The New Era Workplace Relationships: Is Social Exchange Theory Still Relevant?

Lily Chernyak-Hai, Edna Rabenu

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

138 Scopus citations


In this article, we argue that changes in workplace characteristics over the last few decades may affect work relationships and call for adjustments in the traditional theoretical framework used to understand them. Since the last quarter of the 20th century, there have been theories regarding changes in labor relationships following technological, political, globalization, and economical changes. However, we examine the changes in light of psychological theories rather than labor or industrial approaches. We review four main areas where social exchange theory (SET) has been implemented, address recent changes that challenge the traditional SET perspective, and propose alternative models. We refer to these models as hybrid as they integrate traditional SET premises with new-era workplace characteristics. First, we describe several changes in workplace characteristics. Next, we review some of the most conventional applications of SET to work relationships. Finally, we critically examine whether this theory meets the requirements of work relationships in the new world of work and conclude by arguing that SET needs to be adjusted to reflect the assumption that frequent changes in employee and organizational characteristics in the new workplaces require similar frequent adjustments in exchange relationships.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)456-481
Number of pages26
JournalIndustrial and Organizational Psychology
Issue number3
StatePublished - 1 Sep 2018
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2018 Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology.


  • CWB
  • OCB
  • leader-member exchange (LMX)
  • organizational support
  • social exchange theory (SET)
  • workplace relationships


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