Nothing in life is ever black and white, especially when it comes to our health and wellbeing.
It is often assumed by employers that being at work is a unilateral declaration of good health, even though many people will still go into the office and work conscientiously when they feel less than 100%.
I have encountered similar black and white thinking from performance coaches who only want to work with clients who are ‘healthy’. But given the statistics in my previous blogs, our pool of potential clients would be dramatically reduced if we applied this rule in every case!
Coaches are rightly wary of ‘doing harm’ by going outside their area of competence but ending a professional relationship because a client has disclosed that they are struggling with stress or ill health could itself do more harm than good.
If such a situation is not handled sensitively, there is a danger that the client will feel rejected. In addition, prematurely ending a coaching relationship might implicitly ‘out’ a client, perhaps even prompting their employer and colleagues to ask intrusive questions.
The coaching relationship is based on mutual trust and client confidentiality, so we shouldn’t be surprised if a client shares wellbeing information but we need to be clear how to respond. And while we should be cautious about working with someone who might have wellbeing challenges, coaches must be capable of judging each case on its merits.
If I believe a client is ready to engage with the coaching process and that I can help them self-manage, work more effectively and perform better at work, then why wouldn’t I coach them?
Making this judgement is easier with experience but it helps that I have a great coaching supervisor with whom I can discuss my concerns about boundary-setting or how to manage my relationship with a client. My supervisor encourages me to reflect on my practice and how I need to engage with clients to become a more inclusive and effective coach.
The ethical codes of the different professional coaching bodies have always said that coaches should act within the limits of their competence and do no harm. This is an important principle but every coaching relationship brings its own challenges and we need to ensure our training, supervision and guidance helps coaches apply ethical principles to their own practice, especially in the context of wellbeing.
In recent years, organisations such as The Work Foundation, as well as the Government’s own efforts to measure national wellbeing1 have raised awareness of health and wellbeing challenges, their prevalence within the population and their impact on performance. If the coaching profession is to stay relevant to the working lives of our clients, I think we need to reassess our approach too.
1 Measuring National Well-being, Personal Well-being in the UK, Three Year Data 2011/2014, Office for National Statistics, 27 March 2015