For Work / Against Work
Debates on the centrality of work

"The Firm Strikes Back: Non-compete Agreements and the Mobility of Technical Professionals"

by Marx, Matt (2011)


This study explores how firms shape labor markets and career paths using employee non-compete agreements. The sociology of work has overlooked non-competes, but data indicate that nearly half of technical professionals in the United States are asked to sign such employment contracts. Fearing loss of investments in talent and trade secrets, firms use non-competes to “strike back” against technical professionals’ increased mobility following the decline of internal labor markets. In-depth interviews with 52 randomly sampled patent holders in a single industry, coupled with a survey of 1,029 engineers across a variety of industries, reveal that ex-employees subject to non-competes are more likely to take career detours—that is, they involuntarily leave their technical field to avoid a potential lawsuit. Moreover, firms strategically manage the process of getting workers to sign such contracts, waiting for workers’ bargaining position to weaken. These findings inform our understanding of the social organization of work in the knowledge economy.

Key Passage



Empirical Study, Firms, Market Economy, Non-Compete Agreement, Sociology, Contracts, Employment Contracts, Mobility


Theory of the Firm, Critical Management Studies, Employment

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