Management Humanitarian Work Psychology
Mahima Saxena
  • LAST REVIEWED: 25 October 2018
  • LAST MODIFIED: 25 October 2018
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199846740-0151


Humanitarian work psychology (HWP) is a new cross-disciplinary field that uses the principles and research applications of industrial and organizational (I-O) psychology to promote decent work, ensure social justice, enhance human welfare, increase well-being, and aid international development by improving work and working conditions for workers globally. Since 2010, the field has grown leaps and bounds and currently has a multidisciplinary focus encompassing research and findings from disciplines as varied as labor law, developmental economics, labor statistics, policy research, and so on. HWP began as a movement with calls for a more humanitarian-focused I-O psychology at the annual meetings for the Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology (SIOP). The formation of the Global Organization for Humanitarian Work Psychology (GOHWP) in the early 2010s solidified this movement. GOHWP is an international coalition of work psychologists dedicated to the humanitarian missions of I-O psychology. As the field grows, landmark developments such as increased collaboration with the UN by the SIOP in the form of gaining NGO Consultative Status, the release of two edited handbooks by prominent I-O psychologists, and special calls for HWP-oriented papers by mainstream I-O journals (such as Journal of Organizational Behavior) have firmly established HWP within the research-and-application space of I-O psychology. Due to the relatively new arrival of HWP to mainstream I-O, there are fewer sources of references and information on various topics.

General Overviews

A few key texts and articles set the stage for HWP to expand into a field on its own. Bergman and Jean 2016 is an article exploring the lack of representativeness of workers in mainstream industrial and organizational (I-O) research studies. Maynard and Ferdman 2009 explores the same issues from a service standpoint. Carr, et al. 2012 and Carr, et al. 2013 are excellent introductions to the field of HWP. George 2013 is an excellent discussion of the role of capitalistic ideologies and the lack of compassion in current management sciences. Lefkowitz 2013; Olson-Buchanan, et al. 2013; and Reichman 2014 are critical analyses of the need and importance of adopting a humanistic stance in I-O psychology. McWha-Hermann, et al. 2015 is a textbook full of examples of case studies and analysis on using HWP to accomplish the Millennium Development Goals set forth by the UN. Scott 2011 discusses a major milestone in the granting of the nongovernmental organization (NGO) consultative status to Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology (SIOP) by the UN.

  • Bergman, Mindy E., and Vanessa A. Jean. “Where Have All the ‘Workers’ Gone? A Critical Analysis of the Unrepresentativeness of Our Samples Relative to the Labor Market in the Industrial–Organizational Psychology Literature.” Industrial and Organizational Psychology: Perspectives on Science and Practice 9.1 (2016): 84–113.

    DOI: 10.1017/iop.2015.70

    Discussion of the narrow focus on specific types of workers within I-O research.

  • Carr, Stuart C., Malcolm MacLachlan, and Adrian Furnham, eds. Humanitarian Work Psychology. New York: Palgrave-Macmillan, 2012.

    One of the first texts focusing on conceptual foundations and applications of HWP. Topics include foundational concepts including justice, humanistic psychology, and the evolution of I-O psychology to where it is in the early 21st century.

  • Carr, Stuart C., Lori Foster Thompson, Walter Reichman, et al. Humanitarian Work Psychology: Concepts to Contributions. SIOP White Paper Series. Bowling Green, OH: Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology, 2013.

    Early white-paper series proposed by SIOP, laying down the basis and foundations of the field.

  • George, Jennifer M. “Compassion and Capitalism: Implications for Organizational Studies.” Journal of Management 40.1 (2013): 5–15.

    DOI: 10.1177/0149206313490028

    The article discusses the role of American corporate capitalism in promoting self-interest, competition, and consumerism in organizations. The author makes a call for organizational scholars to focus on social welfare and social problems grounded in compassion for all people.

  • Lefkowitz, Joel. “Values and Ethics of a Changing I-O Psychology: A Call to (Future) Action.” In Using Industrial-Organizational Psychology for the Greater Good: Helping Those Who Help Others. Organizational Frontiers. Edited by Julie Olson-Buchanan, Laura K. Bryan, and Lori Foster Thompson, 13–38. New York: Routledge Academic, 2013.

    An agenda and call to action for a more humanistic-focused I-O psychology.

  • Maynard, Douglas C., and Bernardo M. Ferdman. “The Marginalized Workforce: How I-O Psychology Can Make a Difference.” Industrial-Organizational Psychologist 46.4 (2009): 25–29.

    A look at how and why I-O psychology can affect the life of nonmainstream workers who are marginalized and vulnerable.

  • McWha-Hermann, Ishbel, Douglas C. Maynard, and Mary O’Neill Berry, eds. Humanitarian Work Psychology and the Global Development Agenda: Case Studies and Interventions. New York: Routledge, 2015.

    A collection of case studies that showcase HWP in action and present findings and interventions from countries such as Hong Kong, India, and Ghana, among others. An interesting aspect of the book is that it places the case studies against the Millennium Development Goals of the UN, driving home how HWP relates to the eradication of poverty and hunger, gender equality, achieving universal primary education, reducing child mortality, disease control, and environmental sustainability.

  • Olson-Buchanan, Julie, Laura K. Bryan, and Lori Foster Thompson, eds. Using I-O Psychology for the Greater Good: Helping Those Who Help Others. Organizational Frontiers. New York: Routledge Academic, 2013.

    Part of the Organizational Frontiers series put forth by SIOP, this book presents prosocial contributions by I-O psychologists to help focus research on the greater good of society and address societal concerns.

  • Reichman, Walter, ed. Industrial and Organizational Psychology Help the Vulnerable: Serving the Underserved. New York: Springer, 2014.

    A look the role of I-O psychology in serving the poor and overlooked.

  • Scott, John C. “SIOP Granted NGO Consultative Status with the United Nations.” Industrial-Organizational Psychologist 49.2 (2011): 111–113.

    Details on the recognition of SIOP by the UN as a consultative NGO.

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