How might coaching improve wellbeing at work?

Tina Salter

Most of us go through periods of feeling down at work. Various pressures can build up, but overall, we are often able to cope and work through these downtimes. However, for some, maintaining wellbeing at work can be hugely challenging and feelings of unhappiness can then start to overwhelm and lead to unhelpful emotions and behaviours. It’s at this point you may be tempted towards flight or fight. The temptation might be to start looking for another job (and this well maybe the right thing to do). But what if there are good reasons to stay? Maybe coaching is something that could be part of a wider strategy to better cope at work and start to enjoy the environment more, with a greater sense of control over any unhealthy responses and reactions which can emerge when under pressure.

The problem with compromised wellbeing is the downward spiral it can create, leading us further into feelings of unhappiness, dissatisfaction and stress. Research tells us what negative repercussions can play out when we are feeling overwhelmed and stressed at work:

  • It can lead to isolation, depression and sometimes increased physical pain (Whitely, 2013).
  • If you are struggling with a physical or mental health issue it can be really tough coping with the day-to- day management of symptoms on top of other kinds of work pressures (Beatty and McGonagle, 2016).
  • Whilst medical treatment can help with physical or mental health symptoms, many still struggle with things like governing self-behaviour, motivation, communicating needs clearly and being self-aware (Lawson, 2009).
  • The impact of poor wellbeing can be widespread, extending sometimes to colleagues, families, communities, organisations, economies and even society at large (Cheung and Ricafort, 2011).

So how to start helping yourself? Firstly, this might involve feeling confident enough to tell others about your needs (such as your line manager or human resource officer) and communicating clearly the things you might need in order to be better supported. However, a next stage might be to ask for some coaching. A good coach will be able to support you to be in the driving seat as you start to identify some changes and think through how you might best achieve these.

Coaching sessions can provide that all-important space for you to reflect on your wellbeing and consider where wellbeing deficiencies are, the impact they are having on you personally and professionally and also those who you are connected too, either at work or at home. Coaches can use a range of strategies to help with immediate change, but also equip you to reapply those skills and strategies for longer-term sustained wellbeing (Passmore and Oades, 2014). The following approaches have been shown to produce successful results and it might be useful to find out from any prospective coach if they use any of the following strategies:

  • Strengths-based coaching allows the employee to look at what they are good at and build on these strengths in order to increase wellbeing (Toogood, 2012).
  • The practice of mindfulness – being open to one’s thoughts, feelings and emotions and more aware of the present moment – has been shown to alleviate symptoms from illnesses and reduce anxiety and stress (Kemp, 2017).
  • Exploring relationships through coaching can help employees focus on their ability to relate well to others which can significantly contribute to the development of health and wellbeing (Gabriel et al, 2014).

Group coaching can also be used as a way of bringing employees together and help open up conversations of shared experiences, goal-setting and joint accountability in order to bring about positive changes. A good coach can work with such a group and help ensure that each person is on track with their own goals as well as look at the collective groups’ needs as an ongoing source of support beyond the coaching.

Coaching has been shown to be one of many strategies which can work well to help individuals overcome issues which compromise their wellbeing. It comes with the warning that individuals needs to be coach-ready! But if we are willing to take stock and focus in on some of those unhelpful feelings and emotions which impact us in the work place, it may well be the very thing that helps give us a renewed sense of health and wellbeing.