Human Resource Management for Knowledge Workers

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Managing Human Resources is challenging, and supervising employees to evolve within corporate culture and be a profitable asset is even more complicated. Investments in human capital result in one goal, which is to gain a competitive advantage. Yet, the approaches to acquiring this advantage through employees are ambiguous, as every company ranks different criteria as investment worthy. Recently, knowledge workers have been emphasized as the most profitable investment in the long run. In this regard, soft HR interventions deliver relevant results.

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Definition of Knowledge Workers

In a capitalistic society, the production of services has overrun the distribution of goods as more flexible and profitable. Many automatization processes have been introduced to enhance traditional business industries. Changes in a work environment evoke necessary alternation of the workforce; therefore, knowledge workers are in demand. The term “knowledge worker” was introduced in the 1950s as opposed to manual worker (Murgia et al., 2016). Contrary to manual workers, knowledge workers practice their cognitive, communicative, and relating skills to achieve needed results.

Knowledge workers constitute a bulk of the contemporary labor force, as the work environment itself has become more cognitive. Yet, the spectrum of “knowledge workers” is quite vast, as they differ in applicable knowledge, responsibilities, and, subsequently, expectations (Murgia et al., 2016). In this regard, every knowledge-based industry should be analyzed separately for driving forces and appropriate HRM interventions. Nevertheless, research emphasizes general tendencies that make knowledge workers distinct. Jacobs (2017) perceives knowledge work as where employees should mold given information to achieve needed results and constantly broaden their perspective to stay relevant and updated. Thereby the processes of learning and passing knowledge should be prioritized for HR interventions.

Crucial Criteria for Knowledge-Based Industries

Employee commitment is perceived as a long-run profitable investment, as it evokes higher performance. For knowledge-based industries, adaptability and subsequent creativity become crucial for enhancing performance (Murgia et al., 2016). Managerial tactics have been altered to encompass a new concept of an active and creative employee. Cushen and Thompson (2012) summarize the approach by stating that new interventions mean to shape appropriate for a company individual. In this regard, companies show a tendency to invest in their brand to attract more talented workers. In return, qualified workers strengthen the brand and contribute to its sustainability.

Knowledge work comprises other vital features that make it distinct from different fields. Jacobs (2017) draws distinctions between familiar and novel work activities. If a knowledge worker does not face challenges and follows given scripts or instructions, Jacobs (2017) qualifies the performance as routine rather than cognitive training. Consequently, a few workers engage in knowledge work all the time; most knowledge workers shift between routine tasks and knowledge work. According to Benson and Brown (2007), knowledge workers express higher attitudinal commitment and are less likely to quit than routine-task workers. Therefore, HR interventions should stimulate workers to evolve to maintain their loyalty.

Hard and Soft HR Approaches

Hard HR approaches relate to traditional supervising management interventions, which emphasize enforcement. The unitary approach means to advance companies’ objectives and seize control over the labor force in a way where employees possess the necessary skills as well as the mindset to bring the corporate agenda forward (Shrestha, 2020). In this regard, organizational effectiveness becomes the main competitive advantage. Contrariwise, soft approaches enhance cooperation between managers and workers to create a working environment that increases loyalty and employee engagement. The main agenda of soft interventions is to evoke dedication and commitment, so workers will contribute to the company’s growth as they grow (Shrestha, 2020). Contrary to the hard HR approaches, soft interventions mean gaining a long-term advantage.

The effectiveness of the soft approach has been analyzed with the accession of the working environment, team building, and communication flow. Through these interventions, workers learn to put trust in the team and offer assistance to one another. The working environment is marked as friendly with approachable managers and supervisors (Prakash, 2020). Contrariwise, HR interventions concentrate on planning, staffing, and compensation. Procedures are more formalized, and career paths are prominent. Employees are aware of the promotional possibilities and requirements for advancement (Prakash, 2020). Employees’ performance influences their income, so managers promote self-reflection and evaluation. Out of all aspects, compensation is regarded as a top priority, with the planning aspect being less formal and adjustable.

