Shorter working days, counselling and table tennis: How the Internet Watch Foundation (IWF) takes care of its staff

Published:  Tue 31 Oct 2017

Did you know 99 percent of those aged 16 to 34 said they were a recent internet user when surveyed this year by the Office for National Statistics? For the 35 to 54 age group the figure stands at 97 percent, while 90 percent of those between 55 to 64 had recently used the internet.

Despite the overwhelming majority of the public regularly surfing the web, most people are unaware of the work that goes on behind closed doors to keep users safe from witnessing criminal material. The Internet Watch Foundation is a not-for-profit organisation which does just that. We help victims of child sexual abuse worldwide by identifying and removing online images and videos of their abuse. We search for child sexual abuse images and videos and offer a place for the public to report them anonymously. We then have them removed, making the internet a safer place.

This difficult but necessary job falls to our analysts, who process reports of online child sexual abuse content from the public, IT professionals and other sources. They also proactively search for images of child sexual abuse to have them removed from the internet for good.

I’m in awe every day of the way the IWF Hotline team continues day after day fighting the good fight, despite witnessing more distressing images in a day than most people will see in their lifetime.

While our analysts do their job for the young victims suffering sexual abuse worldwide, we make it our duty to offer them what it takes to make sure they can cope with what they’re witnessing. Their health and wellbeing is our number one priority.

To anyone else walking into the IWF office, it is bright, colourful, and we even have an ‘indoor garden’ with table tennis table, which we call the ‘chill out room’. It’s hard to imagine how much our analysts are processing while they sit on their tea break in the chill out room and kitchen. The décor is designed to relieve stress and the space to allow the analysts to unwind. You’ll often find the same two analysts on our team playing a competitive game of table tennis and keeping everyone else entertained. It also makes for a good ice-breaker when our members come to visit, and they always say how much they like being in the office.

Our rural location in north Cambridge means our staff can walk around a beautiful lake near to the office to try to clear their minds. Due to the nature of our work, all IWF staff work a shorter seven-hour day, however we further support our analysts’ welfare by enforcing compulsory breaks for 10 minutes in every hour while completing certain tasks.

We believe a work-life balance is crucial at the IWF. With the work the analysts do, we hire people who have a good support network in their life, whether it be with parents, a partner, siblings, or friends, and we believe these supportive relationships deserve to be nurtured.

As part of our excellent welfare package, analysts are given monthly counselling sessions and an annual psychological assessment. The 2017 Independent Inspection Report of the IWF said our long-serving hotline team felt the counselling service was ‘exceptional’. The report read: “Indeed those in the team with the requisite experience thought that the standard was exceptional. In particular we were impressed by the manner in which arrangements were sensitive to the needs of individual workers.”

Due to the nature of the work, the office has to be divided into two parts for those on the IWF Hotline, and for other members of staff. We therefore have regular away days for staff to socialise, have a fun time, and relax away from the stresses of work.


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