Unpacking differences in psychological contracts of organisational expatriates and self-initiated expatriates: a mixed method study

Zhang, Kate and Rienties, Bart (2017). Unpacking differences in psychological contracts of organisational expatriates and self-initiated expatriates: a mixed method study. Journal of Global Mobility, 5(1) pp. 93–108.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1108/JGM-06-2016-0025


Global staffing has remained a main focus within the field of International Human Resource Management (IHRM) since the 1970s (Collings, Scullion and Morley, 2007). With the changing patterns of global staffing in multinational enterprises, the latest trend has seen a decline in traditional international posts, and a rise in the number of self-initiated expatriates (SIEs), with Asian countries being the emerging popular migration destinations (Collings et al., 2007; OECD, 2012).

In recent years, scholars have presented the importance of treating organisational expatriates (OEs) and SIEs as heterogeneous groups (Altman and Baruch, 2012; Guzzo, Noonon, & Elron, 1994). OEs are defined as expatriates whom are sent to international assignments by their home employers, whereas SIEs are those who make their own decisions to work and live in a foreign country (Doherty et al., 2013). SIEs have become a larger segment relative to OEs in global labour market (Myers and Pringle, 2005). Indeed, multi-National Corporations (MNCs) have indicated an intention to replace OE managers with local-hired SIEs (Collings et al., 2007). With the increased reliance on SIEs relative to OEs in organisations, it is important to acknowledge that the drivers and motivations of SIEs might differ, as well as their perceptions towards the Psychological Contract (PC). In the present study, we adopt the definition by Rousseau (1989, p.123) whereby the PC refers to the employee’s beliefs “regarding the terms and conditions of a reciprocal exchange agreement between that focal person and another party”. Given the protean career attitudes of SIEs, which are described as a self-driven and value-oriented towards career advancement (Bricoe et al., 2006), it might result in substantial differences for SIEs in their expectation of their employer and understanding of the perceived promises relative to OEs. Moreover, previous studies have indicated various (perceived) differences of the two groups, e.g. motives, interaction with locals, work adjustment and career advancement opportunities, international mobility patterns (Alshahrani and Morley, 2015; Altman and Baruch, 2012; Guzzo, Noonon, & Elron, 1994). These factors may also have a significant impact on the differences in how SIEs experience the lack of fulfilment of the employer’s obligations, and their emotional reactions to perceived failed promises made by the employer.

Viewing alternatives

Download history


Public Attention

Altmetrics from Altmetric

Number of Citations

Citations from Dimensions

Item Actions