There are times in my professional life when I feel like I’m operating undercover because some aspects of employee wellbeing are still taboo subjects for employers and staff.
When I’m contacted by an organisation and asked to coach someone, it is almost invariably to help them perform more effectively at work.
But many of my coaching clients tell me, in confidence, about the wellbeing challenges they are living with and struggling to manage such as stress, physical or mental health problems, caring for a family member or marital breakdown.
Clients are wary of informing their employer, for fear of negative consequences, so coaches are in a unique position; they can address these issues without the need for disclosure and most importantly, the focus is on helping them achieve sustainable performance
So if my client discloses that they have a chronic illness, I assume it is because they feel this is impeding them, rather than because they want my sympathy. It’s a golden opportunity to develop their capacity to manage their health and resilience alongside their other commitments. I can then help them prioritise tasks more effectively, make better use of the available time and resources, or develop strategies to conserve their energy when the going gets tougher.
It’s clear to me, that my clients can only perform to the best of their ability if we actively consider and address all the factors affecting their work. In short, wellbeing is an important part of the equation, alongside available resources and competencies such as leadership and communication skills.
In my experience, this holistic approach is more rewarding for clients but we also need to help organisations understand the benefits of offering employees confidential development and support that will allow individuals to discretely address whatever is inhibiting their performance.
This matters because a study by health insurer, AXA PPP and reported in The Times1 revealed that only one third of 1,000 employees questioned would be honest with their employer if they needed time off for depression, stress or anxiety. One in four feared they would be judged as weak, while 7% said they feared their manager’s reaction.
And I am only scratching the surface. According to UK statistics, there are millions of people who are at work and grappling with significant life challenges, often without confiding in their colleagues. Do any of us know whether we work alongside one of the 7million carers in the UK2; or one of the estimated 1 in 5 people who have anxiety or depression3?
I believe more needs to be done at organisational level so that employees can have access to confidential support if they need it, while remaining in work.
As a coach I have been working undercover too long – now it’s time for the profession to speak out about the link between performance and wellbeing and help bridge the gap between employees and employers.
In my next blog, I will look at why many coaches are reluctant to work with clients who are affected by wellbeing challenges.
1 Bosses lack concern for mentally ill staff, The Times, 31 March 2015
2 Key facts about carers, Carers Trust, accessed 1 April 2014
3 Measuring National Well-being: Life in the UK, 2015, Office for National Statistics, p17, 25 March 2015