Catch-22 in Humanitarian and Development Work: Emotional Exhaustion, Withdrawal, Health, and Work Motives of These Workers

Open Access
Foo, Su Chuen
Graduate Program:
Doctor of Philosophy
Document Type:
Date of Defense:
December 02, 2011
Committee Members:
  • Alicia Ann Grandey, Dissertation Advisor
  • James Lewis Farr, Committee Member
  • David Manuel Almeida, Committee Member
  • Kevin R Murphy, Committee Member
  • Humanitarian
  • Development
  • Emotional Exhaustion
  • Withdrawal
  • Contact with beneficiaries
  • Prosocial motives
  • Psychosomatic health
Humanitarian and development workers often operate in regions plagued by social, political, and economic problems where crisis and disaster characterize the context in which they operate. Working in such demanding contexts can lead to increased emotional exhaustion, which may manifest over time in the form of decreased engagement, withdrawal, and poorer health. However, not all workers who are emotionally exhausted become disengaged and withdraw but may depend on the extent to which they are driven by prosocial motives. Using the Conservation of Resources (COR) model, this study extended research in IO psychology by examining the resource loss pathway stemming from emotional exhaustion to proximal engagement and distal withdrawal and health of humanitarian and development workers. Moreover, this study examined how workers’ prosocial motives and extent of contact with beneficiaries can affect this resource loss pathway. Results showed that prosocial workers experienced less withdrawal but poorer health compared to their less prosocial counterparts. The impact of contact with beneficiaries depended on workers’ motivation. Among less prosocial workers, contact heightened emotional exhaustion’s positive relationship with turnover intentions while among more prosocial workers, contact buffered emotional exhaustion’s effect on turnover intentions. Findings from this study expanded the COR model and broadened the sample of IO psychology to include humanitarian and development workers. Moreover, findings can help inform humanitarian organizations on how to better assist their workers to cope with job stress.