Does health coaching have a role in employee wellbeing?

May 2017 saw the launch of the UK Health Coaches Association. Founding members Dr Annabel Boys & Lyndy Stanway Marsh explain how health coaching can help employee wellbeing.

Many of us working today are convinced that if we work hard enough and long enough, we’ll reach the top of our profession. The reality for many is that the punishing workload and long hours take a toll, with costly work absences from stress and burn-out on the increase.

Talent, productivity and professional excellence are reliant on having a healthy body. Employees know that weight problems, low energy, poor-stress management and low fitness might be primarily due to lifestyle choices but often don’t have the time, energy or support to keep healthy.

The good news is that it is never too late to change habits. We all have a choice to do something differently, (be it big or small) and bit by bit we can turn our health around. The challenge is finding habits that work for us as individuals and that we will stick to.

This is where the support of a health coach can be life-changing for an individual and revolutionary in terms of improving the performance of your workforce.

Although well established in the USA, health coaching is a relatively new concept in the UK. Most of us are now comfortable with the terms ‘business coach’ or ‘career coach’ but the idea of employing a ‘health coach’ is perhaps less familiar. But increasingly HR professionals are realising that employing one can have benefit their organisation.

The UK Health Coaches Association

May 2017 saw the launch of the UK Health Coaches Association, headed up by Dr Annabel Boys & Lyndy Stanway Marsh. Both had worked as health coaches in the UK for five years, and were frustrated by the lack of awareness among the UK public about what health coaching can offer.

They established the UK association with the goal of raising the profile of health coaching in the UK as a profession and introducing more rigour and consistency to what health coaching offers.

All members have graduated from an established, accredited health coaching training programme. If you are interested in learning more about the Association of UK Health Coaches or you are looking for a Health Coach in your area please have a look at Health Coaches Association website and directory.

How health coaching works

A health coach will work with any part of lifestyle that affects a client’s health. While this is often primarily to do with food and exercise, their remit will also span quality of relationships and connections with other people, job satisfaction, enjoyment of free time, stress management and general levels of happiness – all factors sometimes referred to as “primary foods”.

The UK Health Coaches Association

The UK Health Coaches Association was set up to raise the profile of health coaching in the UK. The association aims to support the professional development and advancement of health coaches and health coaching in the UK.

In line with the work of the International Association of Health Coaches, the UK Health Coaches Association works to position health coaching as a key part of an emerging preventative health care approach. As experts in facilitating sustainable behaviour change, the fundamental aim is to help decrease lifestyle-related chronic diseases that are bringing the health services to crisis point.

Health Coaches are knowledgeable advisors who provide ongoing support and guidance helping individuals to set goals and make sustainable changes to significantly improve their health and wellbeing.

The focus and coaching model address the person as a whole. Coaching is always about the client’s objectives. It is different from counselling or nutritional therapy. Coaches incorporate some consulting when required.

Health coaching, which can also be referred to as wellness coaching, is a process that facilitates healthy, sustainable behaviour change by challenging a client to identify their values, develop their inner wisdom, and transform their goals into action. Health coaching draws on the principles of positive psychology, and the practices of motivational interviewing and goal setting to facilitate long-term positive behaviour change.

“Secondary foods” are those things we physically eat. The theory is that if you don’t enjoy your job, have a dysfunctional relationship or feel a lack of purpose which causes stress and anxiety, then it doesn’t matter how healthy your diet is, your health is still likely to be compromised.

Another central idea in the philosophy of health coaching is the concept of ‘bio individuality’. This acknowledges that everyone is different while recognising basic principles of wellbeing that will benefit everyone: such as adding in more movement, better quality sleep and a rainbow of fresh foods and water.

Food is often the starting point in the coaching relationship, but it may quickly expand into looking at a range of different aspects of a client’s lifestyle. Through getting to know and hooking into their ‘why’ and ‘how’, a coach is able to piece together what may be keeping a client stuck in unhelpful behaviour patterns. Once these patterns are recognised, the coach can work with the client on tools and strategies to develop realistic and sustainable healthy habits.

