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Social exchange theory is one of the most prominent conceptual perspectives in management, as well as related fields like sociology and social psychology. An important criticism of social exchange theory; however, is that it lacks sufficient theoretical precision, and thus has limited utility. Scholars who apply social exchange theory are able to explain many social phenomena in post hoc manner but are severely limited in their ability to make useful a priori predictions regarding workplace behavior. In this review, we discuss social exchange theory as it exists today and identify four critical issues within the social exchange paradigm that warrant additional consideration. The four concerns, around which we center this review, include the following: (1) overlapping constructs that need to be more clearly distinguished; (2) insufficient appreciation to the positive or negative hedonic value of these various constructs; (3) an assumption of bipolarity, which treats negative constructs (e.g., abuse) as the absence of positive constructs (e.g., support); and, following from the prior three issues, (4) theoretically imprecise behavioral predictions. Given that these problems are inherent in the current unidimensional framework for social exchange theory, we suggest an additional dimension–activity. We explain how conceptualizing social exchange within a two-dimensional space, while giving equal consideration to both hedonic value and activity, creates new opportunities for future research.
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