U.S. Army grant will help communication researcher examine knowledge hoarding in the workplace

ARLINGTON, Texas -- A University of Texas at Arlington communications researcher has received a U.S. Army grant to explore when and why employees hide critical information on the job in what is commonly referred to as knowledge hoarding. 

The three-year $360,000 grant also will evaluate the potential beneficial or harmful effects of knowledge hoarding on the performance of work teams.

“Knowledge hoarding may not always be a bad thing. Maybe those with whom we share knowledge don’t really need that information or it’s not relevant,” said Chunke Su, an associate professor of communication in the UT Arlington College of Liberal Arts and sole principal investigator on the project.

“These days we complain about oversharing and for good reason. I’m curious to identify the best ways to make sure there is optimal distribution of knowledge within a work team.”

Su’s research was motivated by a recent newspaper poll that found that 76 percent of 1,700 readers surveyed admitted to withholding knowledge from their co-workers.

“I found the facts about knowledge hoarding interesting given how much we stress sharing knowledge and collaboration in today’s society,” he added.

Graduate students will assist in the project by collecting data from 20 different work teams from multiple industries. They will incorporate non-traditional surveys and analyze data by using social network analysis techniques.

Su will evaluate the personal, interpersonal, contextual and technological factors that may lead to employees' knowledge hoarding behaviors.

Charla Markham Shaw, UT Arlington Department of Communication chair and associate professor, said the grant is one of the most significant in recent years for the department. She said the funding will have a potential impact on the ways in which knowledge is communicated in organizations, and on organizational expectations and messaging about sharing knowledge.

“As a result of this grant, Dr. Su’s study also will provide our communication graduate students with extensive research involvement that will benefit both the project and their own educational experiences,” Markham Shaw said.

In addition to his current project, Su has explored how a group member’s accuracy in expertise recognition is influenced by one’s focus in the communication network, use of digital knowledge repositories, and work remoteness. That study, “Who knows what in the group? The effects of communication network centralities, use of digital knowledge repositories, and work remoteness on organizational members’ accuracy in expertise recognition,” was published in 2012 in the journal Communication Research.

About the UT Arlington College of Liberal Arts

The UT Arlington College of Liberal Arts serves more than 4,000 students enrolled in 26 undergraduate and 21 graduate programs. National accreditation includes the Department of Art & Art History through the National Association of Schools of Art & Design and the Department of Music through the National Association of Schools of Music. The College of Liberal Arts employs more than 300 faculty across 12 departments; faculty awards for research and creative activity include a Guggenheim Fellowship, two Pulitzer Prize nominations, a winner of La Cruz Andina de Oro [Andean Golden Cross] from the Bolivian Government, and multiple awards from the Fulbright Foundation, the National Endowment for the Humanities, the National Science Foundation, and the National Endowment for the Arts.

About UT Arlington

The University of Texas at Arlington is a comprehensive research institution of more than 50,000 students in campus-based and online degree programs and is the second largest institution in The University of Texas System. The Chronicle of Higher Education ranked UT Arlington as the seventh fastest-growing public research university in 2013. U.S. News & World Report ranks UT Arlington fifth in the nation for undergraduate diversity. Visit www.uta.edu to learn more, and find UT Arlington rankings and recognition at www.uta.edu/uta/about/rankings.php.