Understanding the benefits of coaching for employees
We’ve gone through the research and the findings are clear: coaching is more than just a mystical space to feel good.
Studies show coaching makes a positive difference to the way people feel, relate to others, and work through everyday difficulties. As well as showing improvements in practical areas like performance at work and the ability to develop new skills and competencies.
There’s a lot that goes on in a coaching session. Coaches can offer an objective outside perspective, bring awareness to our blind spots, and help us reconnect to our inner wisdom.
Coaching is occasionally conflated with therapy, because there’s admittedly some overlap between the two. Needless to say, they are both quite different and serve very distinct purposes.
What are the benefits of coaching?
The International Coaching Federation defines coaching as “partnering in a thought provoking and creative process to maximize personal and professional potential.” Their most recent Global Consumer Awareness Study published in 2022 revealed the top 10 reasons people take part in coaching today:
- Improve communication skills
- Improve work life balance
- Improve self esteem/self confidence
- Optimise individual/team work performance
- Increase productivity
- Expand professional career opportunities
- Improve business management strategies
- Increase wellbeing
- Accelerate onboarding into a new professional role
- Experiencing a career change due to the COVID-19 pandemic
These can broadly be considered not only the top reasons people go to coaching in the first place, but why they come back, the most common things they work on in a session, and the areas of their lives where they see the most improvement. In a nutshell: this is coaching.
When asked why they’re considering coaching in the first place, respondents to the same study came back with:
- I want to maximise my potential (45% of participants)
- I want to define the strengths and weaknesses within myself (44%)
- I believe coaching would enhance my business or career (43%)
Much lower down the list of reasons was the belief in evidence that coaching works. Only 17% of people ticked that particular box. Which is possibly because it’s less important as a reason. But equally likely that the evidence isn’t readily available and the benefits of coaching are actually quite hard to measure.
How do you measure the benefits of coaching?
Essentially you’ve got two people – at least one of whom is an accredited professional coach – going into a meeting room either physical or virtual, talking it out for a bit, and then they’re meant to go their separate ways having promised to work on whatever it was they discussed. And it could be anything: mental wellbeing, physical health, learning new skills, challenges at work or at home. They’ll meet again in a few weeks to see how everything went, check whether there’s anything new to talk about, and how to move forward with the next phase of work or life.
It’s a very personal process which naturally makes it a bit harder to get something to measure out of it. What people go in for, work on, and get out of coaching will be as unique as they are. Sometimes, there may not be anything other than the person on the other side of the table (or screen) saying they feel like it’s working. Or cracking a smile for the first time in weeks. In many ways, what more do you need?
People (and by people I mean businesses) want a figure, or a percentage, they can use to justify coaching. You might be thinking about it in really simple ROI terms: ‘this is how much I’ve spent on coaching, therefore I need to see X amount of revenue to justify this.’ Only it doesn’t always work like that.
There are more moving parts in a 1-2-1 coaching interaction than initially appear obvious, which can make tracing positive (or negative) impacts back to the coaching room a little bit harder. The two operative people are your coach and their coachee. But then it’s who that coachee interacts with – colleagues, family, friends – who might experience the impact of coaching secondhand, even in a small way. In business terms, every employee will contribute to the business they work for in some way, no matter how small, and arguably more so the higher up they go.
If we use the ICF’s top 10 impacts listed above, we can loosely group the benefits of coaching into two categories: tangible and intangible.
Productivity and performance, the effectiveness of certain business strategies, career opportunities, how long it takes to onboard into a new role or company. These are all things we can measure, through reports, financials, simply setting a timer in some cases.
Things like confidence, wellbeing, work life balance, stress management, self esteem. These are all things we can measure as well, albeit in a less obvious, arguably less cut and dry way – through surveys, periods of reflection, or just being honest with ourselves and having honest conversations with others.
To gain a more granular understanding of the benefits of coaching, we need to zoom in a bit.
Understanding the benefits of coaching
“There is growing empirical evidence which suggests that people are the pre-eminent organisational resource and the key to achieving outstanding performance.” A study on the effectiveness of different coaching styles found that “coaching has a positive influence on the performance of an individual by influencing the two dependent variables of individual performance: ability and motivation.”
According to the same study, these are the top 10 indicators for measuring an individual’s performance. 1 to 3 can be labelled as “performance according to others”. 4 to 6 are all about that individual’s ability. Whereas 7 to 10 concern how they feel.
