Human Resources
Who—or What—Is a Humanitarian Anyway?

Who—or What—Is a Humanitarian Anyway?


Mar 7, 2017 | by Eleni Lobene

Aon colleagues partnered with researchers at Purdue University and Elon University to investigate questions surrounding the personality and motives behind a special kind of work—volunteer work. Leveraging the ADEPT-15® adaptive personality assessment, a collaborative paper was written that will serve as a lynchpin in the rapidly growing Humanitarian Work Psychology (HWP) literature. But before we go into the details of the research, you may be wondering about the basics of this HWP thing—and we were too. So, we interviewed Ashley Hoffman, President of Go-HWP the international organization for this specialization of Industrial-Organizational Psychology:

What is HWP?
HWP is the synthesis of traditional I/O scholarship with the overarching goals of human welfare and the greater good.  Those of us in HWP recognize that HWP can actually be approached in two main ways-- either with a focus on the deployment of responsible humanitarian aid and development, or in the provision and refinement of work that is humane and decent for all people.

Why should the for-profit world care about HWP?
It seems to me that there really isn't a disconnect between many of the priorities of both for-profit organizations and HWP. For example, most organizations recognize that corporate social responsibility initiatives (e.g., organizational sponsored service opportunities, paid time off for volunteering, matching charitable contributions, etc.) can be very beneficial to recruitment efforts, employee satisfaction and commitment, company marketing, and eventually even the bottom line.

In fact, many organizations are adopting a "triple bottom line" approach, whereby organizations incorporate social, environmental, and financial benchmarks into their overall metric of success (e.g., Slaper & Hall, 2011). This approach has brought the concerns of HWP into a for-profit realm very clearly-- that is, companies are now asking the questions like how do we provide decent, fair, sustainable work to all employees, and act as responsible members of the communities we occupy?

What areas need more research and how can the for-profit world help?
We are really at the beginning of HWP research. There are many ways that the for-profit world can help-- for example, joining with researchers to conduct real world studies (such as this partnership!) is so valuable in furthering our understanding of the application of HWP concepts. Additionally, recognizing that the goal of HWP is to work ourselves out of a job-- that is, that globally we would recognize the inherent benefit that comes of out concerning ourselves with the greater good in every aspect of work and life. For-profits can take responsibility on their own to achieve success at all levels of the triple bottom line, and do well by their employees, consumers, communities, and the world, while recognizing that it is also profitable in the long run.

Want to learn more about the personality research we did in partnership with these HWP researchers in 2016? The 2016 Society for Industrial Organizational Psychology paper titled, "Volunteers: Do Personality and Motives Alter Perceptions of Well-being?" appreciates how volunteers are often used in the disbursement of humanitarian aid.  Contact Eleni Lobene for more information.



Slaper, T. F. and Hall, T. J. (2011). "The Triple Bottom Line: What Is It and How Does It Work?" Indiana Business Review. Spring 2011, Volume 86, No. 1.

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