Why I’m training my employees as life coaches

Darren Ryemill explains how he’s safeguarding the mental health of his staff by equipping them with life coaching skills

As is the case with many industries, recruitment has relentless targets and is stressful to work in. My company has always taken the wellbeing of employees seriously. You only have to look at the stats to see why it’s important:

  • In 2016-17, 12.5 million working days were lost because of work-related stress, depression or anxiety.
  • Providing better mental health support in the workplace can save UK businesses up to £8bn a year.

At Opus, we’ve decided to invest further in this area and we’re bringing in two new initiatives. The first is the opportunity for employees to train as life coaches, and bring those skills back into the business. We already had an external life coach available, to whom staff had free access, but as we’ve grown we’ve found that one person simply isn’t enough. This scheme will mean the individuals who are training can offer support to other members of staff far quicker than if they were waiting for access to the external coach.

Life coaching is a fantastic tool in business – it can make the difference between success and failure. But this isn’t just guesswork. We use specialist software to keep track of life scores, which is the basis for all our staff appraisals. As well as measuring, for example, how many new clients an employee has brought to the business, it also measures health, wellbeing and happiness.

Individuals score themselves out of 10 in different areas of their life – for example, happiness, business, finance, health/wellbeing, family/friends, romance/relationships, personal growth, self worth, contribution to society and spirituality – according to how well they feel they are doing in each area. 

Because giving something a number means you can measure it and track it over time, I can say my staff are, for example, 15 per cent happier or 20 per cent less stressed than they were a year ago, and that is as tangible as a financial target and can be worked on and improved in the same way.

I believe everyone who is responsible for conducting appraisals should be equipped with life coaching skills – predominantly, it prevents the benign kind of responses that everyone feels they should say in a review, and companies would get a far more accurate and honest picture of what staff really want and feel. This would mean a better idea of who should be doing what and how staffing structures should be organised, and – in the end – would improve the way the business is run. 

The second initiative to complement the life coaching training is our work with mental health first aid. This focuses on training employees to deliver mental first aid, just as they would physical first aid like cuts and burns.

This is about helping staff recognise the signs that one of their colleagues may be struggling, and showing them how to offer help and guidance towards appropriate support mechanisms. From a business perspective, that could be the difference between someone addressing their mental health issue or not, and being able to continue to enjoy and perform well in their job as a result. 

I know that these initiatives help my team perform to their maximum, reduce sick days, increase productivity and create a better working environment. It’s something I’d like to see more organisations get on board with. I’d advise leaders to get over any cynicism they may have that these types of schemes are a waste of time or resources – in the modern, competitive business environment they can dramatically affect the bottom line.

Darren Ryemill is founder of Opus Talent Solutions