Knowledge is Power: What Makes Employees Share It?

Topic: Job Design, Motivation
Publication: Human Resource Management (NOV/DEC 2009)
Article: Encouraging knowledge sharing among employees: How job design matters
Authors: N.J. Foss, D.B. Minbaeva, T. Pedersen, and M. Reinholt
Reviewed By: Benjamin Granger

It’s no secret that knowledge sharing among employees is an absolute necessity for many organizations.  So what can organizations do to facilitate knowledge sharing among its employees?

Foss and colleagues (2009) recently showed that several characteristics of employees’ jobs predict employee motivation to share knowledge. Foss et al. studied this phenomenon using a sample of 186 employees working in a large German manufacturing company.

The authors studied three important job characteristics: autonomy, task identity, and feedback.  Autonomy refers to the amount of control employees have over work tasks, task identity refers to whether employees complete entire tasks from start to finish or pieces of tasks, and feedback refers to the amount and quality of feedback employees receive on the job.

Foss et al. found that all three job characteristics predict employee motivation to share knowledge, albeit quite differently. For instance, job autonomy predicted employees’ intrinsic motivation (e.g., enjoyable, stimulating) for sharing knowledge which was strongly and favorably related to (1) the amount of information received from others and (2) the amount of knowledge sent to others. Feedback, on the other hand, was positively related to external motivation (e.g., rewards), which was actually unfavorably related to sending knowledge and unrelated to receiving knowledge.

Additionally, Foss and colleagues found that task identity predicted whether employees were motivated to maintain and enhance social relationships within the organization. This type of motivation related favorably to the amount of knowledge employees shared with others.

Overall, job autonomy has the strongest and most favorable influence on knowledge sharing among employees. Employees who are motivated to share knowledge because of external reasons (e.g., rewards) may actually engage in less knowledge sharing. Ultimately, Foss et al.’s results suggest that high levels of autonomy and task identity are important for jobs that require a great deal of knowledge sharing.

Foss, N.J., Minbaeva, D.B., Pedersen, T., & Reinholt, M. (2009). Encouraging knowledge sharing among employees: How job design matters. Human Resource Management, 48(6), 871-893.