Coaching in an Employee Wellness Program


Have you ever considered focusing your health and wellness coaching practice in an employer setting, as part of a company-wide employee wellness program? These programs have become popular with employers as ways to improve employee retention and insurance premiums, but they’re also good avenues for getting some good coaching experience in. A simple Google search can turn up a variety of statistics on employee wellness programs and how they’re often structured, but we wanted to share some practical advice on things to consider if you’re thinking about practicing in an employer setting.

First, the misconceptions.

Because employee wellness programs are touted as ways for employers to save on health care expenses or improve worker productivity, it’s easy to think that “wellness” in this scenario refers to data points like cholesterol levels or helping diabetics manage their daily needs on the job. In truth, employee wellness is so much more robust, just like coaching private clients. All aspects of a person’s life come into play, from spiritual and financial wellness to physical fitness, sleep and nutrition.

Providing resources for employees to create meaningful differences in their lives not only helps keep them engaged with their work and fosters stronger company loyalty, but also spills over into their personal lives, giving the potential for more grounded wellbeing.

Employee wellness isn’t just for high-risk employees–those considered morbidly obese or battling other chronic disease that impacts performance and quality of life. Those employees do exist, and will definitely benefit from coaching, but they make up a small percentage. The majority of employee participants won’t be defined as “high-risk” by an insurance company. Their goals may be less dramatic, but will still be important to their overall health. They may want to improve their relationships, work-life balance, or even just fine-tune their diet. Regardless, good coaching can help them achieve these goals and so much more.

Tenets of a good wellness program.

The most important part of an employee wellness program is the coaching. Coaches are the human element. Coaches have the compassion, empathy, patience, and reliability to help employees tackle the areas that need help. You can certainly get your blood drawn, have your cholesterol checked, and receive some guidelines about lowering it. But that’s almost a mechanical transaction. A health and wellness coach looks at the entire picture of your wellbeing, beyond a cholesterol number and into the habits and behaviors that can help you make sustainable changes.

It’s also worthy to note that wellness should never be approached by a company as a means to save money, but instead to create a healthier population among the employee base. Most people fall short in some area of wellness, whether it’s spiritual, emotional, physical, etc. That shortfall may not be considered “high risk,” but everyone needs some kind of help, so it’s important for wellness programs to encompass more than just the physical health of employees.

Advice for coaches in an employer setting.

  1. It might take time to build trust. Know that everyone may not want to talk to you at first. Employees may feel pushed into the relationship by a coworker, a manager, a company directive, or the benefit of an insurance premium credit. That’s okay. Be respectful and a good listener, and be consistent with both, and you may see progress.
  2. Never judge. Be prepared for some employees to only tell you what they think you want to hear. You may set a goal, they don’t meet. But to avoid the conflict, they might fudge a little in your conversation. Let them guide where they want to go. Over time, you’ll start to see a pattern that’s useful.
  3. You can’t make them do anything. If an employee continues to be resistant to coaching, just remember that all you can do is be patient, nonjudgmental, and persistent. Eventually that resistance turns into cooperation, as your consistent behavior reinforces the relationship as a safe and positive place, where good change can happen.
  4. Take good notes. There will be times that an employee will hope that you don’t remember something they said they’d like to work on, so that they can ignore an area that needs changing. But you are there to guide and encourage them along the way, and sometimes, that encouragement comes by reminding them of their goals and the steps they planned to take.
  5. Baby steps are still steps. It’s important to remember that significant change doesn’t happen overnight. An obese person can’t lose 50lbs. in a week, just like an unhealthy family dynamic can’t be resolved in an afternoon. Setting smaller goals helps clients see small wins, which add up to bigger wins over time.
  6. Create accountability. Set goals for each month and come up with a plan to follow through. Rinse and repeat. (Here’s where that note-taking and those baby-steps help smooth the path.)
  7. Know the company initiatives. Show the employer and the employees that you are invested in these relationships. If there’s a company 5k coming up or access to a personal financial advisor, for example, the more you know about what benefits and programs an employee has access to, the more well-rounded your coaching can be. (This also makes you appear as part of the team, and less like an outsider.)
  8. Know what it’s like to be coached. Put yourself on the other side of the relationship and go through the coaching process as a client. You’ll get a much better sense of your own strengths and weaknesses, and you’ll be able to relate to your clients better. Any credible certification program will include this experience.
  9. Don’t be intimidated by employee positions. Whether your client is the CEO, the HR director or a low-level assistant, it’s important to remember that people are people. We all have areas that need improvement to become the best version of ourselves.
  10. Wellness is not information that becomes application. This is where you come in as a coach. You can’t just hand a person a list of their shortcomings, a plan of action, and then set them on their way with a big smile. Coaching is personal and connected and deepens over time. Help them create behaviors which become habits, which become change. That change makes all the difference.

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