New Study Shows American Employees Don't Like to Share Knowledge

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knowledge sharing Those bad marks we may have received on our kindergarten report cards for not sharing just may be following us into our adult workplaces. A new study recently found that we're a pretty stingy lot when it comes to sharing knowledge with our co-workers. Surprisingly, the employers may be more to blame than the employees.

"We've had years of research in organizations about the benefits of knowledge-sharing but an important issue is the fact that people don't necessarily want to share their knowledge," says David Zweig, a professor of organizational behavior and human resources management at the University of Toronto's Rotman School of Management and the University of Toronto at Scarborough.

Zweig calls this behavior "knowledge hiding." The paper he wrote on the subject identifies three ways employees hide what they know from co-workers: by being evasive, by rationalizing hiding -- such as saying a report is confidential, and by playing dumb.

Why do they do it? Two of the biggest reasons involve basic distrust and a poor knowledge-sharing climate within the company. Employees are afraid that their ideas will be poached and someone else will get credit for them, or they're worried that they'll be held accountable if anything goes wrong, so it's better to play dumb.

Zweig believes that companies may be able to overcome that through strategies such as:

  • more direct contact and less email communication.
  • highlighting examples of trustworthiness.
  • avoiding "betrayal" incentives, like top sales rewards that go to employees even when they steal other people's clients.

"A lot of companies have jumped on the bandwagon of knowledge-sharing," spending money on developing knowledge-sharing software, says Zweig. "If you don't work on creating that climate and establishing trust, it doesn't matter how great the software is, people aren't going to use it."


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