Loyalty in humanity: turnover among expatriate humanitarian aid workers

Miranda Visser

Research output: ThesisThesis fully internal (DIV)

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This dissertation is about staff turnover in one of the largest organizations in the humanitarian field, Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), better known as Doctors without Borders. Staff turnover does not only lead to high organizational costs for recruiting, selecting, and training new employees, but it also hampers organizational effectiveness and efficiency of work activities within the humanitarian field. For long it has been assumed that high turnover would be unavoidable due to the uncertain and often dangerous contexts humanitarian employees reside in. However, this assumption has been challenged by those who propose that turnover in humanitarian organizations can be significantly reduced through professionalized personnel practices and policies. So far systematic academic insight concerning the effects of organizational attempts to professionalize the workforce of these organizations by investing in the employees are lacking. This book changes that, and empirically examines if and how investing in humanitarian employees has any effect. This book more specifically answers the question to what extent the attitudes of employees towards staying or leaving the organization can be explained by job- and organization-related characteristics, such as training, autonomy, internal communication, role clarity and work-life balance. Hereby we take a social-embeddedness approach where social relations at work (with management and colleagues) are taken into account. To what degree can humanitarian organizations influence turnover behavior of their employees, and how does the social context influence this relation? Our findings question some of the skeptical remarks on the humanitarian sector’s attempts to professionalize its workforce and its organizational routines. When it comes to staff turnover, it seems that much may still be achieved by implementing context-specific HRM practices.
Translated title of the contributionLoyaliteit in humaniteit
Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
Awarding Institution
  • University of Groningen
  • Wittek, Rafael, Supervisor
  • Mills, Melinda, Supervisor
  • Heyse, Liesbet, Co-supervisor
Award date9-Apr-2015
Place of Publication[S.l.]
Print ISBNs978-94-6299-046-3
Publication statusPublished - 2015

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