The Negative Effects of Knowledge Hiding in Organizations

Topic(s): Counter-Productive Work Behavior, creativity, trust
Publication: Academy of Management
Article: What Goes Around Comes Around: Knowledge Hiding, Perceived Motivational Climate an Creativity
Authors: M. Cerne, C.G.L. Nerstad, A. Dysvik, M. Skerlavaj 
Reviewed by: Will Smith

Have you ever encountered a situation where a colleague purposely withheld pertinent information? How did that change your interactions with them, or the dynamics within the office? A recent study addresses the topic of knowledge hiding, and how consciously withholding information can affect both trust and creativity.

The act of hiding knowledge leads to what the researchers describe as “the distrust loop.” In this cycle, employees who intentionally hide information lose the trust of their peers. In order to impart a sense of justice, the effected peers will then withhold information from the knowledge hiders. This, in turn, affects the knowledge hider’s ability to collaborate effectively and generate creative ideas.


The researchers (Cerne, Nerstad, Dysvik, & Skerlavaj, 2013) said it was important that the organizational environment be factored into the equation, and examined two types– the mastery climate and the performance climate. A mastery climate is one in which cooperation, employee development, and mastery of skills are encouraged. A performance climate is based on an employee’s ability to outperform colleagues and receive recognition and rewards relative to that of their peers.

The researchers conducted two studies to test their hypotheses. The first consisted of 240 employees and 34 supervisors. Employees were measured on their creativity, how they perceived the organizational climate, and if they considered themselves knowledge hiders. The supervisors were then asked to provide their perception of the creativity of their employees.

The second study consisted of 132 undergraduate students, who were asked to complete a business scenario in which students were places in three groups. The scenarios consisted of conditions that measured whether there was a mastery climate, performance climate, or no climate. Some students were also randomly selected to be knowledge hiders. 


The researchers learned that knowledge hiders in a performance climate found themselves within the distrust loop, limiting their collaboration with peers and ultimately making them less creative than other groups. Knowledge hiders in this group were more concerned with protecting themselves, which hindered their ability to be creative in comparison with the other groups.

The groups without knowledge hiders proved more capable of freely exchanging ideas and, as a result, were more creative. Interestingly, in mastery climates, employees were generally less likely to be knowledge hiders. The mastery climate fosters an environment of collaboration and knowledge sharing, which ultimately decreases the need for knowledge hiding, and thus does not affect creativity 


In organizations in which innovation is important, encouraging employees to collaborate allows them opportunities to more readily engage each other. It allows employees to openly share ideas and drive organizational initiatives.

The big picture take-away from this study is that fostering an environment of collaboration in the workplace removes the necessity for knowledge hiding, which is ultimately beneficial to the creative progress of the entire organization.

Černe, M., Nerstad, C., Dysvik, A., & Skerlavaj, M. (2014). What Goes Around Comes Around: Knowledge Hiding, Perceived Motivational Climate, and Creativity. The Academy of Management Journal, 57, 172-192.