Accelerating Change withEmotional Intelligence

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Issue 01 / NATALIE DAWES

The fight to flourish Coaching for wellbeing in a post-pandemic world Our fight against COVID is approaching the end of its third year. Already struggling under the pressure of a demanding corporate world, COVID has pushed the wellbeing of our workers to devastating lows. Now many are turning to coaches to take back control and rediscover how they can flourish in their careers and their lives.

Chances are you heard about the long lockdowns we endured in Australia during the first two years of the pandemic. There were some of the toughest in the world; and while most of the population willingly complied to protect our communities, the reality is that they were hard.

Many businesses suffered and many professionals struggled. Languish set in quickly. I think many of us who experienced that languishing could connect with Adam Grant’s description of it as that feeling of “blah”, characterised by joylessness, aimlessness, and emptiness. Not depression, but definitely far from flourishing.
Unfortunately for many – including myself – that languish did eventually reach full-blown burnout.
Government data suggests more 15 percent of Australians accessed professional health care for their mental health during the height of the pandemic. That is less than nearly 22 percent that reported a mental health disorder during that 12-month period.
Looking at this from a business perspective, the statistics are not good. Australia’s Productivity Commission estimated the direct costs of poor mental health to the Australian economy at approximately $40-$70 billion every year due to absenteeism, lower productivity, turnover and the like. That was before the pandemic, so we can expect that figure to now be even higher.

I think there is no debate that this is a big problem. One group of Australians especially hit hard appears to be our schoolteachers. Even before the pandemic, many were struggling to find balance in their lives. Long days with few breaks in the classroom were followed by long evenings of marking and an increasing load of administrative paperwork. Plus, all the extra-curricular programs to organise. Then came the pandemic, forcing them to figure out how to manage, engage and educate classes remotely. While lockdowns have ended, record cases of COVID and influenza this winter resulted in significant teacher absences – more work to be absorbed by those still standing in an industry plague by chronic staff shortages.

Over the last 18 months I have been coaching many teachers.

While the coaching is part of a professional development program, many are not talking about professional developing in our conversations.

They are talking about wellbeing. Our teachers are exhausted and losing their passion for the profession. In fact, Australians across all sectors are feeling crushed under this weight. And as they struggle to win this battle alone, we have seen an explosion in demand for wellbeing and resilience coaching.

So how can we as coaches support our clients as they strive for better wellbeing?

Wellbeing is a growing area of interest, from academic researchers and clinical professionals to “insta-famous” bloggers and self-help gurus. With such diverse perspectives on the subject, there is no agreed definition of wellbeing. While the term is often used interchangeably with happiness, Martin Seligman emphasises that wellbeing is about more than achieving this one emotion. Rather, wellbeing about flourishing. It is about creating the conditions in our lives that allow us to find an optimal state of functioning and satisfaction, even in the most trying of times.

When collaborating with clients wanting to improve their wellbeing, there are number of areas of the career – and their lives more broadly – that we can support them to reflect on. Seligman’s PERMA model suggests that wellbeing is a construct made up of five elements that humans of their own free will choose to pursue for its own sake: positive emotions, engagement, relationships, meaning and accomplishment.

Let’s quickly look at each in the context of coaching. • Positive emotion is the maximisation of pleasure over pain to attain life satisfaction. Hope. Joy. Love. Excitement. The list goes on. Positive emotions are important because when times get tough, they support us to navigate the negative emotions. Journaling and gratitude can be powerful reflection practices, encouraging clients to focus on positive experience, place a positive reframe on challenging experiences and consciously sit in the positive emotions these reflections evoke. As coaches, we can help clients to challenge negative self[1]thinking, create more opportunities for positive emotion, and better savour those moments.

• Engagement occurs when strengths are applied to the pursuit of worthy goals. There are many assessment tools that coaches can use to help clients recognise their strengths. How can our clients use this awareness to set goals which challenge them to use their strengths in new ways? What intellectual, physical, and emotional pursuits push them into flow? What impacts do these have on their energy and focus?

• Relationships are built through our deep connections with others. As humans we long for these connections, with isolation being a psychologically painful experience. This element was perhaps the hardest hit by lockdowns. Negative relationships at work can be devastating on our workplace wellbeing and performance. What relationships are most important to our clients? How can they more proactively nurture and deepen those relationships? What strategies can they put in place to overcome challenging relationships at work? And what new relationships should be pursued?

Meaning is the sense of self-worth derived from the service of higher purposes. We experience meaning when we authentically live our values through our actions. Having a sense of purpose can keep our motivation high, even in the face of obstacles. As coaches, we can help clients explore their values and bring them to life. Random acts of kindness and volunteerism are simple strategies that can help.

• Accomplishment relates the resilient pursuit of meaningful goals. These goals could include new responsibilities at work, new skills to develop or improved exercise habits. Coaches have a noticeably clear role here in supporting clients to adopt a growth mindset, identify realistic stretch goals they genuinely want to achieve, overcome barriers standing in the way, and celebrate progress towards a final result.

The research shows that employees who feel positive, engaged, connected, purposeful and accomplished are likely to be more committed, innovative, and productive in their work. That is good for each individual, and good for organisations. As coaches step up to help those professionals left floundering by an overwhelming few years, there is one important thing to remember. It is not our role to define what wellbeing means. We are there to help our clients realise what wellbeing means to them as they forge new paths to flourish.

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