Lessons Learned: Coaching During a Pandemic to Enhance Well-Being & Performance of Employees

When the World Health Organization (WHO) announced the COVID-19 outbreak as a pandemic in March 2020, no one knew what life would look like, how significant the changes and the need for adjustment would be, and how all of it was going to impact people around the world. In times of crisis, does coaching positively impact well-being? Discover the answer in a recent study conducted on the impact coaching has in times of uncertainty.



The measures to slow down the spread of the virus and the worldwide lockdown meant organizations had to shift to remote working. For many, this was their first experience with remote work. There were major adjustments needed, not only from a technology aspect but from a personal aspect as well.


Many managers found themselves facing challenges while leading a team of people remotely. These challenges, one way or another, impacted their mental health, well-being, and subsequently, their performance.


The positive effect coaching has on the well-being and performance of an individual and employee has been repeatedly shown in many studies. However, there were no findings on how coaching could be used to overcome a crisis, such as the pandemic, because coaching, as a profession, has never faced such a challenge before.


To determine how coaching can be used during a time of crisis, a study was conducted at the beginning of the pandemic: Jarosz, J. (2021). The impact of coaching on well-being and performance of managers and their teams during pandemic. International Journal of Evidence Based Coaching and Mentoring, 19(1), 4-27. DOI: 10.24384/n5ht-2722.


The Study

The purpose of the study was to establish the role of coaching during the pandemic and its impact on the well-being and performance of managers and their teams.


There were 20 participants, all of which were in manager or director roles and actively managing a team. The industries they worked for included: banking, technology, sales, education, and marketing. The participants were from the following countries: China (Wuhan), England, Germany, Poland, Spain, and the United States.


All participants were volunteers who applied to participate after seeing the study on Facebook and LinkedIn.


To participate, the volunteers had to speak English and confirm they were not in therapy or taking medications for anxiety or depression. The first ten participants who applied were assigned to the Experimental group, and the next ten became the Control group.


The participants of the Experimental group had to commit to participating in individual coaching sessions as well as four weekly group coaching sessions. Whereas, the Control group were only asked to fill out questionnaires each week and participate in weekly unstructured 15 minutes interviews to discuss the well-being and performance of individual managers and their teams.


The study lasted five weeks. The researcher wanted to capture the pandemic’s early stages and its effect on people.


There were both quantitative and qualitative measures used. During each of the five weeks, the participants needed to fill out two questionnaires—the Scales of Psychological Well-Being questionnaire (Ryff, 1989, as cited in Jarosz, 2021) and Team Barometer (designed by the researcher) on the performance and well-being dynamics within the teams.


The Coaching Program

The Well-Being and Performance Coaching Program was conducted over four weeks. It included four weekly group sessions. Additionally, four weekly individual sessions were offered to each participant of the Experimental group.


The first week's session was focused on the program’s overview and introducing the concepts of coaching, well-being and its components (autonomy, environmental mastery, positive relationships with others, purpose in life, personal growth, self-acceptance), as well as the concept of performance. Subsequent sessions were focused on the team's well-being and performance and the impact the managers had on their team members during pandemic. The last session was used for the summary of progress and the closing remarks.


Qualitative Findings


Week 1

The first week included the early stage of lockdown and working from home for most participants. Although most participants reported that they had experienced a drop in their own and their team's performance and well-being levels, this first week was characterized by a moderate enthusiasm because of the novelty of the situation.


Working from home was challenging for most participants. Some of the issues included difficulty staying productive, especially if they had small children, and split attention because of the need to focus on more things that needed to get organized and prepared for a day at home. Technology, such as fast internet and sound quality, were also an issue for some team members.


Every person adapted differently to remote working, which impacted the team's performance.


Week 2

Week two was characterized by worries around the sense of control—the changes that individuals were able to consciously impact and control, and changes that happened without them being able to influence the situation.


With managers and the teams getting used to the new situation, fun and creative ways to keep the morale, well-being, and performance high started emerging.


Well-being and performance increased compared to the first week because people started having more fun and looking forward to interacting with the team and supporting each other.

However, the sense of not having control over what was happening regarding the pandemic resulted in increased anxiety, so the well-being and performance levels dropped by the end of week two.


