Diversity and Relational Perspectives
Edited by Katerina Nicolopoulou, Mine Karataş-Özkan, Ahu Tatli and John Taylor
Chapter 13: Autonomy as a Stressor in Knowledge Work
Peter Holdt Christensen INTRODUCTION In recent decades the knowledge worker has emerged as the key to organizational competitive advantage (Davenport 2005; Dixon 2000) in an ever flatter and more globalized world where organizational life has to both fight global competitors, and seize global opportunities. The knowledge worker is a key organizational resource in creating and sustaining competitive advantages in this dynamic and innovative context. Knowledge workers possess valuable knowledge and are capable of creating new knowledge contributing to new organizational processes, products and services (Leonard-Barton 1995). So, knowledge workers have both outdated and outperformed manual work. Furthermore, knowledge workers seem to be almost automatically motivated – just remember to allow them high levels of autonomy. At least, this seems to be the dominant way of thinking within management theory. In the same vein, work environment theories – most notably the demand/control model (Karasek 1979) – argue that high decision latitudes combined with high psychological demands predict active jobs, or what may also be referred to as knowledge work. Increasingly, however, knowledge workers suffer from occupational stress that normally is expected to arise from jobs termed high strain jobs (Burke and Fiksenbaum 2008: 9). So, how do we account for knowledge worker’s increased levels of occupational stress at the same time that knowledge work is most often labelled an active job that comes with high levels of autonomy, and therefore is supposed to predict high levels of motivation? Contrary to conventional managerial wisdom I argue that knowledge work is not at all an active...
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