Knowledge Workers vs. Learning Workers

Knowledge Workers vs. Learning Workers (Pros and Cons)

In today’s post, I’m going to show you the pros and cons of knowledge workers vs. learning workers.

There is no way in this blog I can go through all the pros and cons for each theory, this is too big a subject but this is a taster and is written to make you think and possibly motivate you to look at your way of working and/or managing yourself or employees.

Whilst Peter F Drucker is credited with this theory of the knowledge worker in the book ‘The landmarks of tomorrow’, 1959. He had the foresight to see the knowledge workers becoming learning workers. This term was coined by Jacob Morgan in his book the future of work in 2014.

Let’s dive right in.

What is a knowledge worker?

Knowledge Workers

It is defined by Drucker as, ‘high-level workers who apply theoretical and analytical knowledge, acquired through formal training, to develop products and services’.

He believed that knowledge workers would become the most valuable asset of a 21st-century organisation, because of their high levels of productivity and creativity. When the 20th centuries most valuable company asset had been its production equipment.

If we take manual workers out of the equation (those are people who generally work with their hands, operate machines or assemble parts and are generally involved with the making of an item).

You still have a large part of the workforce who is a skilled manual labourer (those who work with their hands but study to acquire the knowledge to apply this (e.g. surgeon, dentist, etc.) they are known as a Technologist – they should also be considered a knowledge worker.

It may be that Drucker had no way of knowing how fast technology would develop and become mainstream almost everywhere. So there is now a new and developing way of learning skills.

What is a learning worker?

Learning Worker

The learning worker was coined by Jacob Morgan and it is ‘people who are able to learn new things and apply those learnings to various scenarios and environments’. In essence, being able to “learn how to learn”.

Suddenly the smartest person in the room is the person connected to the internet!

Do business need to employ someone who has learned the trade for several years from a teacher? Or do they google and you-tube it and become self-taught going forward?

That said, you also have to factor in the way that society is changing and we are slowly losing all the baby boomers born between 1946 – 1964 as they retire. And the generation X (1965 – 1980) will be expected to pick up the slack. However, the upcoming Millennials (1980 – 1994) are bringing new ways of thinking and with that how they use technology.

How do you cover the skills gap that could develop and how will the information be passed on?

The way companies train and hire people could then need to be re-evaluated as there is a shift in learning practices (just look at the way the schools use technology now as opposed to just 10 or 20 years ago and children going up to magazines pictures looking to enlarge or interact with them).  

Why do we care how someone learns?

Because we need them to be productive which in turn increases business and revenue. Getting knowledge for productivity is not just about gaining information, as information is not knowledge until it’s used!

For example, Oscar Hammerstein II said, “A bell’s not a bell ’til you ring it – A song’s not a song ’til you sing it…!”

Productivity is the biggest improvement challenge and concern for the future. It has been shown to be decreasing over time, but by improving productivity have you just become a busy fool?

How do we increase productivity in a way that is sustainable and produces results?

First, we look at innovation

Innovation is taking an area that is an expensive resource with low productivity and turning it into an opportunity for achievement and contribution. Every enterprise, business or non-business, must look to abandon the obsolete and the unproductive. These include activities and programs that no longer contribute; the ventures that looked so enticing when started, but now, five years later, are still unproductive.

Ask yourself – if you were not already in your business, would you join or buy it?

If the answer is NO, what do you need to do, to make that a YES?

You may also want to take into account the Pareto principle, it is an axiom of business management that “80% of sales come from 20% of clients”. It also works in other areas of the business, e.g. customer satisfaction, areas of loss, etc.

Learning workers use technology for innovation – technology is from the Greek word meaning “useful knowledge or organised skill”. It can be used by making sure, that new and better skills must be continually acquired and utilised. Making use of conferences, webinars and short courses.

This throws up a couple of issues, how can we motivate knowledge workers and not demotivate them? Motivated workers are more productive and therefore better for any company.

How productive are we at the moment?

A survey carried out globally on behalf of Asana found that 10,000 knowledge workers waste over 2 hours a day (not including lunch) on emails, the internet, reading and some even playing games! This equates to 10 hours in a week, which is over a full day of unproductivity!

Is this an argument for a 4 day week?

They also found out that only 27% of these workers time, is spent on doing what they were paid to do. In the UK it was also shown that over 5 hours per week were spent replicating what someone else had done.

What could be the reasons be for the lack of productivity?

  • The tendency to confuse busyness (filling out the paper, passing paper back and forth and attending meetings) with productivity
  • Knowledge workers cannot be replaced by capital investment as in the case of manual work
  • Capital investment creates the need for more knowledge workers and creates a demand for new and more highly paid employees
  • Few know how to deal with managing the knowledge worker and increasing their productivity. It is suggested that “Knowledge workers need to be led, not managed.”