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Soft HR Practices for Knowledge Workers

A supportive environment evokes a sense of belonging, which contributes to employees’ commitment and, subsequently, performance. S. Jain and R. Jain (2017) state that emotional attachment results in extra effort; by “”extra effort””, the researcher refers to performance which exceeds employees’ formal duties. In this regard, HR practices should create a supportive working climate for workers, as it is directly connected to emotional attachment and benefit cognitive skills. S. Jain and R. Jain (2017) link the practices on the supportive working environment to the ones evoking organizational citizen behavior. Empirical results of the survey undertaken by Rawat and Basergekar (2016) show that supportive working climate results in high performance. This behavior means to advance the social and psychological environment, and it generally includes such practices as performance appraisal, further employee training, and employee empowerment.

Performance Appraisal

Performance appraisal is a practice dedicated to supporting organizational citizen behavior. The approach enhances corporate communication and empowers knowledge workers to be more effective and ambitious. Appraisal primarily benefits knowledge workers, as Jacobs (2017) states that many workers become more motivated through recognition and challenges they defy rather than financial awards. Appraisal contributes to increased engagement and motivation. In this regard, the practice in question becomes a predisposing factor for promoting commitment. Workers prioritize their short-term financial goals, and with growing insecurity, employees perceive their employer as a temporal solution rather than a long-standing one (Cushen & Thompson, 2012). The attitude in question degrades overall commitment so that performance appraisal may contribute to growing trust and cooperation between managers and employees.

With all benefits listed, performance appraisal may be ineffective. The main critique of the practice is connected to the possible biased assessment of one’s performance (Selvaraj et al., 2016). The unfair appraisal may evoke conflicts between employees and deject the working environment. The appraisal system is perceived as the supervisor building too personal relationships with workers; subsequently, the approach becomes dysfunctional (Selvaraj et al., 2016). Yet, the researchers deem the method beneficial as it rewards performance improvement, contributing to merit pay and promotions. In this regard, the appraisal is rewarding and spurs further ambitions and creativity, which remain crucial for workers in knowledge-based industries.

Employee Training

Effective knowledge workers should exercise adaptability and flexibility. These qualities may be developed through additional training. Constant training becomes a regular occurrence as economies grow and working conditions alter. In this regard, knowledge workers should stay updated on new technologies, approaches, and products to remain efficient and, subsequently, relevant. The practice in question is deemed valuable in both hard (traditional) and soft managerial styles. Continuous training assists in creating new experiences, where knowledge workers may put their cognitive abilities into practice while partaking in innovative projects. Therefore, their activities become less mundane and provide new opportunities, including promotions.

Training may increase workers’ self-assurance, resilience, and innovativeness. These aspects are vital for knowledge workers, as the specific work in question demands engaging in a process that not always can be rationalized (Yannick, 2017). Bercu (2017) regards this process as professional development to acquire job-specific skills. Studies show that special training contributes to higher wages and advances personnel growth for small businesses (Bercu, 2017). For larger companies, these developments increase profitability (Bercu, 2017). Development directly connects to employees’ job satisfaction—qualitative training results in a better organization (Bercu, 2017). The factor in question entangles time-effectiveness that increases overall productivity.

Employees’ Empowerment

The necessity of expressing individuality, showing autonomy, and exercising authenticity should be met with a balance of empowerment and control. Seibert et al. (2004) describe ’employees’ empowerment as increasing individual motivation achieved with the delegation of authority. In this regard, empowerment is directly linked to the work climate and put into practice through “information sharing, autonomy through boundaries, and team accountability” (Seibert et al., 2004, p. 333).

Workers should be supplied with all pertinent information dedicated to productivity, costs, and performance. They should be presented with goals and possible approaches to achieving them. Subsequently, employees should possess enough freedom to choose a preferred method. Yet, they should be confident in their team. In this regard, beneficial closeness and reliance are achieved through feedback, communication, and appropriate training.

