April 23, 2012

Knowledge Workers and Everyone Else

Evan Rosen in an article for Bloomberg Businessweek entitled " Every worker is a Knowledge Worker" gives the opinion that the separation of employees into knowledge workers and those who are not knowledge workers (or as he puts it everyone else) is unhealthy for an organizations dynamic.

He argues that this sort of differentiation leads to discrimination not only in terms of pay structures, but also prevents organizations from tapping into the [tacit] knowledge possessed by manual and front line workers. The idea is that floor staff are often overlooked by managers when searching for ideas and opinions from employees about the company's performance and how to improve.

While I do understand where Rosen is coming from, I do disagree about his suggestion that manual staff are overlooked as a result of the differentiation between knowledge workers and other employees.

It can easily be argued that this sort of differentiation has existed in organizations even before the term 'knowledge workers' was introduced by Peter Drucker in 1969. Managers tend to seek strategic input from highly skilled staff, the assumption being that they are better educated and thus are more likely to have more comprehensive insight and understanding of the company's business process, the dynamics and interactions between processes and their overall implications for the company. In other words, the big picture.

Whether or not this assumption is always accurate or even true is debatable, but, I see the phenomenon Rosen describes as an issue of differentiating between highly skilled workers, who are more likely to be in managerial level and low skilled workers who are more often than not not in positions of management, although exceptions apply in some cases. Rather than an issue that was created by the distinction between 'knowledge workers' from other employees as Rosen appears to imply.

Article Link: http://www.businessweek.com/managing/content/jan2011/ca20110110_985915.htm


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