Managing Psychosocial Risk across the Assignment Cycle

Guidelines for psychosocial staff support in the humanitarian aid and development sector

The Guidelines for Managing Psychosocial Risk across the Assignment Cycle were developed by the Mandala Foundation to support responsible Occupational Health & Safety (OH&S) and staff care practices in the aid sector. We are pleased to be able to provide ongoing access to this valuable resource via our resources hub.

Why were the Guidelines developed?

The Guidelines were designed in response to the need identified by aid agencies for practical solutions to assist them in managing psychosocial risk and the debilitating impact of stress and psychological injury on both the human capital of organisations and on project outcomes.

Given the recognised stressful nature of humanitarian and development work, it is a priority for organisations to work systematically to identify, assess, mitigate and minimise the impact of these risks.

How do the Guidelines help support psychosocial risk management?

The Guidelines provide a comprehensive good practice framework for systematically managing psychosocial risks and staff support needs across the three main stages of the assignment or deployment cycle: Pre-AssignmentOn Assignment and Post-Assignment.

These stages are further divided into eight distinct phases of adjustment which reflect the changing psychosocial support needs and management priorities across the cycle of a typical aid assignment:

  1. Recruitment & Selection
  2. Preparation
  3. Field Orientation
  4. In-Field
  5. Field Exit
  6. Decompression
  7. Re-Entry
  8. Re-Integration
Diagram of the assignment support cycle

Each phase has its own distinct aim, goals and overarching management strategy. For each phase, the Guidelines also provide concise, practical examples of recommended implementation activities; steps for screening and monitoring progress; desirable knowledge, skills and expertise; indicators of effectiveness; and special considerations.

The Guidelines also include an overview of Psychosocial Risk Management in an OH&S framework, and a practical Policy Audit Checklist which organisations can use to assess their current policies at each stage of the assignment cycle.


Summary of Aims across the Assignment Cycle

1: Recruitment & Selection

To maximise assignment effectiveness and minimise harm to the assignee, team, organisation and community by achieving the best possible match between the assignee and the assignment role and context.

2: Preparation

To prepare the assignee for the conditions, demands and anticipated psychosocial risk factors of the assignment role and context in order to ensure a successful assignment.

3: Field Orientation

To enable the assignee to adjust effectively to their assignment role and context soon after arrival in the field, while also facilitating transition for the receiving team.

4: In-Field

To support the effective ongoing performance, health, safety and psychosocial wellbeing of assignee and their receiving team while on assignment.

5: Field Exit

To facilitate a successful assignee exit from the field environment for both the assignee and receiving team, and plan initial re-entry strategies.

6: Decompression

To enable a safe, neutral space for assignees to psychologically adjust to their departure from the field and prepare for return to their home environment.

7: Re-Entry

To enhance psychological adjustment of assignees in the initial return home and to facilitate integration of key personal and organisational lessons from assignment.

8: Re-Integration

To support the assignee’s psychological adjustment and re-integration in the longer term following their return from the field, and to minimise risk to their ongoing health and wellbeing.

Who can use the Guidelines?

The Guidelines highlight the interdependent roles and activities of four key participants in the risk management process: the sending organisation, the HR/recruiting or in-field manager, the individual assignee, and the psychosocial support role (which may include professional psychologists/counsellors or other cultural support roles such as community or religious leaders).

  • Organisations can use the Guidelines to identify and address gaps in current organisational psychosocial risk management policies and practices and monitor the fulfillment of their duty-of-care to assignees.
  • Managers can use the Guidelines to develop systematic, supportive assignee care plans and monitor the ongoing mental health and wellbeing of the assignee across the assignment cycle.
  • Assignees can use the Guidelines to gain insight into their own self-care responsibilities while on assignment, and develop practical strategies to support their mental health and wellbeing.
  • Psychosocial Support Roles can use the Guidelines to gain insight into the specific support needs of humanitarian aid and development workers and consider tailored support and monitoring strategies for each phase of the assignment cycle.

How do the Guidelines relate to the Psychosocial Risk Management Tool?

The Guidelines are a stand-alone tool that organisations can draw upon to improve their systematic psychosocial risk management and staff care practices. However, organisations may wish to supplement their use of the Guidelines with the Psychosocial Risk Management Tool, which was also developed by the Mandala Foundation.

The Risk Tool provides a comprehensive inventory of the most common stressors faced by aid agency staff in their work. It allows users to identify the most prevalent psychosocial risks that assignees face in their assignments; to assess the impact of these risks; and to design a risk management plan in collaboration with their managers and other support personnel.

For further information about the Risk Tool please click here.

Front cover of the Guidelines for Managing Psychosocial Risk across the Assignment Cycle

Accessing the Guidelines

Please contact us to request a copy of the Guidelines.

Phone: (+61 3) 9005 0808
Email: [email protected]

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