There is growing awareness that employee mental health is important to organizations. The cost of poor employee mental health to organizations has been estimated to be more than one $trillion worldwide each year. This includes the cost of not only absenteeism but of presenteeism, that is, employees coming to work when not feeling well. A new study by Alexis Jeannotte, Derek Hutchinson, and Gabriella Kellerman published in Journal of Medical Internet Research might hold a key. This team from the BetterUp virtual coaching company shows how workplace coaching improves mental health.
Mental Health at Work
There are two sides to employee mental health that can affect the workplace. First, there is the clinical side that consists of diagnosed disorders as well as sub-clinical symptoms. An employee, for example, might have an anxiety or depressive disorder and experience episodes during which they might struggle to function at work. Many employees might experience similar symptoms, but at a lower level that does not rise to a diagnosable disorder. They might experience periods of moderate anxiety or depressed mood at work. Those employees might still be functioning at work, but at a lower level of productivity and be engaged in presenteeism—managing to work but not at full potential.
The positive side of mental health has to do with psychological well-being and peak functioning. Individuals experiencing positive mental health show several characteristics assessed by Kellerman and her team.
- Emotional Control: Having the ability to control negative emotions such as anger and anxiety.
- Self-efficacy: Feeling competent in performing the job.
- Meaningfulness of Work: Feeling that the job is important and makes a contribution to others.
- Relationships with Others: Has good relationships with other people.
- Stress Management: Can cope with stress on the job and in life.
- Life Satisfaction: Feeling fulfilled and happy with life.
Workplace coaching is an intervention in which an employee meets with a coach to discuss issues the coachee wishes to cover. The coach can provide a sounding board for the coachee to throw out ideas, can guide the setting of goals, and can advise in devising plans to achieve those goals. Although a supervisor or even a coworker can provide this sort of assistance, not everyone has access to people at work who can effectively offer guidance. Workplace coaching as an intervention provides an external expert who is skilled in helping employees improve aspects of their lives at work and beyond.
Workplace Coaching Improves Mental Health
Jeannotte and her team were able to conduct a study of coaching in a naturalistic setting. They tracked nearly 400 coaching clients from before starting the program until completing it about 6 months later. They used assessments of positive mental health that included those mentioned earlier.
The coaching system they studied is virtual that allows coachees to meet with their coaches using an online video conference platform. The program involves live meetings and the use of self-paced resources that help with goal progress. Those who participated in the study completed a baseline survey of mental health assessments prior to their first session and completed follow-up assessments at 4-month intervals.
The results showed significant improvement on every mental health measure. The levels of positive mental health increased from before until after completing the coaching program. That is the average level of mental health improved for the entire sample. This is clear evidence of the value of coaching for employees, and presumably for organizations. As the authors point out, positive mental health is linked to better job attitudes, less absenteeism and turnover, and higher motivation. This means that workplace coaching can be an effective tool for positive human resource management.
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