If you're worried that sharing ideas at the office will result in someone stealing them and taking credit, relax. A new study published in the Academy of Management Journal notes this actually happens less frequently than we think, and we may be shooting ourselves in the foot by hiding knowledge from our coworkers..
Photo by David Orban
The researchers behind the study noted two significant findings: First, they explained that while idea stealing is definitely real, it happens far less often than we believe. Often our ideas just aren't good enough to steal. Instead, a selfish coworker would help polish them and take credit for the work. Second, they point out that hiding knowledge and information from your coworkers is usually likely to backfire -- people who do are almost always treated with suspicion by their colleagues.
It's one thing to be indispensable, or "the only guy who knows how to do that", and it's another to be so protective of your knowledge that you intentionally keep others in the dark:
"More specifically, employees who intentionally hide more knowledge seem bound to receive such selfish behaviour in return from their co-workers, which will ultimately hurt them and decrease their creativity," the researchers wrote in the study.
One of the paper's authors, Matej Cerne of Ljubljana University in Slovenia, said certain workplaces encourage this behaviour. Specifically, in workplaces that have a performance climate, where employees are encouraged to compete with each other in the belief that this enhances performance, workers certainly have an incentive to hide knowledge, he said.
"But they're not likely to gain from it, because in the tit-for-tat culture that prevails in such settings, co-workers will respond in kind, and the culprit's standing with the boss will probably suffer," Cerne said.
The authors go on to explain that in some environments, hiding knowledge may not be punished, but it also won't be rewarded. Since the hoarder isn't adding to the collective pool of information, it's a no-win situation, so there's no benefit. In short, you're best off bouncing ideas off of coworkers you trust or your boss (if you have a good relationship with them) to see where they go.
Remember, if they're no good, creative destruction is just part of the growth process. Most importantly, no one trusts the coworker that keeps everything to themselves and is difficult to work with. Read the full study here (login required) or hit the links below for more.
Academy of Management Hide Knowledge from Co-Workers? It Just Doesn't Pay, Study Finds [Academy of Management Journal via Business News Daily]