Coaching for wellbeing and resilience

Blog posts

26 Mar 2020

Alison carter

Dr Alison Carter, Principal Research Fellow 

Our national view of who is a key worker is shifting. Less than a month ago a healthcare assistant or a supermarket worker was typically classified as unskilled. Unconfirmed reports suggest support staff no longer needed by companies in hard-hit sectors are facilitating the transfer of their no-longer-needed support staff to bolster the ranks in health, food distribution and care settings.  The behind the scenes effort to make this happen seamlessly shows compassion by the original employers as it keeps these individual workers from otherwise being laid off. These individuals are now vital key workers in enabling food supply chains to function and the expansion of hospital ‘bed’ capacity.  

Schools are out and the UK Government’s definition of key workers has put the spotlight on those who are needed to keep the show on the road. They are finally getting a status they deserve. Supporting childcare for these workers is the first public indication that we will all have to do what we can to enable key workers to work. If the Government’s ‘flatten the curve’, Covid-19 strategy works, these key workers are in for a marathon not a sprint. Among other things, this has increased focus on the resilience and wellbeing of the nation’s key workers and how to enhance it.  

So what can employers of key workers do? Many people assume resilience is just about coping but research evidence suggests a more complicated picture; there are many ways of coping with stress, with some more healthy than others. Other factors that contribute to resilience include self-confidence, optimism and having a strong sense of purpose. Exercising good judgement about when to seek support from managers and colleagues (and when not to) is also important. Different factors may come into play depending on the person or the situation.

Resilience helps people bounce back from adversity and stress and is generally seen as an asset that benefits the individual as well as the organisation they work for. Despite this, few employers know how to help their staff become more resilient. See IES’ guide to understand what is meant by resilience and related terminology and how it can help when navigating relevant advertising literature and other information sources. 

From existing research we know that coaching does have the potential to enhance resilience and wellbeing. Studies have found coaching helps reclaim self-belief and feeling capable of operating effectively in their environment. An IES research report found statistically significant increases in perceived wellbeing from a range of coaching programmes, mainly across the public sector. A wide range of studies are showing that many different types and formats of coaching can show positive outcomes. Although researchers don’t yet know for sure what makes this happen, it seems likely that it may be the coaching process itself which supports wellbeing i.e. time and thinking space for a private conversation with a supportive, non-judgemental, independent coach acting as a sounding board. 

Particular roles bring their own set of specific demands but we know resilience will become essential for all key workers. Without the necessary skills and support to cope successfully when under stress, employees may perform poorly. If they become unwell, with COVID-19 or other illnesses, the harsh reality is we will need them back on the front line as soon as possible. They and their families will need compassion and support not just from their employer but from all employers and the wider public too. It would be great to see more employers, before they lay off staff, making connections with organisations under pressure to see how they might help.

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Any views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the Institute as a whole.