From rowing to rugby, skiing to athletics, coaching has long been an intrinsic part of sports. In the workplace, however, coaching is a newer development.
“Twenty years ago or so, I met with [human resources] managers to introduce having a coach accessible on the worksite to offer individuals a confidential sounding board to air their concerns for what was happening not only in the workplace, but also in their personal lives,” says Diane Voth-Stewart, co-principal of Vision Path Solutions Inc. in Vancouver. “The concept was a little ahead of its time then.”
These days, life coaching has found its time and continues to grow in popularity. In 2016, a survey by the International Coach Federation estimated 17,500 professional coaches are working in North America.
At Fidelity Canada, coaches are available to employees for a number of different scenarios, such as delivering a presentation or leading an effective meeting, says Linda Passarelli, the organization’s vice-president of talent management. “We also have executive coaches — although we don’t call them life coaches. They work more on the professional side, but it does cross over into the personal.”
Why hire a coach?
The reasons an employer might hire a workplace life coach include employee disengagement and workplace disruption. Consider a merger or takeover, where two different philosophies or management styles come into play, says Voth-Stewart. “The ensuing frustration and confusion contributes to production going down and stress and discontent to rise.”
Life coaches can also help with interpersonal issues or conflicts among employees, such as a misunderstanding between two co-workers where one is afraid to approach the other to deal with the issue. “What often happens is that these things pile up and they eventually blow up,” says Joyce Odidison, chief executive officer of Interpersonal Wellness Services Inc. in Winnipeg.
Leadership is another area, she says, noting some people take on new roles without being properly prepared. A workplace coach can provide leadership training, showing leaders how to see and approach things differently. “They usually leave [the session] with a different mindset on how to approach a problem.”
Fidelity Canada offers access to a coach when an employee is promoted to a vice-president role, says Passarelli, who took up the opportunity herself when she was promoted last year.
“I wanted to transition into my role and wanted to understand what it meant to be a VP, what it looked like, what was different about being a VP than a director, what were the expectations. And I can personally say that, based on what I went through, it helped me not only on the professional side, but also on the personal side.”
However, coaching isn’t just about solving problems, says Odidison. It’s about looking at an issue through a different lens. And workplace coaches can move things along, sometimes getting results three to six times faster than an organization’s leadership.
“Where [a manager or boss] won’t get through that wall, or HR won’t be able to have that conversation [with an employee], a coach can,” she says. “[Coaching] is refocusing people’s energy on what’s important, which is a huge, huge savings for organizations.”
Brooke Smith is a freelance writer based in Toronto.