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Employee agency: challenges and opportunities for psychological contract theory


  • Seeck, Hannele
  • Parzefall, Marjo-Riitta


Purpose – The purpose of this study is to examine what employee agency entails for psychological contract theory. The paper aims to explore how employee agency manifests itself, how it is reflected in employees' perceptions of their psychological contract obligations, and what it implies for psychological contract theory. Design/methodology/approach – The study draws on a qualitative interview study of employees from the mobile phone content production industry in Finland. The analysis is based on 15 semi-structured employee interviews, which were supported by a discussion of the interviewees' weekly agendas. Findings – This study reveals that employee agency manifests itself as self-actualisation, action, influence and creativity, all of which have implications for employees' psychological contracts. Employees emerge as active parties to the psychological contract, consciously modifying and constructing it instead of simply reacting to employer behaviour, as is assumed in current research. Originality/value – This study contributes to psychological contract theory by providing one of the few empirical attempts to demonstrate how employees actively manage the exchange relationship captured by the psychological contract. It highlights the importance of acknowledging employee agency in future psychological contract research.

Suggested Citation

  • Seeck, Hannele & Parzefall, Marjo-Riitta, 2008. "Employee agency: challenges and opportunities for psychological contract theory," LSE Research Online Documents on Economics 49809, London School of Economics and Political Science, LSE Library.
  • Handle: RePEc:ehl:lserod:49809

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Jackie Coyle‐Shapiro & Ian Kessler, 2000. "Consequences Of The Psychological Contract For The Employment Relationship: A Large Scale Survey," Journal of Management Studies, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 37(7), pages 903-930, November.
    2. Maxine Robertson & Jacky Swan, 2003. "‘Control – What Control?’ Culture and Ambiguity Within a Knowledge Intensive Firm," Journal of Management Studies, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 40(4), pages 831-858, June.
    3. Susanna Lo & Samuel Aryee, 2003. "Psychological Contract Breach in a Chinese Context: An Integrative Approach," Journal of Management Studies, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 40(4), pages 1005-1020, June.
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    Cited by:

    1. Seeck, Hannele & Parzefall, Marjo-Riitta, 2010. "From HRM to psychological contracting - the case of Finnish mobile content producing companies," LSE Research Online Documents on Economics 49811, London School of Economics and Political Science, LSE Library.
    2. Lam, Alice & de Campos, Andre, 2014. "'Content to be sad' or 'runaway apprentice'? The psychological contract and career agency of young scientists in the entrepreneurial university," MPRA Paper 61412, University Library of Munich, Germany.

    More about this item


    employee agency; psychological contract; employment relationship; mobile content industry;

    JEL classification:

    • J50 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Labor-Management Relations, Trade Unions, and Collective Bargaining - - - General


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