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Unpacking differences in psychological contracts of organizational and self-initiated expatriates

Kate Yue Zhang (Department of International Business Administration, The American University of Paris, Paris, France)
Bart Rienties (Institute of Educational Technology, Open University, Milton Keynes, UK)

Journal of Global Mobility

ISSN: 2049-8799

Article publication date: 13 March 2017




Global staffing has remained a main focus within the field of international human resource management (IHRM) since the 1970s. However, research in the psychological contract (PC) of expatriates is limited. The purpose of this paper is to explore the differences in PC breach and violation for organisational expatriates and self-initiated expatriates (SIEs).


A survey questionnaire was developed covering 52 organisational expatriates and 119 SIEs from 35 countries/regions working in China. Four follow-up focus group interviews including four organisational expatriates and 12 SIEs were conducted to further explain the findings of the survey.


The findings indicate that organisational expatriates experience significantly lower levels of PC breach and violation than SIEs. Three broad thematic areas arose from the triangulation of focus group interviews, including uncertainties in functioning of contracts, differences in job securities and career development opportunities, and cultural differences.

Practical implications

Employers should give a comprehensive orientation and cultural training to meet the needs of SIEs. Moreover, long-term career advancement paths should also be provided to SIEs to alleviate their vulnerability and insecurities working abroad.


The study contributes to the scholarship of self-initiated expatriation and PCs and give implications to IHRM strategies.



Zhang, K.Y. and Rienties, B. (2017), "Unpacking differences in psychological contracts of organizational and self-initiated expatriates", Journal of Global Mobility, Vol. 5 No. 1, pp. 93-108.



Emerald Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2017, Emerald Publishing Limited

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