Community update: Wellbeing (May 2019): Organizational culture, support for national staff, Healing Solidarity Collective

Gemma Houldey
Gemma Houldey
Gemma Houldey is an independent writer and advisor on stress and wellbeing in the aid sector. She is based in Sussex, UK, but works internationally.
Gemma has worked in the aid sector for over 15 years, mainly on humanitarian and human rights programs in East Africa and the Middle East. She recently completed her PhD at the University of Sussex, UK, which examined stress among aid workers in Kenya. She now writes about her findings, and advises aid agencies and NGOs and their staff on individual and collective wellbeing and creating more compassionate and healthy work spaces.
Man and woman discussing in a meeting room

Photo: Rawpixel

Community updates provide brief highlights from expert practitioners about what they see as the key developments in a specific area, what resources they would recommend, and what to look out for in the coming months.

Key developments

The damaging effects of a negative organizational culture

Internal reviews of staff wellbeing in two large NGOs, Amnesty International and Save the Children, highlight the damaging effects of negative working practices in the sector, such as bullying, poor management, and lack of support channels. In spite of staff expressing great pride in working for their organization, some of the concerns raised include:

  • Gender harassment, including negative remarks about pregnancy and child-rearing responsibilities and discrimination on the basis of for example gender or ethnicity
  • Dissatisfaction with “zero tolerance” policies due to fear of reporting negative behavior and lack of adequate follow-up
  • Working conditions, including workload, insufficient resources, and poor management as bigger stressors than exposure to traumatic personal stories
  • An unhealthy cycle of blame and mistrust between managers and staff, with a majority of staff believing management do not care about their wellbeing

Organizational support can be particularly lacking for national staff

A recent study of the staff support needs of humanitarian workers in South Sudan highlights the ongoing divisions in treatment of national and international staff. The biggest concerns raised by respondents related to their salary and benefits entitlements (50% of respondents), and national staff, who comprised 58% of respondents, expressed disappointment that they did not receive the same protection measures, such as evacuation and R&R, as their international counterparts. Both national and international staff also emphasized the need for improved access to medical and psycho-support services.

Explore individual and collective wellbeing through the Healing Solidarity Collective

The Healing Solidarity Collective, whose online conference in September 2018 brought together over 1,500 participants, has launched a new online platform dedicated to re-imagining the aid/development sector and reflecting on ways to resist damaging working practices. You can join their discussions on embodied practices, anti-racism, and collective care (among others) on their website.

Recommended resources

Wellbeing reviews:

Support needs among humanitarian staff:

Healing Solidarity:

You can find out more about the Healing Solidarity conference held in September 2018, including session recordings, on the event website.

Keep an eye out for...

Two upcoming events organized by Mary Ann Clements at the Healing Solidarity Collective [requires signing up for free membership]:
A Book Club, running on 20 June, 11 July, and 15 August 1pm (UK BST) will discuss the book of the late, inspiring Alessandra Pigni, who sadly died recently. Her book, which has been a huge support to many aid workers, is entitled The Idealist’s Survival Kit: 75 Simple Ways to Avoid Burnout.
On 26 June there will be a series of live conversations on “Liberating Leadership,” considering each of our roles in re-imagining development and what sort of leadership is needed within the sector.
PHAP community updates are written by members of the association and other practitioners in their personal capacity. The views expressed belong solely to the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of PHAP or any other organizations with which the author is associated.