How has the humanitarian sector’s awareness of staff care evolved?

By Maduri Moutou
Senior People Capacity and Development Manager

Over 20 years ago, the seminal research report “Room for Improvement: The Management and Support of Relief Workers” started a change in the way organisations and staff work together in the humanitarian and development sector. It catalysed a shift in our awareness of staff care and, importantly, the huge impact of getting staff care wrong - not only on affected staff, but their teams, organisations and critically, the communities we work in. The report linked staff care and staff resilience to poor performance and diminished programme quality. It also led to a host of initiatives, including the creation of People In Aid and the Code of Good Practice in the Management and Support of Aid Personnel. 

In June 2015, People In Aid merged with HAP International to form the CHS Alliance, bringing together decades of experience in people management, quality and accountability. The two organisations came together along with the Sphere Project and Groupe URD to create the Core Humanitarian Standard (CHS) which launched in December 2014 and replaces the People In Aid Code, HAP Standard, and Sphere Core Standards.

The question today is, are the initial findings of the Room For Improvement paper still relevant? Over the years of working with our members and partnering with organisations like Interhealth and Cigna we know that staff care policies and practices continue to be inconsistent and even where they exist, guidelines tend not to be adhered to or applied to all staff equally. A recent CHS Alliance paper on Mindfulness and Wellbeing published in December 2015, highlighted the immediacy of the issue of mental health and wellbeing of humanitarian and development workers. A survey amongst 754 aid workers revealed that a staggering 79% had experienced mental health issues. Of these, 93% believed it related directly to working within the aid sector itself.

So what has changed over the last 20 years? One thing which has held true is that humanitarian and development staff continue to operate in a world that is increasingly demanding, intense, complex and unsafe. As a sector we are trying to make the world a better place, but as human resources (HR) practitioners, how can we help our staff operate in this environment?

Do self resilience and organisational resilience hold the key to operating in these situations? Can these things really lead to happier staff, happier organisations and happier communities? I would like to think so. But what's the cost, what's the return on investment, and how can we prevent any problems? We will be exploring these questions and others at our 29th Humanitarian Human Resources (HHR) conference. Every year, the HHR conferences provide a unique space for HR professionals in the sector to reflect, learn from what others are doing, gain fresh insights, and generate practical solutions. Three are planned for 2016, in Europe, Africa and Asia. 

The Europe edition will be held in Barcelona from 8-10 June and will examine the theme “Organisational Resilience: HR at the frontline”. This year, the first 15 bookings will also receive an early bird discount - £650 instead of £700. The conference fee includes accommodation in a 4-star hotel in Barcelona on 8 and 9 June, dinner on both evenings, and lunches on all three days of the conference. Our HHR conferences are always very popular and places are limited, so book now to secure your place.