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The psychological contract of international volunteers: an exploratory study

Mary Barrett (School of Management, Operations and Marketing, University of Wollongong, Wollongong, Australia)
Anne Cox (School of Management, Operations and Marketing, University of Wollongong, Wollongong, Australia)
Blake Woodward (School of Management, Operations and Marketing, University of Wollongong, Wollongong, Australia)

Journal of Global Mobility

ISSN: 2049-8799

Article publication date: 12 June 2017

Abstract

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.

Keywords

Acknowledgements

The authors are indebted to the anonymous referees of this journal and the Editor of this special issue, Dr Yvonne McNulty, who all made several suggestions adopted in this paper.

Citation

Barrett, M., Cox, A. and Woodward, B. (2017), "The psychological contract of international volunteers: an exploratory study", Journal of Global Mobility, Vol. 5 No. 2, pp. 123-145. https://doi.org/10.1108/JGM-03-2017-0009

Publisher

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Emerald Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2017, Emerald Publishing Limited