HR Management & Compliance

Employees Become Frustrated When They Can’t Access Company Expertise

In part one of this article we looked at part of our recent interview with Ari Bixhorn, Vice President of Marketing, at Panopto concerning the loss of company knowledge when employees leave an organization. Today we’ll look at how not being able to access information creates frustration among employees.

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HR Daily Advisor: Results showed that experience was the number one most important source of employee knowledge. How is this impacted by quick turnover and short employment periods?

Bixhorn: We spend our entire lives learning. And because none of us take the same path in our personal and professional development, we’d expect each of us to develop our own unique knowledge we can use in the workplace.

The fact that employees only stay in a job for 2 years on average is a challenge for companies because new employees typically aren’t fully up to speed for 6.5 months. That means they’ll only spend about 6 quarters working at full productivity before they leave the job.

For companies that are proactive about preserving and sharing knowledge, however, turnover represents opportunity as well. Because we each discover our own methods for working more efficiently, we each have unique expertise to share. When companies document and save that expertise, it can be used to help new hires get up to speed faster. And as employees come and go, these firms can build a library of nuanced expertise, sourced from employees over time, which can benefit new hires and colleagues across the company.

HR Daily Advisor: Your research also touches on unshared knowledge and found that 81% of employees are frustrated by not being able to access knowledge. What are the reasons that employees not being able to access knowledge find frustrating?

Bixhorn: Lack of access to a colleague’s expertise frustrates employees because it leads to an inefficient use of time and energy. People waste productive hours waiting to get in touch with other employees, searching for answers online, or needlessly duplicating work that’s already been done.

By way of example, say you want advice on how to structure a presentation for a client. You’ve seen multiple examples, and each one is structured differently. You send an e-mail to your coworker, Mandy, who knows the client better than anyone and can tell you the best way to approach your presentation. But Mandy is in meetings all day and doesn’t write back. You send a follow-up e-mail the next morning, and later in the afternoon she’s finally able to get back to you with the advice you need. While waiting for Mandy’s response, you shifted your focus to other things. But your presentation was stuck at square one. You lost a day or two of potential progress, and now you have to cram to get it all done by the deadline.

Those delays have a material impact on employees’ schedules—two-thirds of the delays caused by waiting for someone else’s input will last up to 1 week, and 12% will last a month or more. As work stalls and deadlines loom, it’s easy to see why so many people would find these experiences frustrating.

HR Daily Advisor: Do employees guard their unique knowledge?

Bixhorn: Most employees don’t intentionally guard their own knowledge. When a coworker asks for help or advice, people are usually happy to share it.

Far more often, the challenge is how to make that expertise available at scale. Typically, when we think of employees exchanging knowledge, we picture two people whiteboarding ideas in a meeting room, sharing on-screen information on a video call, or simply having an informal face-to-face “how-to” discussion at an employee’s desk. But these informal interactions are ephemeral and don’t scale. Other coworkers who aren’t part of the real-time discussion don’t benefit from the knowledge being shared. And when the expert in question is unavailable—whether on vacation, no longer with the company, or simply booked up in an important meeting—that unique knowledge is unavailable, too.

Of course, it isn’t realistic to suggest that all of our unique knowledge could be documented, preserved, and shared. But strong knowledge management and social learning initiatives could help firms make a significant dent in the time their people spend waiting on each other’s input.

HR Daily Advisor: How can companies address this problem? Is there a switch that can open the floodgates of knowledge?

Bixhorn: Companies suffer from unshared knowledge in two ways: through inefficient employee transitions and less productive day-to-day work. Solutions must therefore address both of these factors.

The “switch” is cultural. If an organization doesn’t outwardly value and promote knowledge sharing, employees won’t change their existing behaviors. But as many organizations have found with past forays into knowledge management, a cultural shift is only half the equation. Employees need the right tools to make capturing and sharing what they know as easy as possible. Today, video-based solutions and enterprise social networks are both gaining traction as simpler ways to share expertise because they take far less time than traditional text-based documentation.

With the right tools and cultural initiatives in place, firms can then seek to create a virtuous cycle by curating and highlighting the best examples of employee knowledge sharing. Doing so will both reinforce their new cultural values and help employees see how they can share their own insights.

HR Daily Advisor: What role does onboarding play in all of this?

Bixhorn: According to the learning and development professionals in our survey, new employees receive just 2.5 months of formal onboarding training on average. Forty percent of respondents reported providing either less than a single month of new hire training or having no formal onboarding program at all.

If new hires receive only a few weeks or months of formal training, much of their first year will be spent figuring things out as they go or waiting for their colleagues to show them how to accomplish various tasks. Organizations that invest in knowledge sharing could help bring these employees up to speed more efficiently, reduce their frustration, and bolster the company’s productivity in the process. In our calculations, we found that more efficient onboarding that’s driven by better knowledge sharing could save the average-size enterprise $4.5 million in productivity every year.