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“I feel clearer now”
“There’s a bounce in my step”
“Definitely lighter”

These are the sort of comments that people leave coaching sessions with. An immediate feel good factor, clearing of the way forward and internal resourcefulness to get going on what needs to be done. While we might all think that it’s a good thing to feel clearer headed and bouncy at work and have a gut feeling that this makes us more motivated and effective, it  may not be enough to convince hard-pressed finance directors of the longer-term value of investment in coaching across the organisation.

So, where’s the evidence of impact of coaching on health and well-being? And is there a ripple effect? 

Could coaching reduce loss of staff due to stress?
A small-scale study of coaching for headteachers in challenging area of Bristol[1] showed a huge impact on confidence to manage self, others and change to the benefit of the organisation. Heads reported that they had better clarity and focus, were better able to prioritise, had greater confidence, were more realistic about expectations of self and others, were better able to identify strategies to manage time, stress and the job overall and were calmer, happier, more relaxed and less worried.

The positive impact on personal health went hand in hand with professional impact, and leadership style. There was impact across the community. On an individual basis, it helped these leaders keep coming through the door. One commented “At my worst, I would not have been here without coaching support”.

Coaching for the front line
Paramedics are often in the front line, experiencing high pressure situations and sometimes aggressive behaviour from the very people they are there to help. There’s a high level of anxiety and stress in the profession, leading to high turnover. And they’re not the sort of people who would normally get coaching, which might be funded for managers rather than front line staff.

So, the outcomes of a small-scale study by Gabby Barody, a Senior Lecturer at Oxford Brookes University[2]  are interesting. She evaluated the outcomes of a series of just four coaching sessions over the course of two months. All the participants said that they felt less stressed in their workplace. One was able to come off medication for high blood pressure. They said they valued being listened to and being encouraged to articulate what bothered them and to open up. They trusted the coach. Comments included “I can now just enjoy my position” and “I am able to set boundaries at work and ask for what I need… I have been more productive and effective…”

Do you have to be at your wit’s end to benefit?
A resilience and well being coaching programme for staff undergoing a high-profile change in the NHS[3] found that coaching was a useful self-help tool for participants to manage the stressful working environment. They achieved “transformational understanding” of their individual and team resilience at work, recognising that the change had the potential to deliver both the positive and the negative and that while some things were out of their control, much was still within it. The result was that they remained engaged with delivering the change.

A study in the Netherlands[4], explored whether coaching was suitable for people at risk of sickness absence. The researchers screened employees of three companies, assessing anxious mood, burnout, exhaustion, professional efficacy, fatigue, psychological job demands, skill discretion, decision authority, co-worker and supervisor support, perception of work, conflict at work and need for recovery. Then they invited some of the people deemed to be at risk to have a coaching programme of 7-9 sessions. Critical elements included identifying the problems and a three-way consultation with the employee’s supervisor at the beginning and the end of the programme.

Coaches helped participants identify the main problem and associated behaviours as well as objectives to achieve. Positive focuses included taking the initiative; improving communication and promoting the exchange of ideas; coping with negative criticism and conflict; understanding the causes of problems; improving self-awareness and appreciation of personal capacities; avoiding distraction, making choices and time-management.

The study saw coaching as a “healthy” intervention for ordinary employees whose professional or personal situation might lead them to be at risk of needing sickness leave.

So what?
When you look at the list of factors considered in these studies, who amongst us has not experienced some of these stressors at some stage in our working lives? Who might not like a bit of help in tackling them? And who wouldn’t find their resilience and well-being enhanced by doing so? And which organisation wouldn’t benefit financially from reduced sickness absence and lower staff turnover?

Sarah Gornall, President UK ICF Chapter – International Coach Federation

[1] Bristol Education Action Zone Evaluation Report 2014 DfES

[2] Can coaching paramedics help them reflect on their wellbeing and confidence and be empowered within their profession? Gabby Barody. Published in International Journal of Evidence Based Coaching and Mentoring, Special Issue no 10 June 2016

[3] Developing resilience and wellbeing for healthcare staff during organisational transition: The salutogenic approach Gray, D. in in International Journal of Evidence Based Coaching and Mentoring, Vol 14, No.2, August 2016

[4] The compatibility between characteristics of employees at risk for sickness absence and components of a preventative coaching intervention Duijts, S., Kant, I., van den Brandt, P. and Swaen, G.  Published in International Journal of Evidence Based Coaching and Mentoring, Vol 5, No.1, February 2007

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