How do Knowledge workers like to work?


  • have their own routines and patterns of work and therefore, they may not necessarily conform to 9 AM to 5 PM office hours.
  • consider the productivity of their work to be the quality, not quantity, of the output of their work.
  • are highly mobile and can move to a new company if learning and personal growth opportunities do not exist, or if they are underutilised in their present positions. As such, they are more committed to their professions rather than to the organization where they are employed.
  • will work with associates in a team depending on the assignment but often prefer to work alone.
  • must respect who they work for.
  • need feedback but do not accept criticism of their work well.
  • need their physical space where they work not to be too big, just big enough
  • have a “mental space” and do not appreciate people intruding on it.
  • have a performance and energy levels which operate in cycles — they are not machines that can be turned on and off easily.

What work do Knowledge workers want, and how do they need to perform it?

  • Knowledge workers need challenging work — opportunities to pursue and problems to solve. Continuous innovation must be built into the job.
  • Their authorities and responsibilities need to be clear — what decisions can they make?
  • Knowledge workers need to take responsibility for the job and need productive work.
  • They are self-directed but need leadership and support from their manager.
  • Continuous learning in their field of speciality and profession is extremely important.
  • Knowledge workers need feedback information in order to measure their own performance against standards and objectives.

How do Learning workers like to work?

  • building a habit of continuous learning and by keeping their eyes and ears constantly open and learn from everything around them
  • extract the learning from their work experiences.
  • keeping up to date with what’s happening in their industry and profession
  • recognising serendipitous learning – the accidental, unplanned learning that takes place every day as a consequence of other things.


So we know what both worker’s needs – how is that managed!

A manager or employee needs to make sure they have the best practice.

  • Define Results: What results are they to produce?
  • The Job Assignment: What is the job that they are to be assigned to or are they in now?
  • Task and Time Assessment: What are the tasks that they are to perform and over what period of time? When do we expect the results?
  • Agreement on Objectives and Their Measurement: What objectives will be mutually agreed to and how will they be measured?
  • Providing Support: What support do they require to produce the results (budget, information, your coordination to involve others, etc.)?
  • Feedback and Self-Feedback Systems: How will they be able to measure his or her progress (self-control)?
  • Recognition: How do you plan to recognise them for producing the desired results (financial and non-financial rewards)?
  • Continuous Learning: What continuous learning and self-development experience will be made available to them (courses, seminars, professional conferences, and associations, etc.)?

How will the office change with Knowledge workers becoming Learning workers?

It has begun to change and new ways to work are emerging. Both types are more committed to their professions rather than to the organisation where they are employed. They can move between companies when they become demotivated.

How do we create experiences that make a person understand, learn and thrive in their job role thus stopping them moving?

Learning workers are becoming more independent in the way they like to work.

And to enable the switch over to learning workers there will be a trend in ‘reverse mentoring’ when younger tech-savvy collaborators will help the older executives learn about technology (it already happens in the home!)

The way that learning workers are looking for work is changing. They are no longer look for a company that is ‘old school’ who if the management said jump, the staff would say “how high” this was brought about by the need to be an apprentice and learn a skill set from someone else doing that job role.

Since learning workers have the knowledge and know-how to learn, they can take their ‘skillset and look for a company that is offering an ‘employee experience’ – this is the new way of working for companies in the 21st century. As the next generation grows and becomes more prevalent, more information is posted online out there for the world to see,   the pros and cons of business and staff will be exposed.

Could a bad review turn away all the good prospects before they have even applied?

With the internet making communication between people and the companies they work for, and more importantly ones they are looking to move to, more accessible through sites like glassdoor, offering a more employee-centric experience can mean the right people are more likely to apply.

What is the future for the Office as we know it and how can we help you to bring the two types together?

We can offer software solutions and hardware that can make learning more efficient. Collaborate over distances in an instant, for example with a smart whiteboard that can allow screen sharing and document markups. Share ideas and updates and incorporate video conferencing from anywhere around the world or UK. Making sure you are keeping your footprint, emissions and costs to a minimum.

Use software to allow anyone in the company accesses to any created training materials or drop new information into it to share the knowledge.

Stop duplication of jobs by being able to ‘Google’ any documents or data, instantly to put you in control of your companies’ information at the touch of a button.

Bring several of your existing software systems together and create one network solution to make document workflow more efficient and speed up your business processes to make you and your company more productive.


So these are just a few pros and cons of Knowledge Workers vs. Learning Workers.

This topic is not a black and white area, but please let me know what you think.

Which type of worker is predominant in your office?

Is your office or business an Employee experience and if so how?

In which category do you class yourself?

Either way, please let me know your thoughts and comments below

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