Working in the Middle East, and in Iraq in particular, creates high risks of workplace hazards and stress. While these challenges are present while working in Kurdistan, having a staff well-being program can help to improve work quality, employee outlook, and overall satisfaction. It is especially important when staff are working with vulnerable populations, victims of violence, refugees and displaced people to provide necessary support. “The importance of taking good staff care is usually underestimated, even when they are exposed to high workloads and demanding work settings like we know in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq,” said Anne Lepelaars, SEED’s Mental Health Technical Advisor at a presentation to the Duhok MHPSS Working Group.

SEED works with many sensitive cases involving trauma, abuse, gender-based-violence, neglect, post-traumatic-stress disorder (PTSD), survivors of ISIS, trafficking, sexual and other violence. Because of the cycles of violence in Iraq, Kurdistan and Syria, many non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and government workers are also exposed to the stress that can lead to vicarious trauma. This is why SEED Foundation has a comprehensive Staff Care and Well-Being Program in place to support staff, and works to promote this as an important part of any organization or company working in Iraq.

“Especially in the field of mental health where staff usually interface with clients dealing with severe trauma, staff well-being is critically important. Staff are prone to exhaustion, depletion, compassion fatigue and even secondary traumatization. Having a strong staff well-being program in place is something we at SEED Foundation are proud of,” Lepelaars added.

Lepelaars was given the opportunity to talk about the importance of having a well-being program as part of the Mental Health Psychosocial Health Services (MHPSS) Working Group in Duhok. Lepelaars shared what type of well-being initiatives SEED offers staff and how we implement it, and  encouraged others in attendance to implement similar programs. Lepelaars also guided attendees through a 5-minute meditation. 

“Taking care of mental health staff should be prioritized to avoid such issues and make sure that the staff continues to have the ability to support their clients,” she added. Not addressing staff stress can lead to employee exhaustion, depletion, burnout, compassion fatigue —something at SEED we work hard to avoid. We are conscious that our case managers,psychologists, and community mobilizers have daily encounters with material presented by highly distressed and traumatized clients – we can’t do our work if we don’t take care to protect their mental health and wellbeing. 


In SEED’s experience, to support staff well-being, organizations and companies should have a comprehensive program in place, with staff responsible for implementing it, financial resources to support it, and management should oversee and track progress like any other organizational activities or employee benefits program. Staff Well-being should be addressed at the individual, team, and organizational level. Individual approaches could include support for yoga or other exercise, personal development workshops, counseling offered through external, independent counselors,  debriefings, technical supervision, and other support. At the team level, monthly monthly meditations or yoga sessions, meals, celebrations, outdoor activities like picnics and sport activities, art or music sessions, staff retreats, professional workshops, and client celebrations can also improve staff well-being. On an organizational level, comprehensive orientations and indcutions, clear job descriptions and reporting lines, work plans and performance reviews, compliance mechanisms, safety and security procedures, staff-development initiatives, and a positive, comfortable office atmosphere are all essential to staff wellbeing. 

Looking after staff well-being, not only protects your staff as individuals but also the health of your organization. The consequences of poor staff-wellbeing can include, low levels of staff motivation, high turnover, increase of conflicts, and lowered work output. “Our staff is our greatest strength and we are happy to support them whenever we can,” Lepelaars said.

For more information on implementing staff well-being programs at your organization, please reach out to us,