Is Personal Consultancy the answer to workplace wellbeing?


Mental Health in the workplace is under scrutiny and rightly so - the costs to the person, companies and the economy, make for grim reading. Estimates of 12.5 million days lost to workplace stress, depression and anxiety (Health and Safety Executive. 2016), £26 billion lost to companies (Acas 2012) - I could go on but I'm sure you get the picture.

The big question is - what kind of support, if any, is being offered in the workplace to help this situation? Given that a return on investment is favourable when offering psychological support in companies - Deloitte reported that with using one psychological intervention - employers could see a net ROI of Euro’s 10.25 billion (Hampson, Soneji, Jacob, Mecu, & McGahan, 2017) - it seems only logical that companies seek the right kind of support.

Most companies offer Employee Assistance Programmes (EAP's), which offer a range of psychological interventions to aide employees. These can include but are not limited to telephone counselling or short-term face to face counselling.

There is evidence that EAP's are effective in improving presenteeism and functioning for employees, however, according to one report, EAP's have tended to be used as a management tool, rather than an alternative support system for employee wellbeing (Arthur, 2010). I believe there are two other issues at play here:

1. There is still an issue of stigmatisation with the concept of counselling - my own work in the City of London has shown that clients need therapy; but seek their own counselling privately. My experience is that this is due to a need to keep such issues away from the workplace - suffering from stress and anxiety is unfortunately still, in some offices, perceived as a weakness. Many clients don't want to reveal a mental health disorder - that they need to see someone in order to be 'fixed'.

2. EAP's offer a reactive response to people suffering from stress, anxiety and depression amongst other disorders, clients have often 'fallen off the cliff' before they have sought help.

Coaching is seen as a proactive tool in psychological support. Clients attend coaching for many reasons - in order to improve work performance, or to find strategies in order to reach goals that they wish to attain. Coaching has less of a stigma attached to it. This, I believe, is due to the fact that coaching is often undertaken by senior executives and has less attachment to mental health issues.

However, what happens when a coach hits a deep, personal issue within the client that is the reason they cannot reach a goal or improve work performance? This is where much of the criticism of coaching comes into play - when emotional issues arise, many coaches were simply not qualified to deal effectively with them or they were ignored (Brotman, Liberi & Wasylyshyn, 1998).

So, what if we could integrate these psychological disciplines and offer a wellbeing system in the workplace that can support people suffering from mental health conditions, can improve workplace performance, can proactively teach people how to manage stress and anxiety and help them attain goals they desire? Can we also negate the term 'counselling' which many people shy away from?

Enter Personal Consultancy (Popovic & Jinks, 2014). Personal consultancy (PC) is a four-stage model that combines integrated therapy with coaching. Personal Consultancy offers a client the space to work on one or all of their timescales, they can deal with past issues - i.e. childhood - they can work on the present - relationships, work performance and stress - or work in a more solution focused way to attain future goals - promotion, better psychical health.

Research has shown that in young people, Personal Consultancy has reduced post intervention levels when compared to humanistic counselling (Flynn, Sharp, Walsh & Popovic, 2017). This I believe is due to the integration of approaches which offers a more inclusive learning approach for the client. Given the return on investment for companies for offering good psychological support, the reduced post intervention levels that Personal Consultancy offers, the scope of the PC model to include coaching clients for workplace performance, this model could be seen as the modern-day panacea for the workplace. The diversity and flexibility of the model is being sought by forward thinking companies and Personal Consultants are starting to work within companies and organisations to give 360-degree support to employees. I believe it's a win-win solution for both employees and employers.

Joanna Dreher's picture
Jo has twenty years of City experience working in Finance and is passionate about combining coaching with psychotherapy. She is a director of Blackwood Consultants Limited (corporate and personal wellbeing) and also runs a charity offering counselling services in East London. Jo’s qualifications include: MBACP, AICTP, BSc Hons Psychology, PGDip Integrative Counselling and Coaching.
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