Knowledge workers create value by using knowledge and understanding – they think for a living, rather than carrying out physical labour. 

Managing knowledge workers effectively requires a particular approach as, while in manual work the targets and outputs are usually clear, knowledge work and its results are less tangible and therefore are harder to define, measure and evaluate. 

This evidence review summarises the best available scientific research on the principal factors that contribute to the performance of knowledge workers. We also look at definitions and the nature of knowledge work, and offer actionable recommendations on how to improve knowledge workers’ results. 

  • See the practice summary for the main insights and practical recommendations for action. 
  • See the scientific summary for our methodology and technical information on the research and study references.

Knowledge work performance: An evidence review | Practice summary

Download the practice summary
PDF document 258.8 KB

Knowledge work performance: An evidence review | Scientific summary

Download the scientific summary
PDF document 675 KB

Key factors for effective performance 

Some factors that drive the performance of knowledge workers include: 

  • Vision and goals 
  • Group goals
  • Support for innovation
  • People management and leadership
  • Team dynamics
  • Communications

Key recommendations

  • Make sure that employees understand how the organisation’s vision, and specific individual and team goals cascade to their tasks and responsibilities.
  • Encourage and give recognition for sharing original ideas and trying new ways of doing things.  
  • Provide employees with opportunities that help them learn, develop new skills and grow.
  • Encourage team members to interact and share opinions about their work. 
  • Create opportunities for sharing knowledge and information within and across teams and departments. 

More on this topic

Policy engagement
Calling for a comprehensive economic strategy to help the UK out of recession

Read our submission to the UK’s Chancellor, ahead of the March 2024 budget statement

Bitesize research
Improving feedback to improve performance

This research outlines recommendations for making feedback discussions more constructive, with advice on becoming a good listener and learning about how relationships affect the uptake of feedback

For Members

Latest evidence reviews

Evidence review
Trust and psychological safety: An evidence review

Find out what the evidence says about building trust and psychological safety

Evidence review
Effective people managers: Evidence review

Research exploring how to develop people managers who drive organisational success

Evidence review
High-performing teams: An evidence review

Explore the latest research on how to create a positive environment to build and nurture effective teams

Evidence review
Productive meetings: An evidence review

This evidence review summarises the latest research on the effective management of meetings and offers recommendations to get the most out of them

All evidence reviews