Grafik: Ziel für nachhaltige Entwicklung 1: keine Armut. Menschen halten sich an den Händen.Grafik: Ziel für nachhaltige Entwicklung 10: Weniger Ungleichheiten. Ein = Zeichen mit Pfeilen nach oben, unten, links und rechts.Grafik: Ziel für nachhaltige Entwicklung 11: Nachhaltige Städte und Gemeinden. Mehrere Gebäude.Grafik: Ziel für nachhaltige Entwicklung 12: Nachhaltiger Konsum und Produktion. Ein Unendlichkeitssymbol.Grafik: Ziel für nachhaltige Entwicklung 13: Maßnahmen zum Klimaschutz. Ein Auge, dessen Pupille eine Weltkugel ist.Grafik: Ziel für nachhaltige Entwicklung 14: Leben unter Wasser. Ein Fisch schwimmt unter Wellen.Grafik: Ziel für nachhaltige Entwicklung 15: Leben an Land. Ein Baum und Vögel.Grafik: Ziel für nachhaltige Entwicklung 16: Frieden, Gerechtigkeit und starke Institutionen. Eine Taube und ein Richterhammer.Grafik: Ziel für nachhaltige Entwicklung 17: Partnerschaften zur Erreichung der Ziele. Sich überlappende Kreise.Grafik: Ziel für nachhaltige Entwicklung 2: Kein Hunger. Aus einer Schüssel steigt Dampf auf.Grafik: Ziel für nachhaltige Entwicklung 3: Gesundheit und Wohlergehen. Linie eines EKGs, die in einem Herz endet.Grafik: Ziel für nachhaltige Entwicklung 4: Hochwertige Bildung. Ein aufgeschlagenes Buch und ein Stift.Grafik: Ziel für nachhaltige Entwicklung 5: Geschlechtergleichheit. Eine Kombination aus den Symbolen für Männlichkeit und Weiblichkeit, mit einem = Zeichen in der Mitte.Grafik: Ziel für nachhaltige Entwicklung 6: Sauberes Wasser und Sanitäreinrichtungen. Ein mit Wasser gefülltes Glas.Grafik: Ziel für nachhaltige Entwicklung 7: Bezahlbare und saubere Energie. Eine Sonne mit einem An-/Aus-Zeichen in der Mitte.Grafik: Ziel für nachhaltige Entwicklung 8: Menschenwürdige Arbeit und Wirtschaftswachstum. Ein Balkendiagramm mit Pfeil nach oben.Grafik: Ziel für nachhaltige Entwicklung 9: Industrie, Innovation und Infrastruktur. Mehrere verschachtelte Würfel. Artboard 1

Overcoming challenges together

Whether during foreign assignments or when facing professional challenges in Germany: in stressful situations, GIZ staff can find the support they need within the company.

Difficult circumstances and prolonged stress in people’s lives can cause them to experience emotional imbalance. In the area of international cooperation in particular, people are sometimes faced with situations that push them beyond their limits. This can be due to challenging experiences in a work context or high expectations and requirements in their professional life. It is very important to GIZ that its employees are particularly well supported in difficult situations such as these. GIZ’s in-house psychosocial counselling unit COPE has been part of its staff care services for around 25 years.

COPE was established with the aim of providing tailored support for each staff member. The range of counselling services available is geared to specific groups such as managers, national staff or staff departing on or returning from a foreign assignment. ‘In general, you can come to us with any concern,’ explains Dunja Brede, Co-Head of COPE. ‘Psychosocial stress can have different reasons and take various forms. We provide support where we can or offer referrals to other internal or external bodies where necessary.’ Many employees contact COPE on the recommendation of colleagues. For Dunja and her team, this is a good sign: ‘Our support is making a difference.’

Photo: Eine Frau und ein Mann sitzen nebeneinander auf Stühlen. Der Mann hat seine Unterarme auf den Unterschenkeln ruhen und seine Hände verschränkt.
© fotostorm (istockphoto.com)

COPE: the psychosocial counselling unit of GIZ

COPE’s psychologists, psychotherapists and psychosocial counsellors are available as a point of contact for all national and international GIZ staff and their family members. The team offers support in dealing with workload and stress, as well as professional and personal crises. All advice is provided in the strictest of confidence. In addition to offering individual services, the COPE team supports company-wide crisis management, sections and teams, and provides specific advice for managers.

Besides offering counselling in individual cases, COPE is an active part of GIZ’s company-wide crisis management. Our staff members are often assigned to fragile countries, where the psychological strain is particularly high due to the general conditions and the experiences they are exposed to. COPE is always available to support people in crisis situations and, especially in fragile contexts, is increasingly taking a preventative approach –in the Palestinian territories, for instance.

