In case you missed it, here’s an interesting piece from out-going Vice Chair Shujaat Ahmed about the connection between HWP and OHP!  It originally appeared in our winter 2017 newsletter.

Humanitarian work psychology (HWP) focuses on improving human welfare in all countries irrespective of income, and is broadly applied for the greater good of all people. Some of the areas studied within HWP are humanitarian aid work, poverty reduction, diversity, and corporate social responsibility. On the other hand, occupational health psychology (OHP) is focused on understanding how social and psychological aspects of the workplace influence employees’ physical and mental health across jobs. Scientists and practitioners within OHP examine individual and organizational interventions in an attempt to create healthier workplaces, while protecting the safety and health of employees. Some of the areas studied within this field include work stress, work-family interface, disease prevention, and workplace safety.

Humanitarian work psychology and OHP are related in a number of ways. For one, both fields are interdisciplinary. HWP is inclusive of knowledge and methods from psychology, occupational health, organizational behavior, and economics to name a few. Similarly, OHP draws from a variety of disciplines such as psychology, occupational health, organizational behavior, and human factors. Both fields also emphasize the improvement of health of individuals by expanding on the traditional sphere of their respective fields using research-based evidence. The divide between the two fields has shrunk even more in recent years as OHP, which has been traditionally been known to help for-profit organizations, has begun to include non-profit organizations and low income workers as regular stakeholders in both research and practice.

Two examples in recent research of the amalgamation of HWP and OHP are worth mentioning. Ager, Pasha, Yu, Duke, Eriksson, and Cardozo (2012) examine the stress and well-being of national humanitarian aid workers in Uganda. Based on cross-sectional data, they found that aid workers who report high exposure to stress are significantly more likely to report diminished mental health outcomes. These aid workers were especially vulnerable to mental health consequences with over 68 percent showing signs of clinical depression and 53 percent at higher risk for anxiety disorders. Gender also seems to plays a role, with female aid workers reporting more symptoms of depression, anxiety, posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and emotional exhaustion than their male counterparts. The authors expand the connection of OHP-HWP research by focusing on the consequences (depression, anxiety, burnout, PTSD) of humanitarian work among national aid workers which has received less attention compared to international expatriate workers.

More recently, in 2015, Mahima Saxena and John Scott obtained a grant from the Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology (SIOP) for their project that explores work experiences of South Asian workers in the informal economy for the promotion of decent work and well-being. Informal economy may be defined as employment or economic activities that take place outside of, or that is external to government observation, taxation and regulation. Examples of informal work include laborers in agriculture, as well as nonagricultural work such as pottery, weaving, and manufacturing. Mahima and John have been investigating how informal workers conceptualize work, any hindrances they may face, and what their subjective health and well-being experiences are. This study makes an important contribution to SIOP’s United Nation’s initiative and also to the further connection of HWP and OHP research by promoting social justice, decent work, and well-being of informal workers.

While many psychologists consider the fields of HWP and OHP as distinct from one another, the main goals of each field complement each other greatly. Indeed, they can be thought of as two sides of one coin geared toward the promotion of health!




Further Readings

Ager, A., Pasha, E., Yu, G., Duke, T., Eriksson, C., & Cardozo, B. L. (2012). Stress, mental health, and burnout in national humanitarian aid workers in Gulu, Northern Uganda. Journal of Traumatic Stress, 25(6), 713-720.

Chang, C. H., & Spector, P. (2011). Cross-cultural occupational health psychology. In J. C. Quick & L. E. Tetrick (Eds.), Handbook of occupational health psychology (pp. 119-137). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

Vergara, J. A., & Gardner, D. (2011). Stressors and psychological wellbeing in local humanitarian workers in Colombia. Journal of Managerial Psychology, 26(6), 500 – 507.