Creating a Healthy Work Environment


Humanitarian aid workers who are passionate about what they are doing are often more willing to disregard their own well-being in order to do their job. It is then the duty of the Organization and the role of managers to integrate mental health and well-being as part of any initiative taken to create or enhance a healthy work environment.

It is natural that organizations expect more from humanitarian aid workers, especially those who work in difficult locations and due to the humanitarian needs of the population.

Do not micromanage your staff. It lowers motivation and the overall morale of the section/department

However if staff are not encouraged to relieve the stress associated with their jobs then there is a good chance that these colleagues will be less effective and may develop health issues.

Staff should be empowered to seek out stress relief wherever needed. Supervisors and Managers play an instrumental role in setting the tone to promote a positive work environment.

Motivate staff, give them a sense of purpose and recognition



How to Support your Staff

• Allow your staff to take shorts breaks where they can get up, stretch and take a break from the computer. This in turn will help improve their creativity and productivity
• Encourage R&R and vacations. Staff will return happier, refreshed and motivated.
• Actively encourage staff to participate in training and development
• Motivate staff, give them a sense of purpose and recognition
• Partake in Supervisor/Middle management training on properly appraising and motivating staff
• Create and maintain efficient and effective working processes, ensuring a balanced workload
• Be involved – say “hello”, ask staff about their weekends, families, etc; with an awareness to cultural sensitive.
• Do not micromanage your staff. It lowers motivation and the overall morale of the section/department.
• Staff are happier when their basic needs are met, so support the provision of appropriate facilities and tools.
• Have weekly meetings to discuss good news. Most meetings go over what’s missing or bad events – switch it up by holding meetings to share the positive news.

Remember, moods and emotions are contagious, so show positive emotions …You’re the role model and mentor. How you act is contagious  ~~Lang

• Ensure a fair and balanced approach to flexible working hours and telecommuting where possible.
• Do not allow a negative stigma to surround stress. It is important for organizations to allow the topic of stress management to be prevalent
• Support access to Staff counselling and related staff services
• Actively encourage staff to participate in wellness programs at work.

when employees felt empowered they reported greater job satisfaction and organizational commitment

Creating workplaces that are healthy for staff is one way in which Organisations can meet the rising expectations of being part of a demanding and often hazardous global business. And while a healthy work environment is directly related to improved productivity, it also and importantly recognizes those who risk their lives working with victims of natural disasters and armed conflict.

‘…A healthy workplace is one in which workers and managers collaborate to use a continual improvement process to protect and promote the health, safety and well-being of all workers and the sustainability of the workplace.’ A definition of a healthy workplace   ~~WHO

Time and again the research indicates, a sense of purpose and meaning in one’s work is fundamentally more important than all other aspects of work.

‘…daily acts of kindness such as acknowledging someone’s contribution or helping someone at work leads to positive emotions, which leads to greater workplace happiness and a more positive work environment…’ Sonnentag, S. & Grant, A. (2012)
‘…expressions of gratitude increase helping behaviors at work and also increase employees’ sense of worth and value, which makes them feel more competent…’ Grant, A. M., & Gino, F. (2010)
‘…when employees felt empowered, their performance was higher, they were more innovative, and they reported greater job satisfaction and organizational commitment. They also felt less job strain and were less likely to leave their organizations…’ Seibert, S.E., Wang, G., and Courtright, S.H. (2011)
‘…employees who perceived that their managers cared about their personal lives, who had more positive feelings about interaction with one’s supervisor, and felt that they leaned a lot from them, were more engaged…’ Dale Carnegie Training (2013)

For many Humanitarian aid workers this is not only a job that fills the day and pays the bills; it is a fulfilling passion. As one international staff member working in Somalia expressed during a recent field visit,

I count myself lucky to be able to make a living doing this work which is in alignment with my values

Offer constructive advice to your supervisor rather than focusing on the negative side of your issues

How to Support Your Supervisor

• Realize that managers working in the Humanitarian field are busy people. They are often under pressure with multiple deadlines, so ask if there is anything that you can do to support them.
• Turn complaints into ideas. Offer constructive advice or ideas to your supervisor on how things could be better rather than focusing only on the negative side of your issues.
• Volunteer, from time to time, to organize activities that strengthens group cohesion such as a team lunch, breakfast, birthday celebrations etc.

Humanitarian work can be stressful, but this stress can be managed if staff and managers work together to create a healthy and positive work environment.

Download the7 elements for a positive work environment for humanitarian workers