Original Research

Understanding tacit knowledge loss in public enterprises of South Africa

Malefetjane P. Phaladi, Patrick Ngulube
SA Journal of Human Resource Management | Vol 22 | a2229 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/sajhrm.v22i0.2229 | © 2024 Malefetjane P. Phaladi, Patrick Ngulube | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 20 January 2023 | Published: 12 January 2024

About the author(s)

Malefetjane P. Phaladi, Library Services, Durban University of Technology, Durban, South Africa; and Department of Information Systems, Faculty of Accounting and Informatics, Durban University of Technology, Durban, South Africa
Patrick Ngulube, School of Interdisciplinary Research and Graduate Studies, College of Graduate Studies, University of South Africa, Pretoria, South Africa


Orientation: South African state-owned enterprises (SOEs) are facing a perpetual struggle of institutional tacit knowledge loss, which poses a risk to these entities and threatens their sustainability. The research project endeavoured to tackle these challenges from knowledge management (KM) and human resource management (HRM) perspectives and proposes a plethora of integrated knowledge-driven HRM processes to mitigate risks associated with loss of tacit knowledge.

Research purpose: The study provides an integrated understanding of the issues relating to the causes of enterprise tacit knowledge loss and extent to which there is recognition of company knowledge loss in selected SOEs in South Africa.

Motivation for the study: There is limited research that provides an integrated approach to tacit knowledge loss from KM and HRM standpoints.

Research approach/design and method: The exploratory sequential mixed-methods research design was used in this study. In the qualitative phase of this research, data were collected from the annual reports of the SOEs and unstructured interviews with 20 purposively selected human resource (HR) managers, which was subsequently analysed thematically using ATLAS.ti software. The quantitative data from 145 out of 585 respondents were analysed statistically using Statistical Analysis Software (SAS).

Main findings: The study revealed that organisational tacit knowledge loss is largely caused by voluntary and involuntary employee turnover and a lack of retention strategies. This adversely affects the knowledge base and the knowledge absorptive and protective capacities of the SOEs.

Practical implications/managerial implications: The study concludes that the journey for ensuring effective knowledge transfer and retention of valuable enterprise knowledge starts with the appreciation of knowledge as a key firm-specific strategic issue.

Contribution/value-add: This study offers an integrated understanding of the causes of tacit knowledge loss for effective management in SOEs researched interdependently from KM and HRM perspectives.


knowledge loss risks; human resource management; knowledge management; knowledge-based theory; resource-based theory; South Africa; state-owned enterprises.

JEL Codes

J24: Human Capital • Skills • Occupational Choice • Labor Productivity; L32: Public Enterprises • Public-Private Enterprises; L52: Industrial Policy • Sectoral Planning Methods; M12: Personnel Management • Executives; Executive Compensation; M14: Corporate Culture • Diversity • Social Responsibility; O15: Human Resources • Human Development • Income Distribution • Migration

Sustainable Development Goal

Goal 9: Industry, innovation and infrastructure


Total abstract views: 1577
Total article views: 1156

Crossref Citations

No related citations found.