What is meant by the term “knowledge worker” and why are knowledge workers important to business?

Have you ever heard the term “knowledge worker” and wondered what it meant? The term knowledge worker was first coined by management guru Peter Drucker. In the book Business Communication Mary Ellen Guffey and Dana Loewy state, “knowledge and information workers engage in mind work. They deal with symbols: words, figures, and data” (Mary Ellen Guffey, 2008). This definition makes sense, at first. However, a little research on knowledge workers will reveal that this topic is much more complex than it originally appears. It stands to reason that there could be levels of knowledge work. William Prince in the article Knowledge Workers states, “Knowledge workers can be grouped into various categories, based on the amount of time spent on individual tasks or on the type of information or skills possessed. The fact that knowledge workers can be classified in different ways is indicative of the variety of jobs they hold” (Prince). For instance, some workers spend the majority of their time analyzing data, creating new products and developing strategic initiatives within their organizations. On the other hand, there is an entirely different level of knowledge worker. This level may simply be workers that conduct routine daily tasks, but as a result offer a wealth of organization enhancing knowledge.

In the past, knowledge workers and manual workers were considered different types of workers. In many traditional organizations, the majority of the workers were employed to work, not to think. While a minority of the workers were employed to think. However, in recent years many organizations have questioned this traditional approach, and started to embrace the knowledge of all workers. Evan Rosen, in the article Every Worker Is a knowledge Worker, claims, “The terms knowledge worker and manual worker are no longer mutually exclusive” (Rosen, 2011). These organizations were able to find the benefit in sharing knowledge within the entire organization. Why would an organization not what to embrace all of the knowledge available to them? By leveraging this potential knowledge, organizations can effectively develop stronger products and services, enhance business processes and make quicker decisions. While these are only a few examples of how embracing all workers as knowledge workers can be beneficial; it helps to demonstrate the potential of this approach.

Evan Rosen identified five steps organizations can take to ensure they are embracing all of the knowledge available through their workforce.

  1. All employees should have access to the same pertinent information.
  2. Ensure employees have the capability to communicate with everyone in the organization.
  3. Leverage the power of technology and embrace instant communication tools.
  4. Involve all levels of employees in decision-making.
  5. Encourage communication across all functions.

In todays, ever changing global environment organizations must be able to change and react instantaneously. Today’s market leading organizations can easily become tomorrow’s followers if they don’t learn to leverage and embrace the knowledge they have available in their organizations. It is for this reason that all workers should be considered knowledge workers.

Works Cited

Mary Ellen Guffey, D. L. (2008). Business Communication 7th edition. Mason: South-Western Cengage Learning.

Prince, W. W. (n.d.). Knowledge Worker. Retrieved from Reference for Business: Encyclopedia of Business, 2nd ed.: http://www.referenceforbusiness.com/management/Int-Loc/Knowledge-Workers.html

Rosen, E. (2011, January 11). Every Worker Is a Knowledge Worker. Retrieved from http://www.Businessweek.com: http://www.businessweek.com/managing/content/jan2011/ca20110110_985915.htm

By Robert Bland, Organizational Leadership and Supervision (OLS) Major – Purdue University

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