Sunday, January 07, 2007

The Value Of Knowledge Workers

Generation X has joined the workforce of the new economy. Unlike the baby boomers who preceded them, generation Xers cannot and do not seek like-long learning. The seek employability over employment: they value career self-reliance (Elsdon and Iyer, 1999). They have joined a workforce dominated by 77 million baby boomers, many of whom, because of poor financial planning or personal satisfaction derived from work, do not willingly make room for Xers on corporate hierarchical ladder (Laabs, 1996). Thus the younger cohort of workers perceive that, even if they excel, they cannot move up, so they move on. Corporate restructuring and the demise of guaranteed lifetime employment have resulted in a new breed of free agents described as " a crop of sceptical graduates who, upon entering the workplace are not about to sacrifice all to the corporate good" (Ettorre, 1997). Long-term employees react negatively to the self-sufficiency of Xers and see their unwillingness o defer gratification and commit to long-term, even career-long, objectives as a reflection of a poor work ethic. However, one study indicates that while the belief in hard work as a value has remained constant, the meaning of hard work, especially for Xers, has changed (Jurkeiwics, 2000)
Xers with high human capital, technical skills, education, learning and experience are valuable to organizations, and they are in demand: " Never have so few been wanted by so many" (Zemke et al., 2000). Those most in demand, the new "gold-collar workers", are educated, smart, creative, computer literate and equipped with portable skills (Munk, 1998). Indeed, they are free agents, and thus are perceived by life-long employees of an earlier generation as being disloyal, arrogant, unfocused, unwilling to pay dues and not amenable to deferred gratification (Tulgan, 1996). Om fact, Xers are preparing for careers, not for tenure in a specific organization and, since they cannot hope for career-long support from the organization, they are increasingly career-self-reliant. The "technologically savvy, fickle, ultra mobile generation X workforce" (Harari, 1998) values self-advancement over corporate advancement. They view their human capital as personal, not corporate, assets.
Since, on average, GenXers change jobs frequently, on average every 18 months (Kronenebers, 1997), an new reality has emerged with regard to firm-and industry- specific knowledge. While long-term boomer employees may be proficient in firm-specific private knowledge, the mobile Xers bring with them knowledge from a member of firms and both wide and deep human capital, but they are likely to take information from the organization with them when they leave. In fact, the challenge to knowledge management is to increase the company's intellectual capital despite the "industry-jumping, extremely mobile employee" (Vollmer and Phillips, 2000). How does KM minimize leakage out and absorb leakage in? Retaining staff amy be an answer. Certainly the challenges to retain the contributions all staff - permanent, temporary, contingent, long-term, short-term- to the intellectual capital of the organization.
Reciprocity between value and values is emerging as a solution to align corporate and personal capital. Xers seek variety, relevancy, stimulation and constant change. They value involvement and challenge, and making money for stockholders is not a challenge they embrace. I the employee is to add value in the form of human intellectual capital to the company, the company must reciprocate. Otions are a solution, collective rewards based on the value of the company as a whole, they implicitly encouraged sharing as well as amassing individual knowledge (Browning, 1999). KM of what " everyone knows" is supported if the new knowledge workers add their personal knowledge to the corporate knowledge bank.
If an organization values knowledge, it must value knowledge workers. Adding value to the organization and sharing the value with the knowledge worker more closely aligns the value, valuation and ownership of knowledge.

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