Health coaches help people to make sustainable and realistic lifestyle choices in the workplace by facilitating behaviour change and by coaching the whole person, not just the work person.

Health coaches are experts in behaviour change, trained to help their clients to identify how to make the most effective changes to their habits (that will work in their unique situations) and then holding them accountable as they put these into practice until they become truly ingrained into their lifestyle.

Changes don’t have to be big, but they do need to be sustainable. Things like upgrading food choices, increasing movement and improving stress management and sleep patterns are all areas that a health coach might work on with a client.

The goal is ultimately to nourish and support hardworking employees for peak performance. Most coaches will offer one-to-one sessions with clients and many will offer group sessions and workshops too.

Health coaching and HR

Most people know what they should be doing to get healthier, but struggle to put these steps into practice, particularly when under pressure at work, and with a busy family and social life too.

Health coaches recognise this and will act as supportive mentors and accountability partners working in conjunction with managers, HR, occupational health, line managers, GPs, dieticians and other medical practitioners if needed.

For example, if an annual ‘wellbeing’ check flags up a need to lower cholesterol, lose weight, manage stress levels or address lifestyle problems that are draining energy and risking burn-out, an employee can be offered the opportunity to work with a health coach to address each of these concerns, helping to keep them focused, motivated and accountable.

Not only can problems be nipped in the bud in this way, coaching can also help to avoid an escalation of issues that might lead to prolonged periods of work absence due to stress or burn-out.
In addition to one-to-one client work, a health coach can work with a team as a whole, educating and raising awareness of small lifestyle changes that can make a big difference to themselves and their employees.

Having a health coach work with an HR team can help address employees satisfaction and retention. No matter what employee benefits are offered, employees will ask themselves the core questions that matter to them: is my work meaningful to me? Do I have a cause? Do I have influence, purpose and alignment?

Health Coaches offer a low-cost, effective solution for organisations that recognise the need to nourish their hard-working employees for peak performance, helping them to stay well and with steady, consistent reserves of energy.

Health Coaches empower companies that recognise that health can be viewed as a business tool. Healthy people are happier, more productive and last longer in their careers.

It is possible to be healthy while working in a highly demanding job, it just takes some planning, practice and dedication. The key is to make gradual changes to upgrade lifestyle choices. It is what you do on a daily basis that counts, creating a habit and making a difference to health.

What you eat and drink, how you think, what you do and if you move or exercise your body are all connected and will impact on your health long-term. If you want to make a change you really do need to do something differently.

The key to success isn’t so much about the perfect answer – the best diet, exercise plan, relationships or marriage. It often boils down simply to having support – having someone who spends time with you working out what choices you need to make the biggest difference and then holding you accountable. This is where the health coach comes in.

No matter where you are at any moment in your life or career or how busy you are, if you practice making a few better health choices on a regular basis, you will cope better mentally, emotionally and physically.

In the US & Australia some health insurers have recognised this and are now offering discount on their insurance if individuals use a health coach after being recommended to change their behavior.
Evidence shows that returns on investment in health coaching are significant. Widely reported benefits include: greater mental clarity, alertness, energy, more presenteeism and engagement. It is a win-win for employer and employee.

Dr Annabel Boys (PhD) has a a PhD in psychological medicine from King’s College, London. She has authored over 30 academic papers and has spoken at conferences internationally. She trained in Body Stress Release technique in South Africa and opened Hampshire’s first BSR practice in 2007, and trained as an Integrated Health Coach with the Institute for Integrative Nutrition in 2012.
Lyndy Stanway Marsh is a Certified Health Coach with a BA Honours in Psychology. She spent 11 years in the City of London as an HR director and was also an HR manager in South Africa and Australia. She trained at Integrative Nutrition in New York. She is certified by the American Association of Drugless Practitioners and is also certified as an neurolinguistics programming (NLP) practitioner.


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