University of Oulu

Trade secret or professional skill? : experts’ experiences on the impact of non-disclosure agreements on career development

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Author: Kulmakka, Taru1
Organizations: 1University of Oulu, Oulu Business School, Department of Management and International Business, Management
Format: ebook
Version: published version
Access: open
Online Access: PDF Full Text (PDF, 6 MB)
Pages: 76
Persistent link:
Language: English
Published: Oulu : T. Kulmakka, 2020
Publish Date: 2020-05-25
Thesis type: Master's thesis
Tutor: Hurmelinna-Laukkanen, Pia
Reviewer: Haapanen, Lauri
Hurmelinna-Laukkanen, Pia


The topic of this study is based on non-disclosure agreements and whether they can be seen to have an impact on the career development of experts. The aim is to find an answer to the research problem formed by the topic with the help of a research question “To what extent do experts feel that non-disclosure agreements have an impact on how they can make progress on their careers?” and with two sub-questions ”What information was understood included in the non-disclosure agreement?” and ”Where does the boundary between expertise and trade secrets theoretically go?”.

Non-disclosure agreements are very common today and have become a regular part of the content of an employment contract. However, there have been indications in previous studies that experts see non-disclosure agreements as limiting and slowing down their work. The job description of experts differs from other employees in that they often possess information that no one else in the organization holds. This situation may obscure the expert’s perception of which information in his or her possession is a trade secret of the employer and which information or skills can be considered to belong to the expert’s personal knowledge capital.

The analysis method that has been used in this study is inspired by Grounded Theory according to Gioia methodology. In accordance with the methodology, the research did not in principle focus on proving or refuting previous research results, but sought to highlight the voice of the interviewed experts, and the theoretical framework of the study was formed on the basis of themes emerging from data analysis. The empirical material of the study was produced by interviewing five experts and each comes from different backgrounds. The interviews were conducted with semi-structured thematic interviews.

Based on the results of this study, it could be seen that the experts did not felt that confidentiality agreements would hinder their career development according to this sample. However, it was seen that the experts’ experience with the non-disclosure agreement was due to a weakening of the agreement between the expert and the former employer in a job exchange situation, making also the line between one’s own professional skills and the employer’s trade secret became blurred.

This study introduces the reader to the role of experts in organizations and their independent attitudes towards their own careers and development. In addition, this study enables the reader to form a broad understanding of personal, legal, and employer-directed practices that affect to confidentiality. Although the results of this study are generalizable only in this particular research, the outcome of this study will be able to provide organizations with information on how important experts consider the non-disclosure agreements to be for career development.

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Copyright information: © Taru Kulmakka, 2020. This publication is copyrighted. You may download, display and print it for your own personal use. Commercial use is prohibited.