3,474

counselling sessions in 1,743 cases were held by COPE in 2023.

78 percent

of clients were on assignment outside Germany when they attended counselling.

Psychological first aid: incredibly important in crisis situations

The terrorist attack by Hamas on Israel in October 2023 and its aftermath were a very challenging time for Kristina Leipoldt. She has been working for GIZ in the region since 2022. ‘The conflict was and is a traumatic experience for each individual; many have lost friends and family. But it was also hard for us as a team,’ she says. As a manager, it is Kristina’s job to keep her team together. She tries to look after and support all staff members to the best of her ability. And, in doing so, she receives support from COPE.

For a number of years now, colleagues from COPE have made regular on-site visits to provide individual counselling and group training and to get to know the people they are working with personally. Dunja Brede and a colleague made such a visit in October 2023. They were able to respond immediately and offer psychosocial crisis counselling. In acute crisis scenarios, psychological first aid is vital. ‘Similar to medical first aid, anyone can provide psychological first aid, which is why we offer training to teams in fragile countries,’ explains Dunja. ‘People who have just experienced a traumatic event may feel vulnerable. Anything we can do to counteract that feeling of losing control helps – even if it is just allowing those affected to make the smallest decisions themselves.’ Psychological first aid therefore also plays a very important part in preventing long-term consequences. There is evidence that those who feel well supported at the beginning of a traumatic experience can also cope better with the long-term effects.

Portrait photo: Dr. Fathy Flefel

»The COPE team takes people’s psychosocial needs very seriously. It is great to work with such a motivated team. Here on site, I provide counselling for individual GIZ staff members, but also for groups. The services we offer are very well received. At the moment, many of the people coming to me want to know how they can support those affected and how to talk to children about the current situation.«

Dr. Fathy Flefel,
external psychosocial counsellor, Ramallah
© COPE

Staff care, a cornerstone of mental resilience

Besides providing acute support in crisis situations, the issue of prevention is playing an increasingly important role at COPE. ‘We are active on an ongoing basis in many fragile countries to provide preventive counselling, establish support services and, in this way, strengthen the resilience of our workforce on site. We call this staff care,’ says Dunja. In order to create a structure in each partner country that is as tailored as possible, COPE starts by conducting a nationwide risk analysis. In subsequent staff care studies, COPE then makes recommendations on assignment periods for staff in particularly challenging locations or identifies nationwide psychosocial risk potential in order to advise team leaders accordingly.

COPE also works closely with local psychologists who can offer counselling in the local language and are therefore especially important for national staff in our partner countries. Together, COPE and the psychologists develop preventive services and can provide psychosocial support more quickly and directly at the local level, even in difficult situations. COPE helps country offices to identify colleagues with the necessary qualifications and to conclude local framework agreements.

Trained managers: key to resilient teams

Managers play an important role in crisis situations. Their leadership can determine whether they are a source of stress or a role model, and they can be the first people that staff turn to whenever a challenging scenario arises. For staff members, having a manager who supports the resilience of their team is crucial. Showing understanding for particular circumstances and being able to put yourself in the team’s position, even if you may not be in the same physical location, can be challenging. ‘Managers are doubly affected in crisis situations. They themselves have to deal with the situation and their emotions while also having to look after the needs of their staff,’ explains Dunja Brede. She and her colleagues therefore provide targeted advice for managers on how to address certain topics and handle emotions within a team.

Portrait photo: Andreas Hermann

»A team should be a space where you can open up without being judged or feeling afraid. Managers are instrumental in creating a climate where this is possible. This is important not only for staff health and satisfaction, but ultimately also for good performance. People living in constant fear of making mistakes perform worse than those who feel comfortable in their team.«

Andreas Hermann, member of the COPE team specialising in staff care
© Andreas Hermann

In the HR Department, the COPE, Corporate Health Management and HR Development teams are currently working towards the goal of further embedding psychosocial health in the leadership culture. In 2023, GIZ’s annual priority management theme was ‘Promoting health – strengthening resilience.’ The corresponding package of measures included workshops and training courses at the Academy for International Cooperation (AIZ), which are now firmly embedded in its programme.

Portrait photo: Eva Gierth
© Eva Gierth

»Our staff are our most valuable asset«

In our interview, Eva Gierth, a specialist in leadership development elaborates on the priority management theme.

‘Promoting health – strengthening resilience’: how did GIZ decide on the 2023 priority management theme?

