Why should Coaching be at the Heart of the

Organisation?

White Paper PSY@WORK - February 2017
Index

INTRODUCTION ..................................................................................................................... 1
THE CHANGING LANDSCAPE ................................................................................................ 3
Change: the new constant ....................................................................................................... 3
Organisations that thrive and survive are agile ..................................................................... 3
Need for constant learning and development of employees ................................................ 4
Need for conversion of knowledge into skills and productive actions ............................... 4
Need for natural leadership .................................................................................................... 4
Change from with-in ............................................................................................................... 5
THE ISSUES ORGANISATIONS ARE FACING .......................................................................... 5
Perceived job-insecurity explains 50% of occupational stress ............................................. 5
Increasing workload................................................................................................................ 6
Presenteeism............................................................................................................................. 7
Low up-take rates of occupational health interventions...................................................... 7
Insufficient “modelling” by management .............................................................................. 8
Need for a sense of purpose .................................................................................................... 9
THE WAY FORWARD: THE RECOMMENDED PATH............................................................. 9
INTRODUCTION
It’s fair to say that many organisations are going through a crisis. Psy@Work assessed 35.000
employees in the course of 2016, in countries like Belgium, France, Germany, Spain… As a general
rule, two out of three employees are in need for some form of assistance. About 25%
suffer from burnout, depression, anxiety, or a combination of these.

The constant increase of presenteeism,
averaging 10 times the absenteeism rates, reflects
the (lack of) well-being state of the employees. It
affects productivity, to the extent that even
the productivity levels of nations as a whole (like
the US) are linked to this phenomenon.

When analysing the deeper causes of the
“symptoms”, we could point to the following:

a. A loss of “purpose”: people are wondering what’s the meaning of what they’re doing.
What are they contributing to? What is their role? Does it correspond to their values?

b. Perceived job-insecurity: about 50% of work-related stress is explained by the
perception of job-insecurity.

c. Workload: unstoppable automation, increased competition, and a higher relative labour
cost, lead to more workload.

d. Change: technological progress and competition send regular shockwaves through
organisations. People have to learn to live with constant change.

Against this background, and applying a people-driven (as opposed to process-driven) approach,
we suggest that “coaching” should be at the heart of every organisation. If people are at
the core of the NEW organisation, and since they are facing the issues mentioned earlier, providing
each of them with their personal coach (virtual or not), makes sense.

After assessing the employees – an exercise every organisation should make at least once a year –
we can identify 2 groups:

a. The “healthy” ones: the ones that are in both good physical and mental health and
reasonably “engaged”. This group represents roughly one third of the organisation. For
them, coaching should focus on training their professional skills and boosting their personal
development

1
b. The “unhealthy” ones: roughly two thirds of employees suffer from psychosomatic
symptoms, exhaustion, stress, burnout, depression or anxiety. They struggle with
motivation and finding meaning in their job. For them, coaching should deal with their
issues and the underlying causes.

Technology has made it feasible for every single employee to have his/her
“personal” coach. We’ve put personal between quotes, since for part of the employees coaching
is done by a computer (eCoaching). Thanks to progressing artificial intelligence – the most
advanced systems already contain thousands of rules –, the adaptation of the coaching process to
the individual needs and preferences is often more “personalised” than by applying a traditional
human coaching process.

The following figure describes the eCoaching process.

Based on an initial assessment questionnaire, a personal coaching-path is automatically
suggested. The coaching-path is defined in terms of 12 weekly 40-minute sessions (about 3
months), of which half are mandatory (in blue), and half can be freely chosen from a catalogue of
60 topics. In parallel the employee can work on his/her personal goals (and action plans) and
start one of the “well-being” processes (diet, exercise, quitting smoking/drinking). At the end
of the 12 sessions, a re-assessment is done, which could lead to a new coaching-path.

Experience in the field has learned that coaching is a continuum from pure eCoaching to
pure face-to-face coaching. In between, all sorts of hybrid forms of coaching have been
developed. Adapting the form of coaching to the individual employee in function of his/her needs
and preferences, is one of the new challenges we are facing. Research seems to point to hybrid
coaching as the one that represents the best fit with both the employee’s needs and preferences,
and with the available resources.

2
THE CHANGING LANDSCAPE
Change: the new constant

Change has always been part of our lives. What’s
“new” is the extent and speed of change. It has
become constant.

From an intervention point of view, this has two
important consequences:

a. Opportunity: change means opportunity, for both the organisation and the individual
employee. The organisation can take advantage of change by expanding into new
products and services. The individual could grow inside or outside the organisation,
towards the “ideal” job.

b. Stress: when an individual is facing change, a psychological appraisal process is triggered.
When he/she feels like having the necessary resources to cope, the change is perceived as
positive, as an opportunity. But, when the perception is one of lack of resources, being it
time, skills, support… the employee will experience stress.

