prevalent and sleep is often disrupted. Second, an experimental study complements these findings by replicating the model and provides evidence of causal direction.
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