Your Safety and Well-Being

    Only you can define what makes you feel safe and both physically and emotionally well. Other factors - like your home country's culture or the accepted behaviors and beliefs within your office - can shape and even taint your individual perspective on safety, protection and well-being. Our home cultures and office practices or beliefs may taint how we perceive our own safety and well-being. Depending on the environment in which you grew up and the environments in which you choose to live and work as an adult, you may sometimes inadvertently take your security for granted and/or overlook the necessity of prioritizing your personal well-being.

    It's important to understand yourself and your own needs as well as the ways in which your workplace influences your safety and well-being - helping or hindering you from being healthy and whole.

    In the field, aid-working employers typically offer security guards, armored vehicles, bullet-proof vests, and stacks of papers on security tips and planning. The reality, however, is that: Critical incidents are not planned and, like you, your employer may not be well prepared. It's important to think through the realities of your location, understand the risks you face, and prepare to fend for yourself.

    Do not assume anyone has your back - whether the security guards outside your door, the security officer in your office, your boss, or your headquarters. The security guard may be prepared to defend you or, perhaps, happy to accept extra cash to feed family members should a burglar arrive. The security officer could feel a strong allegiance to the office and its mission, or the security officer could be a former member of the local military which is currently killing off an ethnic group you are there to defend in which case your interests do not co-align. Your employer may be concerned about your welfare but will be equally, if not more, concerned about the employer's reputation and legal protection. So, trust our experience and watch your own back.

    Working in the field can put you at risk of security incidents and trauma. It can also cripple your personal life and health. Take care of yourself and set limits, so your work does not become your life. Likewise, you may want to remember that no one else will be particularly concerned by your personal well-being. Your physical and emotional health and your ability to find a balance between your personal and professional lives will be entirely your responsibility. The objective of any employer is generally for you to function like a well-oiled machine, generating products relentlessly until your heart stops beating and a fresh, new machine can take your place. While you might want to be a top-notch employee, you might also like the idea of a personal life too. If so, you will need to be your own advocate and strive to claim your evenings, weekends and vacations as your own. If not, do not be surprised when the emails, phone calls, Skype messages, and knocks on your door only grow louder.

    Of course, that implies that one can have a personal life in the field! Au contraire, there may be little to do, it may be risky for you to venture outside, or it may be downright dangerous. Working in the field doesn't have to be lonely, depressing, or addictive. But, to have a fulfilling life as an aid worker requires effort and an understanding of your own needs to ensure your own safety and well-being. In emergency and remote contexts, a unique culture of lawlessness, limited access to a personal life, and the adrenaline rush of the local context often results in long, intense working hours and/or unhealthy habits that could be casual at first but, eventually, become ostensibly "necessary" outlets (lending to addictions to drugs, alcohol, promiscuity, work-aholism, etc.). Having a dependence on such habits/outlets in environments that are already isolated and emotionally-taxing often leads to further loneliness, unhappiness, depression, anxiety and other consequences.

    Of course, it doesn't have to be so gloomy! It can remain just as beautiful, awe-inspiring and enriching as it was the first day on the job. But, this takes effort, close attention to the effects that working in the field may be having on your life, and a commitment to defend your own rights to a personal life and well-being.

Click on the tabs above for recommendations on ways you can prioritize your personal life, safety and well-being wherever you work . . .