Supporting conservationists’ mental health through better working conditions

Thomas Pienkowski, Aidan Keane, Sophia Castello y Tickell, Emiel de Lange, Mirjam Hazenbosch, Munib Khanyari, William Arlidge, Gergo Baranyi, Stephanie Brittain, Vena Kapoor, Vik Mohan, Sarah Papworth, Roshni Ravi, Izak P J Smit, E. J. Milner-Gulland

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Biodiversity conservation work can be challenging but rewarding, and both aspects have potential consequences for conservationists’ mental health. Yet, little is known about patterns of mental health among conservationists and its associated workplace protective and risk factors. A better understanding might help improve working conditions, supporting conservationists’ job satisfaction, productivity, and engagement, while reducing costs from staff turnover, absenteeism, and presenteeism. We surveyed 2311 conservation professionals working in 122 countries through an internet survey shared via mailing lists, social media, and other channels. We asked them about experiences of psychological distress, working conditions, and personal characteristics. Over half were from and worked in Europe and North America, and most had a university-level education, were in desk-based academic and practitioner roles, and responded in English. Heavy workload, job demands, and organizational instability were linked to higher distress, but job stability and satisfaction with one's contributions to conservation were associated with lower distress. Respondents with low dispositional and conservation-specific optimism, poor physical health, and limited social support, women, and early-career professionals were most at risk of distress in our sample. Our results flag important risk factors that employers could consider, although further research is needed among groups underrepresented in our sample. Drawing on evidence-based occupational health interventions, we suggest measures that could promote better working conditions and thus may improve conservationists’ mental health and abilities to protect nature.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere14097
JournalConservation Biology
Issue number5
Early online date12 Apr 2023
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 12 Apr 2023

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