The Rise of the Knowledge Worker

Who is a Knowledge Worker ?

A knowledge worker is one who uses knowledge as the capital for work and who uses brain power rather than brawn power to get the job done.

In other words, knowledge workers “think for a living”. A knowledge worker is also one who uses creative thinking, out of the box problem solving, and does no-routine and non-standardized work.

In other words, the knowledge workers tasks keep changing with time and unlike the worker on a shop floor, a knowledge worker does not perform the same task repeatedly continuously. Knowledge workers are also known to have greater involvement with the big picture unlike the traditional workers who feel alienated from the larger organizational goals because they are just cogs in the machine.

The Rise of the Knowledge Economy

The rise of the knowledge worker has been helped by the rise of the knowledge economy or the sector that comprises of Information Technology, Business Process Outsourcing, Financial Services, and other forms of work that deal with knowledge as the basis of work. Even doctors, lawyers, and other fields use knowledge as the basis of their occupations; the knowledge economy usually does not include these sectors.

With globalization and the opening up of the global economy, there has been a concomitant rise in the services sector. Along with this, the knowledge economy has also been helped by the decline in manufacturing in the West and the increase in the contribution of the services sector to the Gross Domestic Product of most countries. Indeed, in many countries (including India but not China), the services sector contributes more than half to the economic output in the country.

Managing Knowledge Workers

There are significant differences in the management of traditional workers and knowledge workers. First, the knowledge workers are less inclined to be hierarchical and hence, they prefer openness and a flat organizational structure. Second, they have relatively more control over their work than traditional workers do as they have more control over the processes that define their work. Third, they have higher salaries and hence are prone to lead consumerist lifestyles as opposed to the workers in manufacturing or other sectors. Fourth, they are also prone to burnout and stress related ailments, as the pressure to deliver and perform is more on them. Finally, they change jobs more frequently than other workers do and it has been shown that whereas the previous generation worked all their lives in one or two companies, knowledge workers are likely to hop several jobs during their careers.

These aspects make the management of knowledge workers a specialized function and hence, in many services sector companies, the Human Resource Function is staffed by those professionals who have had previous experience in managing knowledge workers.

Closing Thoughts

The transition from agrarian or manufacturing or a combination of both economy to knowledge economy has been the defining economic event of the last few decades. While this transition has not been without hiccups, it can be said that the rise of the knowledge worker has resulted in a churning in the economies of the West where they are celebrated for their innovation and inventiveness. There have been large scale socioeconomic and political changes as well that accompanied the rise of the knowledge worker.

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