Why I'm training my employees as life coaches

The Business of People Blog Series

Darren Ryemill explains how he's safeguarding the mental health of his staff by equipping them with life coaching skills...

As is the case with many industries, recruitment has relentless targets and is stressful to work in. My company has always taken the well-being of employees seriously. You only have to look at the stats to see why it’s important:

●     In 2016/17, 12.5 million working days were lost due to work-related stress, depression or anxiety

●     Providing better mental health support in the workplace can save UK businesses up to £8bn a year

At Opus, we’ve decided to invest further in this area and are bringing in two new initiatives.

The first is the opportunity for employees to train as life coaches, and bring those skills back into the business. We already had an external life coach available, to whom staff had free access, but as we’ve grown, we’ve found that one person simply isn’t enough. This scheme will mean the individuals who are training can offer support to other members of staff far more quickly than if they were waiting for access to the external coach.

Life coaching is a fantastic tool in business. It really can make the difference between success and failure. But this isn’t just guesswork. We use specialist software to keep track of life scores, which is the basis for all our staff appraisals. As well as measuring, for example, how many new clients an employee has brought to the business, it also measures health, wellbeing and happiness.

Individuals score themselves out of 10 in different areas of their life – for example, happiness, business, finance, health/wellbeing, family/friends, romance/relationships, personal growth, self-worth, contribution to society and spirituality – according to how well they feel they are doing in each area.

Because giving something a number means you can measure it and track it over time, I can say my staff are, for example, 15 percent happier or 20 percent less stressed than they were a year ago, and that is as tangible as a financial target and can be worked on and improved in the same way.

I believe everybody who is responsible for conducting appraisals should be equipped with life coaching skills – predominantly, it prevents the benign kind of responses that everyone feels they should say in a review, and companies would get a far more accurate and honest picture of what staff really want and feel. This would mean a better idea of who should be doing what, how staffing structures should be organised and – in the end – improve the way the business is run.

The second initiative to complement the life coaching training is our work with mental health first aid. As you would expect, this focuses on training employees to deliver mental first aid, just as they would physical first aid like cuts and burns.

This is about helping staff recognise the signs that one of their colleagues may be struggling, and showing them how to offer help and guidance towards appropriate support mechanisms. From a business perspective, that could be the difference between someone addressing their mental health issue or not, and being able to continue to enjoy and perform well in their job as a result.

I know both these initiative help my team perform to their maximum, reduce sick days, increase productivity and create a better working environment. It’s something I’d like to see more businesses get on board with. I’d advise leaders to get over any cynicism they may have that these types of initiatives are a waste of time or resources. In fact, in the modern, competitive business environment they, can dramatically affect the bottom line.

How do you ensure your employees are happy? And how much does it matter? Share your views and join the debate. And if there are any other topics you’d like me to blog about, feel free to contact me on my LinkedIn or Twitter.

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