Managing the Knowledge Workers

Description

This article examines the shifts in the HR field with the emergence of the service sector where the employees use knowledge instead of physical labor to get the work done. The key points made in this article are that the HR field has to adapt and adjust to the changing trends and ensure that the HR managers deal and manage the knowledge workers appropriately. Having said that, this article also discusses some downsides of such preferential treatment.

Introduction: Who are Knowledge Workers?

Knowledge workers is a term used to refer to the employees in the IT (Information Technology), BPO (Business Process Outsourcing), Financial Services, and other sectors where the brain or the intellectual work is the determinant instead of brawn or physical labor. In this respect, knowledge workers have become a separate category altogether for the HR managers and the HR field as managing them needs different approaches when contrasted with managing employees in other sectors. This article examines some such approaches that are needed for managing the knowledge workers.

HR Approaches to Managing the Knowledge Workers

To start with, considering the fact that knowledge workers work on the basis of their intellectual capabilities, the HR managers have to ensure that these workers remain mentally agile and intellectually fit to cope with the demands of their jobs. Therefore, in recent years, the theorists as well as the practitioners in the HR field have emphasized the fact that knowledge work and knowledge workers must be treated in a manner that makes them central to the organizations objectives. In other words, the knowledge workers are the key assets to the companies in their sectors and not plant or machinery or even other assets such as buildings. This attitude has been summed up concisely and lucidly by the Indian IT icon, NR Narayana Murthy, who said that the IT companies assets’ leave every evening and return the next morning to work. In other words, what this means is that the HR managers have to treat the knowledge workers in the same manner in which earlier era management used to protect their physical assets.

Further, managing the knowledge workers also means that the pay and benefits have to be commensurate with their skills, experience, and the value that they add to the bottom-line of the organizations. It is no wonder that IT employees often command stratospheric salaries and humungous perks as they are indeed valuable to the companies who just cannot afford to let go of their top performers. Another aspect of knowledge work is that these companies are flat in terms of organizational arrangements as opposed to the hierarchical nature of organizations’ in the manufacturing and allied sectors. This means that the HR managers have from other sectors that make the switch to IT and allied services sectors companies have to get used to the informal, first name basis as well as the lack of hierarchy in the companies in these sectors.

Downsides of Preferential Treatment of Knowledge Workers

Having said that, it must also be noted that sometimes, the royal treatment accorded to the knowledge workers gets to their head leading to demands for more pay, attrition for the slightest reasons, as well as an attitude that they are superior to others. Indeed, there was a time (before the current recession) and during the dotcom boom when IT employees used to attend interviews and in the course of the interview, talk to other companies as a means of pressuring both companies into accepting their demands. Moreover, even now, some knowledge workers are prone to ask for raises and more benefits irrespective of the fact that the present economic downturn has made it tougher for the companies and the HR managers to comply with their requests.

On Balance Assessment

Of course, the pros and cons listed above cannot be generalized to the entire community of knowledge workers as there are many who work for the sake of the satisfaction and the opportunities for self actualization that is part of their jobs. Indeed, it is this aspect that the HR field has recognized as being the key imperative when dealing with knowledge workers which means that the HR managers in conjunction with management have to ensure that the job and the role is challenging for the knowledge workers. For instance, it is the case that with so much competition among both the companies for employees as well as within prospective employees for the mega successful companies, there manifests a race for the best and the brightest of the employees and competition between employees to get into the truly innovative companies.

Conclusion

If we review the main points made so far, it is clear that the field of HR has now expanded to include the latest managerial theories and trends pertaining to approaches to managing the knowledge workers. Indeed, with the services sector becoming the mainstay of many economies, the HR field has to adapt and adjust to the changing trends in managing employees and in particular, the knowledge workers. This includes devising work from home arrangements, sabbaticals for higher study, flexible pay and benefits including lucrative performance bonuses, and the other aspect of organizing fun and entertainment events to help the knowledge workers beat the stress and unwind. In conclusion, managing the knowledge workers is both an art and a science and it is for this reason that many HR courses in leading business schools have dedicated modules for managing the knowledge workers.


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