Coaching plays a key role in this psychological appraisal process. Where it teaches cognitive control
techniques, it can help in perceiving the same situation as an opportunity, instead of a threat.
Where it teaches the individual new skills (problem solving, time management,…), the employee
feels better prepared for coping with the new situation.

Organisations that thrive and survive are agile

Both our individual success, as the success of the organisation, depend on how we deal with
change. With change occurring more and more often, and with deeper consequences, it starts
dawning on many organisations, that a “top-down” approach doesn’t work anymore. Trying to
adapt organisational structures and processes in an attempt to make them more fit with the new
environment, has proven increasingly difficult, with small or even negative pay-offs.

Successful organisations have taken up a “bottom-up” approach. They have put the
individual at the centre of the action, by empowering and coaching him/her. Many examples
already exist of organisations that constantly, and “naturally” adapt their structures from with-in,
adjusting to their environments. Some are even virtual, composed of teams of people who might
never have met in person.

It is only a small step from realising that the individual is at the core of the organisation, to linking
the organisational success to the degree of effective assistance for the employee to perform best.
We call this assistance coaching. Coaching can help to bring out the best in everyone, in

3
teaching people to better work in – virtual – teams, improve their employability, increase their
engagement, and help them to overcome issues (exhaustion, burnout, depression,…).

Need for constant learning and development of employees
Against the higher described background, it is obvious that there is a direct relationship
between the organisational performance and the learning and development of
employees.

Coaching should start with an individual assessment of one’s needs and preferences and design the
“ideal” coaching path. In our own research, we’ve discovered that adoption rates for professional
and personal development that used to be quite low (10%), tend to increase significantly when the
proposed development path is perceived by the employee as fitting his personal needs and
preferences.

Psy@Work has developed thousands of rules (algorithms) that map the individual assessment
with the components of the coachee’s path. Mapping goes beyond the content of the path,
and also affects the form. Some employees might benefit more from a strict eCoaching approach,
due to its convenience (available 24/7) or strict confidentiality. Others might need the warmth and
discipline inducing effect of a personal coach, guiding and following up the eCoaching process.

Need for conversion of knowledge into skills and productive actions
For over 30 years, organisations have been experimenting with some form of eLearning. Although
eLearning keeps on expanding and is becoming the predominant way of learning in many
organisations, it has also been criticised. The mayor issue concerns the lack of conversion of
knowledge into skills and actual behaviour and productive actions.

There is a fundamental difference between “knowing” and “changing behaviour”. That’s why
eLearning needs to come with techniques, tools and assistance to transform knowledge into a better
overall performance and well-being.

Need for natural leadership
In an organisation that is people-driven instead of process-driven, management and leadership no
longer belong to the “organisational structure”. It is something that should emerge, naturally, from
with-in. As teams get together, adjust to their changing environments, they’ll see their natural
leaders emerge.

Too often, managers and “leaders” are appointed based on their seniority or formal skills, and not
based on their leadership skills.

4
We know that leadership
can be trained. That’s where
coaching plays a critical role.
Those employees who are
prepared to work on their
professional and personal
development, should have the
opportunity to do so. We
know that spontaneously, less
than 10% will accept to be
coached, even if it’s offered to
them for free. Organisations
will need to become better at promoting employee development. Employees should receive
clear and constant signals that “working on yourself” forms part of the corporate
culture. This is accomplished by communication campaigns (marketing), HR policies (including
coaching as part of the periodic appraisals), and modelling by existing leaders.

Change from with-in
More and more organisations came to realise that the real drivers of today’s and tomorrow’s
success, are their employees. Investing in them, pays off. For every Euro spent on the
employee’s well-being, a benefit of 4-6 Euro is produced for the organisation. In reality, the mere
survival of the organisation often depends on its capacity of “activating” its employee-base.

Coaching does that, and should be applied to all employees. Coached employees will not
only cope better with the new challenges, but they will turn them into opportunities they are eager
to take advantage of. The need for skills and assistance should be assessed for each individual, and
delivered efficiently. ECoaching, assisted eCoaching and Hybrid Coaching, in combination with
constant assessment, can do the job.

THE ISSUES ORGANISATIONS ARE FACING
In this part we’d like to discuss some of the specific issues organisations are facing, and how coaching
could be critical in overcoming them.

