Knowledge is Power: What Makes Employees Share It?

Topic(s): feedback, learning, motivation, organizational development
Publication: Human Resource Management (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 most organizations. So what can organizations do to facilitate knowledge sharing among its employees? New research (Foss, Minbaeva, Pedersen, & Reinholt, 2009) shows that several job characteristics can predict employee motivation to share knowledge.

The researchers studied this phenomenon using a sample of 186 employees working in a large German manufacturing company. They 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.


The authors found that all three job characteristics predict employee motivation to share knowledge, albeit quite differently. For instance, job autonomy predicted employees’ intrinsic motivation (i.e., things people do because they are rewarding or enjoyable) for sharing knowledge. This was then 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., things people do to receive rewards). This was then unfavorably related to sending knowledge and unrelated to receiving knowledge.

Additionally, the researchers 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, the 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.