Publication Details

Barrett, M., Cox, A. & Woodward, B. (2017). The psychological contract of international volunteers: an exploratory study. Journal of Global Mobility: The Home of Expatriate Management Research, 5 (2), 123-145.


Purpose - The purpose of this paper is to investigate the psychological contracts (PCs) of international volunteers (IVs) in international aid and development organizations (IADS). Specifically, it explores four questions: how IVs form PCs; what the content of these PCs is; how IVs' PCs are maintained; and how they are fulfilled or breached.

Design/methodology/approach - The study used an inductive analysis of qualitative data: interviews with 27 IVs from a range of IADS.

Findings - The findings take the form of research propositions: RP1: IVs' PCs, like those of domestic volunteers, include relational, transactional and, especially, values-based elements, but the balance of these is influenced by their values-based PC; the self-directed way IVs join their organizations; and reliance on peers rather than the organization's management hierarchy. RP2: the PCs of IVs working for faith-based organizations have an additional element: spiritual support. RP3: the values-based PC means many transactional elements can be "adjusted away", making it difficult to breach these PCs. RP4: experienced volunteers have very minimal PCs, but are more likely than inexperienced volunteers to expect basic safety and adequately skilled colleagues.

Research limitations/implications - The authors suggest areas of new inquiry and specific ways each research proposition could be tested empirically.

Practical implications - To alleviate IVs' expatriation and repatriation adjustment problems, international aid organizations could facilitate the ways IVs already help each other. This would also help fulfill IVs' PCs.

Originality/value - IVs are a growing but underexplored group and aspects of their PCs may be unique.

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