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How coaching can reduce stress in the workplace

Our Creative Director, Adam Goodman-Smith, spoke to Workplace Wellbeing all about the importance of coaching in the workplace and how it can create an environment of encouragement and safety to help reduce stress.

Everyone has felt stressed at some point in their life, and this is completely normal. Stress is primarily a physical response and, in some instances, helps us to respond to certain situations such as when we face danger.

When we are experiencing stress, our body automatically switches into ‘fight, flight, freeze, fawn’ as the body thinks it’s under attack. Cortisol, a steroid hormone that is released into your bloodstream when stressed, takes over and blood flow is diverted away from our brain towards our muscles. The body is primed, but our brains are not, as we enter survival mode.

The challenge is when our body enters this survival mode too often, sometimes daily, and in situations it is not required. Research shows that people in the UK are feeling more stressed than before, with one in five over 16s in the UK in 2024 feeling stressed every single day, with a huge 63 per cent stressed at least weekly – up from just over a third six years ago. These feelings of stress often resort to the point where people feel overwhelmed or unable to cope.

While there are many external factors that can induce stress such as financial concerns, relationships, family, and health. Unsurprisingly, one of the main causes is work.

In fact, 1 in 10 people are thinking about leaving their job due to stress. At a time when employee retention is becoming increasingly challenging for all types of organisations, many employers are now seeking new initiatives to support their teams. One in which being the rise of coaching.

When we are in a state of stress our creativity, lateral thinking and problem-solving all go out the window and without it, our best and freshest thinking too. The old adage is true, nobody ever had a bright idea whilst running away from a lion.

The effect this can then have on both the individual and the wider team can be really damaging. If somebody is coming into work experiencing high levels of stress in a team environment where they don’t feel safe to share, inevitably they won’t be as productive as someone not experiencing stress.

So, how can a workplace utilise coaching to support its employees and more specifically, reduce stress?

First of all, it’s important to recognise that coaching isn’t a one-time fix. We often think about self-care and mental health as being something we must do when things are not in a good place. When actually, it’s about preventative action, and most importantly, this looks different for everybody.

Organisations often make the mistake of laying on wellbeing sessions on mass, which depending on the size of your team, often will not cater to the broad range of stresses and personal preferences of a diverse workforce. This is where coaching can help.

Coaching within the workplace can come in all shapes and forms but essentially, it is designed to make everyone feel valued and supported. One simple way of approaching it is by adopting and encouraging a coaching mindset. This simply represents a specific approach to dialogue, collaboration, and leadership. This can be characterised by the way you listen, ask questions, and empathise with employees, rather than simply instructing or directing.

In the instance of a leader, this could simply look like avoiding the question ‘why’, as it can be interpreted as challenging. As well as listening to understand, not to respond. Small and simple changes such as this can have a huge impact on how a team works with one another, and when inevitably faced with stressful situations, feel better equipped to overcome them.

Leaders who practice coaching skills would also strive to be curious, instead of rushing into problem-solving mode when faced with an employee concern, instead, you should seek to understand. You can do so by using open/non-judgemental questions to get to the heart of what a colleague is thinking, feeling, or experiencing.

If you have built a workplace environment where employees feel safe enough to share their experiences with stress this is extremely positive. However, it’s important to know how to react in such situations. For example, it’s important to avoid making it all about yourself – it’s ok to share your own experiences with stress but try not to overpower the conversation and divert the attention away from the individual.

In coaching, it is the person experiencing the problem who is the best person to develop the solution. Instead of jumping into resolving the situation, encourage employees to get there for themselves.

When looking at which coaching tools, techniques, and models to bring into the workplace it can be hard to know where to start, as there are plenty of options. One option is to introduce 1:1 coaching sessions within the team, which is a personalised approach to support and guidance. Having a dedicated person within the team who listens, understands, and helps navigate challenges can alleviate stress by providing a safe space for people to express worries and explore their own solutions.

Another way of implementing coaching is to create opportunities for colleagues to come together to share their experiences and challenges. This dedicated time creates a space for colleagues to stop, pause and learn from and with one another. At the same time, build new relationships and partnerships cross-functionally, leading to better and further reaching results.

This is where group coaching can be incredibly powerful. Often when we experience stress, we can lose sight of perspective. It’s easy to feel like it’s us against the world and that nobody else will understand. When a group comes together and shares its experiences and those experiences are then validated by others, it can be transformational.

As experiences are shared, people then go on to share coping strategies, tips, and resources for managing stress. The group sessions can also facilitate brainstorming and problem-solving activities where people collaboratively explore solutions to common stressors in the workplace.

With the option to be held in person or delivered online, the group sessions bring employees together from different parts of an organisation to learn practical stress management techniques. This could include mindfulness, time management and effective communication skills, helping a team develop their own habits and strategies to manage stress.

As stress continues to have an increasing impact on the performance, attendance, and retention of employees, we predict to see coaching become a non-negotiable standard within the workplace. More leaders will recognise that ongoing, preventative action is the solution to building happy and loyal teams.

While we have touched an a few key coaching options to reduce stress in the workplace, there is an array of tools and techniques available to suit the individual needs of an organisation. At Barefoot Coaching, we look forward to seeing, and working directly with, more organisations to use coaching to support the wellbeing of its employees.

Article originally posted on Workplace Wellbeing, read here.

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