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Employee agency: challenges and opportunities for psychological contract theory

Hannele Seeck (University of Helsinki, Helsinki and Finnish Institute of Occupational Health, Centre of Excellence for Work and Organizations, Helsinki, Finland)
Marjo‐Riitta Parzefall (Department of Management and Organisation, Swedish School of Economics and Business Administration (Hanken), Helsinki, Finland)

Personnel Review

ISSN: 0048-3486

Article publication date: 1 August 2008




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.


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.


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.


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.



Seeck, H. and Parzefall, M. (2008), "Employee agency: challenges and opportunities for psychological contract theory", Personnel Review, Vol. 37 No. 5, pp. 473-489.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2008, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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