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“You Don’t Dare Plan Much”: Contract Work and Personal Life for International Early-Career Professionals

Precarious Work

ISBN: 978-1-78743-288-8, eISBN: 978-1-78743-287-1

Publication date: 19 December 2017


Highly educated and skilled contract workers come from a range of occupations, have different worker characteristics, and work under organizational practices that are precarious in varied ways. Our current understanding of the experience of contract work does not fully encompass this diversity. This chapter focuses on early-career contract workers who contract across national borders – an increasingly prevalent but little understood phenomenon – to broaden our understanding of contract work. I draw on an analysis of 38 in-depth, semi-structured interviews with 30 international and early-career contract workers in the United Nations (UN) system in Geneva, Switzerland. Eight participants were included in follow-up interviews. I find that my participants demonstrate flexibility to their employer. They accept uncertain and short-term contracts, because they hope to secure longer-term positions within the prestigious UN system. Demonstrating flexibility impacts them, their relationships, and has financial implications as participants center the demands of their contracts. At times, participants place limits on how much uncertainty they will bear. This chapter thus illuminates the experiences of an understudied group of contract workers – early-career workers in transnational settings – who fall within the broad umbrella of contract workers. It highlights how even elite workers experience challenges as they engage in contract work.




I thank Annette Lareau, Robin Leidner, Jerry Jacobs, Kristen Harknett, Emily Hannum, Junhow Wei, Priya Fielding-Singh, Kristine Kilanski, Melissa Abad, and Dinsha Mistree for their indispensable comments. The research was supported by the Pollak Fellowship at the University of Pennsylvania.


Rao, A.H. (2017), "“You Don’t Dare Plan Much”: Contract Work and Personal Life for International Early-Career Professionals", Kalleberg, A.L. and Vallas, S.P. (Ed.) Precarious Work (Research in the Sociology of Work, Vol. 31), Emerald Publishing Limited, Bingley, pp. 429-453.



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