How Workplace Counselling Helps Employees & Employers

How Workplace Counselling Helps Employees & Employers

Workplace counselling is an employee support intervention that is usually short term in nature and provides an independent, specialist resource for people working across all sectors and in all working environments. Giving all employees access to a free, confidential, workplace counselling service can potentially be viewed as part of an employer’s duty of care.

Responsibilities and skills

The counselling process is about providing a sounding board for an employee, giving them a safe place to talk about issues that trouble them, and allowing counsellors to help them find their own solutions to problems or develop better ways to manage issues. It is not about giving advice, but about providing a non-judgmental, empathic and accessible means to allow an employee to find a way forward.

Workplace counsellors have a specialist viewpoint and skillset, as they essentially have two clients – the employee in front of them and the organisation, as a peripheral client. Workplace counsellors are mindful of the context in which the employees work and have a crucial understanding of the environment to which the employees will be returning.

As workplace counselling is short term (up to eight one-hour sessions), practitioners are commonly “integrative”, meaning they have trained in a core therapeutic approach and built other disciplines into this. Counsellors may be person-centred, or have skills in cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), transitional analysis, gestalt therapy, solution-focused therapy, or one of several other disciplines. The choice of the approach used by the counsellor usually matters less than the quality of the counsellor-client relationship, with trust and openness helping to maximise success.

Employers and clients

Workplace counsellors offer support to people in organisations across all sectors, locations and sizes. While counselling is available on the NHS, the long waiting times, lack of specialist insight and inflexibility of appointment times and locations make workplace counselling a more attractive option to many employers. Some organisations pay for counselling by recruiting a workplace counsellor either full time or part time, or on an ad hoc basis, depending on the size of the workforce. Other companies choose to invest in an employee assistance programme (EAP). EAPs are standalone packages that include counselling support provision, often from a nationwide pool of vetted affiliate counsellors.

Several factors, primarily the size of the organisation and the funds available, dictate how counselling is provided within an organisation. More important than the type of service used is the understanding that counselling must be confidential and voluntary, so it should not be used as a conditional requirement or as part of a disciplinary process.

Organisations sometimes think that the counselling provision they are paying for should only be used to address issues directly relating to the employee’s work life. While work-related issues, including stress, overwork, bullying and difficult colleagues, can of course directly impact an employee’s performance, personal issues can have a similar negative impact.

We all experience life-crisis issues at different stages in our lives. Experiences such as bereavement and loss, relationship and family difficulties, substance misuse (including alcohol issues) and stresses at home can all preoccupy someone’s thinking and distract them from work. In certain safety-sensitive industries this can also be a major risk.

Workplace counselling often helps employees who are absent from work, and there is evidence that counselling support can accelerate the rehabilitation of an absent employee, saving the organisation money in the long run. In short, everyone who works in an organisation is a potential client.

Counsellors in collaboration

Workplace counsellors now enjoy a long-established relationship with allied professionals, often working closely with HR representatives, trade unions, health and safety practitioners, and those working in the areas of people management and people development.

Typically, counsellors working in organisations are employed under the umbrella of OH. Indeed, many counselling referrals come from OH professionals, which enables the employee to get a fast response to help them manage their issues.

As well as benefiting the employee, OH staff with access to a counselling resource appreciate the opportunity to refer employees to a specialist service, freeing up more time for them to devote to other areas.

Face-to-Face or Telephone?

Workplace counselling appears to work best in a face-to-face context, where the employee meets and is treated at the professional premises of the counsellor. However, for some people, a telephone option can provide a more immediate opportunity, as well as a measure of anonymity. Some counsellors are embracing new technologies and offer email, instant messaging and online counselling. This can help employees in more remote settings, or those who travel frequently as part of their job.

Occupational Health & WellbeingOccupational Health & Wellbeing – February 2015