A Thoughtful, Analytical Approach to NGO Security

Burnout

In many non-governmental organizations, especially smaller ones, it is the security advisor’s responsibility to monitor staff for, and advise on the effects of, excessive stress. Even if it is not on your formal job description it is in your best interest to keep an eye on staff stress levels. Overly stressed staff frequently make poor decisions regarding their own security and are inclined to take short cuts when it comes to following established security procedures.

Excessive, prolonged stress can lead to an emotional and physical exhaustion commonly referred to as burnout. It often begins as normal stress but then you start to feel overwhelmed and unable to meet constant demands. As the stress continues, you begin to lose the interest or motivation that led you to humanitarian work in the first place. If left untreated burnout can eventually threaten your job, your relationships, and your health.

According to the Mayo Clinic you may be at greater risk of developing burnout if:

* You identify so strongly with work that you lack a reasonable balance between work and your personal life
* You try to be everything to everyone
* Your job is monotonous
* You feel you have little or no control over your work
* You work in a helping profession, such as health care, counseling, teaching, aid worker or law enforcement


The signs of burnout tend to be more mental than physical. They can include:

* Feeling detached
* Isolating yourself
* Irritability
* Frustration
* Feeling trapped
* Feeling like a failure
* Despair
* Cynicism
* Apathy
* Feeling powerless
* Feeling hopeless
* Emotional exhaustion

It is important to catch burnout quickly. Doing so can save a valued, experienced aid worker. Failure to do so can result in yet another bitter, cynical, possibly alcoholic, aid worker who is merely going through the motions.

One final note of caution: NGO security officers are as prone to burnout as other aid workers. You’ll need to monitor yourself for the signs and symptoms and take action because there is a very good chance that no one else will. Don’t try to work through it. It won’t work... and the only thing more dangerous than a bitter, cynical, alcoholic, aid worker is a bitter, cynical, alcoholic, security officer.

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This work by Kevin Toomer is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 2.5 Canada License.
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