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Working climate directly influences empowerment and how this practice is perceived in companies with different backgrounds. In this regard, the atmosphere should acquire a strategic focus to develop empowering environment. The environment in question is vital for knowledge workers to exercise greater autonomy (Jacobs, 2017). Still, the practice of delegating more freedom to employees embodies possible risks. Extensive freedom may trigger leniency and “reduction of productivity and potential waste” (Jacobs, 2017, p. 184). At the same time, the study conducted by A. Kumar and J. Kumar (2017) suggests that self-assurance of capabilities directly influences positivism about performing job activities. Therefore, management should organize solutions to empower their employees while assessing their productivity.

Pro-social Motivation

Management based on the assessment of employees’ needs contributes to a supportive working environment, which evokes higher performance and more substantial commitment. The approach in question engages with non-financial goals for extra effort (McKenzie & Rutherford, 2017). Pro-social motivation is related to values and aspirations promoted by a company. The survey results conducted by McKenzie and Rutherford (2017) prove that shared values result in intensifying efforts without additional pay. Despite the importance of social agenda, extensive use of non-financial leverages may decrease overall ambitiousness and aspiration for promotion (McKenzie & Rutherford, 2017). In this regard, communicative and socio-centered approaches should be supported by hard HR interventions related to compensation, planning, and promotion.

Setting Boundaries

Knowledge workers work under changing conditions, and it is vital to embody practices meant to assist employees in setting boundaries and working under pressure. The researchers describe the current working environment of knowledge workers as “boundary-less” (Perez-Zapata et al., 2016, p. 30). In this regard controlling mechanism becomes less restricting; yet, the environment may trigger additional pressure, as workers have to exercise self-management and supervise sources and face arising demands. From this perspective, current knowledge workers are expected to acquire enterprising skills (Perez-Zapata et al., 2016). These changes entangle psychological risks that should be addressed by HR management to prevent possible guilt-ridden objectives from increasing productivity.

A new level of delegating responsibilities is shifted towards a culture of performance. The approach is embodied through “moral responsibility, individualized objectives, and permanent accountability” (Perez-Zapata et al., 2016, p. 35). The overall objective is maintained with advanced technical equipment, an abundance of resources, and the ability to work remotely more frequently. These factors assist in creating a beneficial environment for self-management. Yet, it should be rightly promoted, as the approach may place an employee in a disadvantageous position. It would be better for HR management to refrain from being invasive and connect self-management to self-responsibility for any job activity performed. Knowledge workers should be assured of a shared objective. Therefore, they may identify as a pro-active team, so the boundary-less environment will not evoke implicit oppression.

Soft HR practices provide advantages in managing knowledge workers. The approaches correlate with cognitive, creative, and enterprising abilities. Performance appraisal contributes to workers’ commitment and strengthens communication between supervisors and employees. Continuous training assists in employees’ readiness to face new challenges and participate in innovative projects. Therefore, workers operate under less stressful conditions; additionally, they engage in new tasks refraining from routine, which may evoke a necessity to find a more interesting position. Work empowerment is equally essential, as it complies with the demands of evolving markets and benefits knowledge workers. Culture of performance assists in individualizing working experiences, and this factor leads to commitment, proactivity, and higher productivity. Integrally, effective HR practices should address employer and employees’ needs equally.


Benson, J., & Brown, M. (2007). Knowledge workers: What keeps them committed; what turns them away? Work, Employment & Society, 21(1), 121-141.

Bercu, A. (2017). Impact of employees’ training programs on job satisfaction. Current Science, 112(7) 1340-345.

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Cushen, J., & Thompson, P. (2012). Doing the right thing? HRM and the angry knowledge worker. New Technology, Work and Employment, 27(2), 79-92.

Jacobs, R. L. (2017). Knowledge work and human resource development. Human Resource Development Review, 16(2), 176-202.

Jain, S., & Jain, R. (2017). HRD Climate, HRD Systems & OCB: Linkages conceptualization, measure & model fit. Indian Journal of Industrial Relations, 52(3), 484-498.

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Selvaraj, P., Ghosh, S., & Jagannathan, S. (2016). The downside of performance appraisals & the potential for deviant behaviors. Indian Journal of Industrial Relations, 52(1), 117-128.

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Yannick, K. (2017). The knowledge worker and the projected self: Domesticating and disciplining creativity. Work Organisation, Labour & Globalisation, 11(1), 10-27.

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