Perceived job-insecurity explains 50% of occupational stress
A recent study from Harvard and Stanford points to perceived job-insecurity as one of the most
important causes of occupational stress. At least 50% of stress would be explained by it. The “old
career” won’t come back. The “new” one is unstructured, transactional, discontinuous,…

5
Nowaday’s, employees should be thinking in terms of professional and personal
development, and well-being, instead of “career”. By developing himself/herself, and staying
in good mental and physical health, the – for him/her – best options will become available.
Employability, or the capacity of adjusting to new demands in one’s environment, becomes an
important factor in the perception of threat, and hence in the generation of stress. The more
“employable” one becomes, the more opportunities for professional and personal progress there
will be. It boosts self-confidence and a sense of self-efficacy.

Increasing workload
Most studies about occupational stress, conclude that workload is increasing. This is true for
all age groups, men and women, all functions and all sectors.

Increased global competition, the massive introduction of technology, commuting, part-time
working and even tele-working (working at home), have been pointed at as possible causes. In most
developed countries, “labour” is becoming more and more expensive, relatively spoken.
Organisations try to do more with less people.

Few organizations have the possibility of effectively reducing workload. The reason is mostly
economical: the pressure of productivity. Recent studies – including our own research with over
35.000 employees in 2016 – have reached the conclusion that 2 out of 3 employees are either at
the limit of exhaustion, or already well beyond (burnout, depression,…). Urgent actions are
needed.

Coaching can help with adopting better coping mechanisms regarding stress, and
one of its mayor causes: the increasing workload. These techniques range from cognitive-
behavioural ones (like reframing, controlling thoughts,…) to relaxation techniques (breathing,
visualisation, mindfulness,…), and have proven very effective in reducing the perceived stress.

6
In addition, coaching contributes to an actual reduction of workload through the training of
professional skills, such as time-management, decision making, problem-solving…

Presenteeism
Stress and its negative consequences is strongly affecting the motivation and engagement of the
employees. In combination with the perceived job-insecurity, employees – who are not really fit
for work – rather go to work than stay at home. Based on recent studies, this phenomenon is way
more important than initially thought. On average, across sectors, presenteeism is about
10 times more widespread than absenteeism, covering practically 15% of the workforce. Its
impact is so important that the productivity of entire nations, compared to others, has been
explained by it.

With respect to the unmotivated, unengaged
employees, once again, Coaching can be central to
the solution, where it creates a better person-job
fit, makes employees more assertive, and helps
them to clarify their goals and work towards them.
Research of Psy@Work has shown that
engagement can rise as much as 10% in 3
months, thanks to coaching.

Low up-take rates of occupational health interventions
In 2016, Psy@Work launched coaching-interventions at several large companies and organisations,
company-wide. The coaching (from pure eCoaching over assisted eCoaching to Hybrid Coaching)
was offered free-of-charge to the employees, by their employers. In the cases where no specifically
designed campaign was accompanying the launch, only about 5% of employees accepted to
start working on themselves.

That’s why we would plead for the following:

a. Communication: striving for well-being, should be part of the company
culture. Communication should be constant, with periodic thematic campaigns.
Organisations should implement a well-being information-website, containing articles,
testimonials, short tests, a forum, a find-a-buddy function,… Managers, prevention-
workers, the medical service,… they should all point employees-in-need to this
website. Those employees who’re willing to start with coaching, would be able to sign
up through the same site.

In addition, every three months, the organisation could pick a well-being topic (for
instance “better coping with stress”, ”work-life balance”, “mindfulness”…) for an
organisation-wide campaign.

7
Coaching kick-off workshops of about 1,5 hours have also proven to be effective. Every
three months, in every (important) department of the organisation, such a meeting
should be organised.

b. Word of mouth publicity: in the interventions that were done by Psy@Work over
the past year, there has always been a core group of people who really loved the
coaching-experience and its effects. These people tend to talk about it with their
colleagues, who in turn get interested. The higher mentioned well-being website could
allow those people who got motivated by the success-stories of their peers, to sign up
at any time during the year.

c. Value the coaching effort: in their communication, managers should stress the
importance of the employee working on himself/herself. They shouldn’t
underestimate the importance of giving the example: they should take up coaching
themselves (called “modelling” in psychology). The fact of being enrolled in a coaching
programme, should have a positive impact on the periodic appraisal of employees.

d. Allow for the perfect fit of the employee with the “format” of coaching:
some people are perfectly fine with pure eCoaching. It allows them to choose their
own rhythm, it’s convenient (24/7) and can also be totally confidential. But many need
at least the initial “calibration” (the process of getting to know someone, during the
first encounter) and follow-up of a coach of flesh-and-blood. We would strongly
recommend to let the employees choose the format of coaching, according to their
preferences. In our experience, this not only influences up-take rates, but also affects
adherence positively. Research of Psy@Work shows that organisations were able to
reduce drop-out rates from over 50% to merely 20%, by adding the
“human component”.