- The references one gets when leaving the organisation
- The amount of advice one needs to give his or her colleagues
- The satisfaction of one’s supervisor with one’s work
- The importance of one’s job
- One’s contribution to the realisation of company goals
- One’s ability to perform
- The ability to get along with one’s colleagues
- The level of pride of one’s work
- One’s motivation to perform
- The level of comfort one feels in his or her job
Some are tangible – like the references you get when you leave, or your individual contribution to company goals – and some are intangible: motivation, pride, comfort, likeability.
This is how we begin to measure the unmeasurable.
As with individual performance, these are the top indicators for measuring an organisation’s performance, this time divided into two categories: 1 to 5 can be labelled “organisational performance in general”; 6 and 7 concern more relational qualities.
- The quality of the products/services of the company
- The development of new products/services
- The ability to attract essential employees
- The ability to retain essential employees
- The satisfaction of customers
- The relation between management and other employees
- The relation among employees in general
To understand the benefits of coaching employees, you can’t just coach them and wait to see what good stuff pops out. These indicators give us a structure and clarity over what we’re looking for, so we can properly appraise the benefits.
So now that we know what the benefits of coaching are and how we can measure them, what does that mean for employees?
How does coaching support employees?
If we go back to the ICF’s top 10 benefits from the start of this article, hopefully it’s not too much of a stretch to see how better communication, productivity, and performance helps businesses. And how better self esteem, work life balance, and general wellbeing is good for individuals.
These impacts of coaching might all be interlinked as well. In that better communication could increase your productivity at work, which in turn influences your work life balance and your wellbeing, your performance goes up and suddenly your career opportunities expand which increases your self esteem, and so on.
When we look at the benefits of coaching, it could start with just one thing and very quickly and seamlessly expand to cover lots of different areas. This is because human beings are complex souls who contain multitudes. It’s why our holistic approach is so important to us. It’s also why I keep ducking out of making concrete statements about exactly how coaching benefits people and businesses. What I’m hoping you can get from this is while it’s difficult to pin down, the benefits are also pretty hard to ignore.
The Institute of Leadership Management’s report on creating a coaching culture summarises by saying: “…it is no surprise that there is broad agreement that coaching is a valuable and worthwhile activity. A variety of benefits were identified, highlighting the flexibility and responsiveness of coaching, and its ability to respond to the development needs of the individual and organisation, depending on the situation.”
The main benefits, we’ve already looked at. But this study also reveals that the second most popular reason for coaching (with 45% of respondents in their sample) was to improve business knowledge and skills in a specific area. “Communication and interpersonal skills, leadership and management, conflict resolution, personal confidence, attitudes and motivation… and on occasions, combating aggressive behaviour.”
How does coaching help business?
I’m not going to say “well it’s tough to properly measure” again. What I will say is what we know: engagement is generally quite low and people are not sticking around at businesses that don’t provide them with some sense of purpose or meaning.
It is easy to quantify the time and money that goes into replacing people who leave a business. What we will never know is how much time and money, knowledge and culture, ended up being saved on people who were going to leave, but decided not to.
When it comes to combatting low engagement, increasing the quality or access to development opportunities is typically regarded as one of the best things you can do. And coaching is a highly personal and effective way to serve that particular need.
I often think about the benefits in terms of marginal gains. You might already be doing brilliantly as a business, but even tweaking productivity and performance in individuals by the smallest degree can have a huge collective impact on the company. Whether it’s an extra 1% or an extra 50%, an edge is an edge.
Coaching also unburdens HR and leadership teams who are currently trying to wear a coaches hat (alongside all their other various bits of headgear) and provide all this support with little formal training, time, or headspace themselves.
Managers are a uniquely interesting target for coaching. They have a lot of contact with employees at various levels, and a lot of influence in their day to day experience.
When leaders are supported to reach their potential, they’re better at getting it out of others. They’re not only more likely to remain loyal to a business, but keep their key player with them as well. In short, leaders who are better supported themselves are better placed to support others. For more on this, take a look at our five pillar approach to leadership development.
Not only can managers experience the benefits of coaching themselves, they can model behaviour they’d like to see reflected in employees, encourage others to go along to a coaching session and see for themselves, and even practice certain coaching techniques.
We’ve provided some guidance on steps you can take to promote trust and psychological safety at work. These are coaching techniques anyone can try: from sharing stories to owning your mistakes and “honesty breaks”, showing your teams you’re invested by checking in with them regularly and providing an opportunity for everyone to bring their whole selves to work, if they want to.
That said, the most practical thing you can do is partner with an organisation for whom coaching is their bread and butter.
In fact, I might just know some people.