HR teams go all out to help relief effort

For workers at aid agencies, news of the disaster meant one thing: they would be needed to provide help. And the sheer scale of the relief effort created immediate people challenges for the HR teams at agencies such as Oxfam and Save the Children.

Derek Manuel, head of international HR at Save the Children, said: “The HR team was in the office on Boxing Day and has been in every day since. We immediately started advertising via the web and our networks. The driver was to get people to the end point as quickly as possible.”

The HR team has cut the recruitment process from days to hours, covering the interview and induction process as well as vaccinations and visas.

They initially focused on sourcing people with emergency skills in areas such as food and logistics, but other areas have also become essential, Manuel said. “We started to need support in areas such as finance, to manage lots of money which is pouring in.”

Speed in recruiting people with the right expertise is also vital for Oxfam, explained Andrew Thompson, international HR director at the charity. “The first challenge was getting assessment teams out to look at hotspots, as it is an unusual situation, spread thinly over a very wide area,” he said. “Figuring out where we can best add value is a logistical nightmare. It is about high-volume recruitment as soon as possible – no drip-feed.”

Large numbers of people have offered to help, but both Save the Children and Oxfam have relied on trusted agencies and existing networks for recruitment, to meet the need for specialists.

This is not to say that the offers of support from the general public are not welcome, explained Manuel, but that they have to be channelled in the right areas.

“We have had all sorts offering help, much of it well intentioned but hard to implement,” he said. “In any job, competency is needed. There may be a time when volunteers in the field are useful, but for now they should concentrate on fundraising activities.”

Thompson said volunteers would also be useful for “back-filling” – taking over the jobs of support workers who have been seconded elsewhere. “It is less exciting, but it’s what we need,” he said.

The HR teams are also facing challenges managing existing workers, both in the field and in support roles, with preventing burn-out high on the agenda.

“One thing about the psychology of human response is that you never feel you are doing enough,” said Thompson. “The management challenge is to help people to accept their limitations and recognise when they are stressed and exhausted.”

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