Psychology’s Mahima Saxena Receives SIOP’s Humanitarian Award



By Linsey Maughan
Mahima Saxena SIOP Award 1280x850

Assistant Professor of Psychology Mahima Saxena has been awarded the Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology’s 2020 Humanitarian Award. The award was first given in 2017 and recognizes “sustained, significant, and outstanding humanitarian contributions related to [industrial and organizational] psychology,” according to SIOP’s website.

Saxena’s research is focused on the academic discipline of humanitarian work psychology, a new and under-studied area of I-O psychology. She received the award for her research on decent work, worker well-being, and employee health. Saxena describes her work as “grassroots-level research” focused on workers in poverty, highly skilled workers in the informal economy, and those who face occupational health challenges in their work.

“I feel incredibly humbled and tremendously invigorated,” Saxena says of receiving the award.  “It feels like a great encouragement from SIOP to continue work in this much-needed area in I-O science. [Humanitarian work psychology] is the core thrust of my research program, and I started this stream of research activity at Illinois Tech. I’ve been fortunate to have had very supportive colleagues. For this I am grateful.”

The award recognizes a member or members of SIOP for either ongoing efforts toward a single humanitarian initiative for more than a decade, or significant contributions toward several humanitarian projects over time. A news release from SIOP regarding the award credits Saxena for her “unwavering dedication to understanding the experiences of people living and working in poverty, and using I-O science to improve their lives, provide decent work, and enhance well-being.”

“Through research publications and presentations, Dr. Saxena has raised the profile of humanitarian work psychology and enhanced the visibility of SIOP among international humanitarian organizations,” the statement reads.

Saxena runs the Work and Well-Being Lab within the Department of Psychology, where she and her student research assistants examine the experiences of individuals working in poverty locally and globally, in addition to many other aspects of employee health and well-being. She utilizes her research findings to help build support for global policy initiatives with the aim of improving the lives of millions of workers that are not generally considered in mainstream I-O research. She has aligned her research projects with the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals for 2030 to help inform policy related to occupational health hazards, worker safety, decent work, and poverty alleviation.

“My work over the last few years has focused on developing a body of science on the psychology of working in the informal space, which is often fraught with a number of risks,” Saxena says. “I have done a number of sequential projects in this area. Decent work means the dignity of work—work that has inherent meaning for the worker, and work that helps people and communities thrive as opposed to just survive.”

The experiences of people living and working in poverty have been underrepresented in psychological research, Saxena says. She sees an opportunity to bridge that gap through her own work, which in turn will support some of the world’s most vulnerable people.

Photo: Assistant Professor of Psychology Mahima Saxena