Date of Award
Master of Science (MS)
Department of Sociology and Anthropology: Sociology
Michael L Dougherty
Background: Aid work is a valuable service provided to the world’s most vulnerable people, and it can often be dangerous, exposing workers to such security concerns as isolation, contagious diseases, and trauma. The chronic stressors that often accompany aid work can result in the debilitating effects of burnout, the symptoms of which are defined here as emotional exhaustion, depersonalization, and decreased personal achievement. There is a gap in the literature describing how aid organizational culture contributes to the prevalence and severity of aid worker burnout that this research intends to fill. Applied research focus: I investigated the concept of burnout as an “injury” inflicted upon workers by poorly structured organizations in a highly competitive sector. This research explores the motivational factors that lead a person to a career in aid work and which organizational-based strategies they feel best prevent the symptoms of burnout from appearing. Methods: I employed mixed-methods approach including an autoethnography, semi-structured reflexive interviews with ten international aid workers, and a brief online poll of aid workers. Qualitative data were analyzed using MAXQDA and quantitative data were collected and analyzed with Qualtrics. Findings: It is the aid sector itself, being highly competitive, donor-dependent, and disaster and conflict-driven that leads to excessive workloads being placed on aid workers. Donor agencies and aid organizations have a moral imperative to avoid placing unnecessary burdens on aid workers and to protect both their personal well-being and their ability to perform on behalf of their program recipients. Conclusion: Aid workers will continue to burn out, regardless of their personal coping mechanisms, if the aid sector does not resolve to collaborate to address this problem and take concrete measures to reduce the stressors and frustrations common in the aid sector. A list of such measures created with input from both interviewees and survey respondents is provided.
Quimby, Melissa Lynn, "Aid Worker Burnout as Injury: Policy Implications for the Aid Sector" (2021). Theses and Dissertations. 1502.