The International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) is an international humanitarian organization, which has set a system to prevent burnout among its staff members. One strategy it has used was to set up a Psychological Support Programme (PSP) team for its delegates. The agency has provided psychological support to delegates in Geneva and around the world since 1993 through the Federation Reference Center for Psychological Support.
It focuses on promoting the psychosocial well-being of staff and volunteers, through operational assistance, capacity-building and competence development, among other aspects. The Center has partnered in the development of psychological support activities for National Societies. It has also provided material that the Societies could distribute, such as the psychosocial film Rebuilding Hope, a psychological toolkit (a CD-ROM), as well as community-based PS support training kit and a handbook on interventions.
Apart from setting up the PSP team, one of the key ways in which the IFRC is supporting its staff is by creating multiple publications. The latter provide practical information on the different types of stress that delegates can experience and their related symptoms and highlight the personal, team and organizational resources available to them. One such resource is the 2009 manual, Managing Stress in the Field. One of the chapters contained in the book is Preventing Burnout, which describes the burnout development, signs, causes and prevention measures. The latter divides responsibility between the organization and the individual.
Regarding the former, the manual stresses that managers should be capable of recognizing the early signs of burnout and understand the importance of providing adequate support and intervention. The top management should search to reduce stress from inside the organization.
The delegates can consult the PSP team, when they need to deal with stress or difficult situations or if they believe that one of their colleagues needs assistance. The manual also includes a self-assessment questionnaire to evaluate the individual’s current levels of stress. The delegates are encouraged to take the test every three months to assess if anything has improved.
The IRFC also put together a manual, Caring for Volunteers: A Psychosocial Support Toolkit. In this document, the agency explains that, in order to prevent volunteer burnout, it is essential for the manager to understand the value and importance of supporting his staff and volunteers through the risks and difficulties of the job and create a supportive environment for the team. The document further emphasizes that, in order to prevent burnout, all team members must be aware of and respectful of personal and practical limitations, taking responsibility to treat each other with respect, because every member is responsible for keeping the team and themselves healthy and functioning well.
Finally, the IFRC put together the Community-based psychological support, a training manual, building on the experience of psychological support gathered by the National Societies. It covers both recently developed technical areas as well as recommended methodologies. It provides information on the skills and techniques needed to provide support for people operating under high levels of stress as found in most disaster or critical event situations. The Training Manual dedicates an entire Module on ‘Helping the Helpers.’ Apart from highlighting the warning signs of burnout, it provides specific self-techniques as well as supportive supervision through the creation of peer group support that can pool together knowledge, perspectives and experiences for the benefit of each other.