Insufficient “modelling” by management
We already mentioned it several times: management should give the example and start the
process of working on themselves. The well-being website should include testimonials of
managers, describing the effect coaching had on them.

Even the Dalai Lama confessed that also for him meditation is hard! For all of us, working on our
professional development, personal development and/or health, represents a
serious effort. We’re not naturally drawn to it. And even if we put our New Year resolutions in
practice and get started, we often – even mostly – fall back into our old behavioural patterns.

In reality most of us need “role-model examples” and “social support” to get started, and even more
importantly, to maintain a new habit. On average, it takes 6 weeks, before the new habit is
“automated”. Or in other words: if only we can keep up the effort for 6 weeks, once it has become
part of our new daily routine, chances are that we will continue.

8
It is precisely here where management has a key role to play. It might be necessary to offer
management training (3-hour sessions) with a particular focus on the importance and effects of
“modelling” (providing the example).

Need for a sense of purpose
Recent research has pointed to the “lack of sense of purpose”, as one of the explanations for the
alarming rise of burnout in most organisations.

People need to find “meaning” in what they do. Arguably, this phenomenon is part of a
broader issue in our society. The historical providers of meaning, religion and family, are having
much less impact today, leaving us with the mission of “finding purpose” ourselves.

Coaching can fill this gap. As part of the coaching paths that our platform offers, there are sessions
on “authenticity” and defining your personal and professional goals, in accordance with your own
values. It is much more likely that you’ll go the extra mile and feel resilient and engaged,
when you’re convinced of the meaning of what you’re doing.

THE WAY FORWARD: THE RECOMMENDED PATH
Increased competition, faster changing market environments, constant need for adapting to
technological evolution, job-insecurity,… have produced a dual challenge for HR:

1. Employees need to be empowered to
actively cope with the current and future work
environment. Their engagement and resilience
need to be developed and their employability
increased.

2. The current working conditions tend to
increase stress, exhaustion, burnout and even
depression, leading to higher absenteeism
and presenteeism rates.

Bottom-up interventions, assessing and responding the needs of every individual employee,
are 7 times more effective than top-down interventions.

The technology that allows for a company-wide implementation of individual
interventions (assessment, eCoaching, assisted eCoaching, Hybrid Coaching,…), exists.
Thanks to the automation of coaching processes, coaching is not the exclusive priveledge
anymore of the “happy few” in top-management. Company-wide implementations of
Psy@Work have demonstrated that there is no barrier to offering coaching literally to everybody.
Both blue and white collar workers can take advantage of it, and so do younger and older
employees, men and women… The patterns of adoption are so diverse that we should be careful

9
not to fall in the trap of stereotyping. For instance: younger people might pick up eCoaching faster
than those who are at the end of their careers. Nevertheless, research shows that adhesion rates
with the older co-workers tend to be higher.

The recommended path for dealing with the dual challenge, would contain the following steps:

1. A company-wide awareness programme, including all stake-holders.

2. A well-being website, containing: articles, forum, tests, testimonials, and a link to a
Well-Being Survey. Interested employees, or those not feeling well, would have a
permanent access to this website.

3. A Well-Being Survey which assesses both the employee and the organisation. A yearly
roll-out of the Survey would provide a “stick in the ground” for yearly developments and
identify specific vulnerable groups. These groups could be approached with a targeted
Survey.

4. The Well-Being Survey automatically allocates employees to one of 4 groups, from
green (no issues) to dark red (severe depression).

5. An individual eCoaching, assisted eCoaching or Hybrid Coaching (eCoaching + one-
on-one Coaching via Skype) programme is automatically launched, according to criteria
agreed upon with management.

6. In parallel, supporting and targeted programmes at an organisational level would be
implemented.

10
The figure below illustrates what can be achieved with the recommended path (Psy@Work,
2016).

The percentages of people in each category (with a different colour), are the ones of employees
who have been actually coached. So, they are not representing the average distribution of employees
in an organisation. We can see that the “healthy” (green) group, which mainly contains
resilient/engaged employees, grew from 44,1% to 71,2% in six months.

The orange group contains people with alarming symptoms, which – if not dealt with – most
likely will end in burnout, depression or anxiety.This group has been cut by half in six months
of coaching.

The red group represents people with burnout, depression or anxiety. They went from
35,6% to 22% in six months.

Employees suffering from a severe depression, are shown in dark red. Their percentage was
decreased from 8,5% to 1,7%.

We can conclude that this is hopefull news! The combination of technology and psychology
can be effectively implemented for both the development of resilience/engagement
and the dealing with issues like exhaustion, burnout, depression and anxiety, in
organisations.

Thanks to its relatively low cost and very high return, there is no excuse anymore for not
putting coaching at the heart of the organization.

11
12