Health and resilience were areas of interest at GIZ long before the COVID-19 pandemic made them even more important. We are increasingly having to adapt to fragile, volatile and unpredictable contexts, in ever shorter cycles. Mobile working also poses particular challenges for cooperation.

During the pandemic, we learned to become more resilient and to deal with challenges in a healthy way – both as individuals and teams but also as an organisation as a whole. With the priority management theme, we wanted the focus in 2023 to remain firmly on the lessons learned from this. Promoting the health of all staff and therefore strengthening the resilience of GIZ as a whole is a key prerequisite for retaining our ability to perform and deliver, and it is a reflection of the company’s duty of care to its workforce.

The mental health of staff was an important topic within the priority management theme. Why?

Mental stress and illness are pressing challenges for society as a whole in Germany. GIZ recognised this many years ago and, in addition to the company medical care it provides, established and expanded an internal psychosocial counselling centre. Because the tasks and conditions in our countries of assignment demand a lot from our staff members. But effective prevention is only possible if it is also embedded in daily management and if managers actively monitor the health of their teams. By selecting this priority management theme, it was therefore important for us to show that the mental health of our staff is extremely important to us. After all, our staff are our most valuable asset.

Who was the target audience of the priority management theme and what activities were involved?

At GIZ, we understand ‘Promoting health – strengthening resilience’ to be a responsibility that is shared by the company, managers and staff alike. Managers play a special role in this process. On the one hand, they act as role models by being mindful of their own resources, challenges and stress limits. On the other hand, they set the framework for the engagement and health of staff and have a statutory duty of care towards them. The target audience of the priority management theme is therefore all managers inside and outside Germany. The focus was on management training, internal and external motivational talks, and strengthening resilience. In addition, a total of six more countries were integrated into our health management system in country offices, and the system was also expanded in Germany. Moreover, numerous initiatives were planned in GIZ’s country offices and its locations in Germany. We regularly publish good examples, with the aim of sharing lessons learned and fostering better networking.

Portrait photo: Mona Stuck

»The training has taught us that a resilient, healthy team recognises the warning signs of increasing stress levels. It’s important to respect different styles of working, and to trust and support each other.«

Mona Struck, a participant in the ‘Training Healthy and Mindful Teams’ course organised by COPE in conjunction with Corporate Health Management
© GIZ / laut und deutlich
Portrait photo: Hauke Maas

»In resilience training, we learned how to cope with uncertainty in the context of work. It’s not just about avoiding this wherever possible or reducing contributing factors. It’s also important to strengthen those factors that enable us to deal with challenging situations – as a team or as individuals.«

Hauke Maas, a participant in the ‘Resilience Training for Managers’ course organised by COPE in conjunction with Corporate Health Management
© Hauke Maas

Managing the workday with mindfulness

The Corporate Health Management (CHM) team is also active outside Germany. It offers training and actively supports country offices that are currently in the process of introducing their own health management systems. In Brazil, Christopher Wolf is jointly responsible for this in conjunction with the local CHM team – and has been met with a lot of openness from colleagues there: ‘Mental health is generally considered a very important topic in Brazil. We know from surveys that stress levels and workload are high among our colleagues, which is why we place great emphasis on incorporating mindfulness and relaxation into our courses.’ For instance, the CHM team in Brazil organised a ‘Good health and wellbeing’ action day in collaboration with an external partner.

Staff took part in yoga and other exercise therapy courses, benefited from express massages and were able to relax during sound therapy. Since then, a framework agreement has been concluded with the external partner that is located in the same office building as GIZ, enabling GIZ staff to easily incorporate a range of relaxation and exercise measures into their daily work routine. The goal is for staff to feel healthier and happier, which in turn helps to prevent physical and mental illness. ‘Mental health is an important and serious matter.

Our activities might not solve the underlying problems, like an excessive workload, but they do help colleagues to handle them better and to give themselves the necessary mental and physical breaks,’ says Christopher. The experience in Brazil clearly shows that health and resilience can only be strengthened if the company, managers and staff accept joint responsibility for this. Both are essential for happy and productive teams.

Photo: Ein Mann liegt auf dem Bauch auf einer Liege und bekommt eine Schultermassage. Im Hintergrund liegen Menschen auf Yogamatten.
Staff are taking part in sound baths and relaxing by getting massages at the health and wellbeing action day at the GIZ country office in Brazil.
© thiagomaiafotografia
Below you will find information about the Global Reporting Initiative’s (GRI) sustainability standards:

More about health management at GIZ: