News Release

Co-workers hoard their best ideas

Silence not sharing is the norm, McMaster research finds

Peer-Reviewed Publication

McMaster University

Hamilton, Ontario, May 1, 2006 – Have you ever asked a colleague for information, only to have them ignore your request? Did you feel they were purposely avoiding you or only pretending to be ignorant? You may have been right.

Catherine Connelly, assistant professor of human resources & management at the DeGroote School of Business at McMaster University, has found that employees often protect their knowledge and will even take steps to hide it from co-workers

Considering that companies regard knowledge acquired on the job as proprietary and implement expensive knowledge management systems to ensure those in the know share with others, this behaviour is bad for business, says Connelly.

The reluctance to share produces a contagious tendency to hide important knowledge and as a result productivity suffers, she adds.

Connelly found that employees are more willing to share with people they trust and who treat them fairly. "When organizations emphasize positive relationships and trust among employees, knowledge sharing will become part of the culture," explains Connelly.

Connelly and her colleagues David Zweig of the University of Toronto and Jane Webster of Queen's University will present their findings at the annual conference of The Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology in Dallas May 5-7.

Clues you've been a victim of knowledge hiding:

  • You ask a colleague for help, and they say
  • "I'm sorry. My boss doesn't want this to be public right now."
  • Nothing. They ignore your request.
  • "I don't know. Maybe someone else can help you out."
Why people engage in knowledge hiding:
  • they feel that an injustice has been done to them
  • they are distrustful of co-workers or management
  • they are retaliating against someone else's behavior toward them
  • the organizational climate encourages secrecy, not sharing
  • they can get away with it
How to encourage knowledge sharing:
  • emphasize positive relationships and trust among employees
  • explain the mutual benefits of having colleagues share their knowledge
  • treat all workers fairly and respectfully
  • make knowledge sharing part of the culture

McMaster University, a world-renowned, research-intensive university, fosters a culture of innovation, and a commitment to discovery and learning in teaching, research and scholarship. Based in Hamilton, the University, one of only four Canadian universities to be listed on the Top 100 universities in the world, has a student population of more than 23,000, and an alumni population of more than 115,000 in 128 countries.


Catherine Connelly
Assistant Professor
DeGroote School of Business
McMaster University
905-525-9140 ext. 23954

Julia Thomson
Communications Officer
DeGroote School of Business
McMaster University
905-525-9140 ext. 27436

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