Humanitarians without borders: work, mobility and wellbeing in UNHCR
This report sets out some key findings about the experience of working for UNHCR, based on analysis of online survey data and a small number of in-depth interviews with staff. The fieldwork for this project was conducted between June and December 2010.
This project draws on a larger British Academy funded study investigating what is distinctive about global professionals in three sectors: multinational corporations (MNCs), international NGOs and UN agencies. By comparing the experiences of workers in different organisations, cities and countries, this research provides a fascinating insight into emergent patterns of globalization and work. Through analysing the experiences of staff in UN agencies and international NGOs – as well as MNCs – this study redresses the tendency in existing research to neglect forms of mobility that are not driven by the pursuit of capital, but rather helping people in need.
UNHCR employs around 7190 staff, of whom 24 per cent are international. The organisation works in 123 countries. This study analyses the attitudes and narratives of a small subset of 48 international staff who are located across the organisation in 16 countries, including the organization’s headquarters in Geneva, offices in Jordan, Kenya and South Africa, as well as hardship duty stations in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Sudan).
The online survey was launched with international staff at the UNHCR in June 2010. It was designed to address the following themes: employment, mobility and work history; family, friends and social ties; and, identity, attachments and values. This data thereby provides evidence about multiple social fields and the interplay between personal and professional facets of employees’ lives.
Participants were recruited via an invitation email that was circulated to 90 employees in the organisation who were either currently, or had recently been, working away from the headquarters at different duty stations. 48 participants responded to the invitation; this constitutes an opportunity sample with a response rate of 53 per cent.
Although this sample is small, relative to the entire population of international UNHCR staff, the following analysis allows for indicative relationships between key variables relating to wellbeing and mobility to be identified. In addition, the qualitative material from the open survey questions and in-depth interviews adds depth and insight into processes within the organisation.