Week 3

Week three showed a sharp drop in well-being and performance in both the Experimental and the Control group. Enthusiasm hit its lowest point.


Participants started reporting they were losing track of time. Every day seemed to look the same.


Over the weeks, managers started having fewer expectations from their employees because they understood that their team members might be having a hard time and may need time to recharge. Team members weren't expected to give 100% anymore because it was understood that the current situation makes it impossible.


Week 4

In week four, the productivity levels increased again. Most participants reported that their performance level was higher.


Many managers started focusing on things they could control, do or change, and they were able to positively impact their team members, increase the feeling of renewed energy, but also bring the feeling of comfort into the workplace and create the sense of normality as much as it is possible.


During this week, many managers and their teams started creating different scenarios of what might happen after the pandemic and how they could succeed in those situations.


For many, this was a time of reevaluation of what matters to them personally and professionally. During this time, they also connected more with their teammates.


Week 5

Week 5 was used to conduct exit interviews and collect the questionnaires. During this week, it was shown that the levels of well-being and performance were stagnating. Individuals mostly became used to the situation, which now represented a "new normal.” Using technology, people found a way to connect and "spend time" with their family and friends and continue with their hobbies.


Increasing Well-Being and Productivity in Team Members

Managers showed genuine care for their team member's well-being. Some managers would take time to discuss what was happening with team members and ask how everyone was doing before they started the day.


They encouraged people to do things for themselves that would benefit them, such as eating right, exercising, and staying positive. Some companies found personal trainers to train people who want to join via video call.


Most managers communicated to their team members that it is not expected of them to give 100% and that it is ok. They also wanted their employees to find a way to accept that their performance levels aren't as high as before and be ok with it.


Some found having daily or weekly schedules useful.


Many managers started focusing on gratitude, asking their team members about the welcomed changes this situation brought to them.


Quantitative Findings

It was shown that the average levels of well-being between the manager and team’s performance improved over the study period for the Experimental group, compared to the Control group.


Despite the levels being similar in both groups at the beginning of the study, the averages stayed consistently higher for the Experimental group during the study.


Week three was found to be a period of decreased levels of well-being and performance for both groups. The explanation for it might lie in the feeling of losing a sense of control, losing track of time, the decrease in enthusiasm, and the "novelty" effect.


To assess improvement, gain scores were computed for the well-being and performance scores by subtracting Week 1 from Week 5 scores, which were then compared between the Experimental and the Control group.

Coaching results during a pandemic
Source: Jarosz, 2021

The results showed that self-acceptance increased in the Experimental group and decreased in the Control group over the study period.


As for team performance, the participants in the Experimental group reported a mean increase, while the mean increase in the Control group showed to be negligible.


The mean decreases were found in four out of the well-being scores in the Control group, whereas in the Experimental group, no negative gains were found.


Conclusion

During the five weeks of the study, it was shown that levels of well-being and performance were higher in the Experimental than in the Control group.


Because the Control group wasn’t offered coaching as part of the study, coaching might be the factor that positively impacted well-being and performance in participants that were a part of the Experimental group.


Interestingly, experienced weekly changes were the same for both groups. However, the magnitude of these changes between the groups differed.


The increase in self-acceptance in the Experimental group, compared to the decrease in the Control group, might be explained by the participation in group sessions where participants were exposed to various solutions and suggestions. The group coaching also provided an opportunity for managers to share their thoughts and experiences and work through them.


In week three, both groups experienced a sharp decrease in well-being and performance levels. Given that it happened in both groups, it might be an implication that this phenomenon could be found in the larger population also.


The participants shared that they’ve found the group sessions helpful as they were an opportunity to connect with others in a meaningful way, share their experiences, learn from each other, hear others’ suggestions, get support, and gain new perspectives.


Although the sample size and the duration of the study might make it difficult to generalize the results, its findings are useful and promising.


Actionable Steps

The study provides valuable insights into how coaching could enhance a manager and team’s well-being and performance during unprecedented times.


Because the study included managers from different organizations and different countries, it was shown that effective coaching might be used across various types of businesses to offer support and help, and positively impact employee well-being and performance.


Managers who unexpectedly found themselves leading team members who were now working from home—all of them facing their own struggles—could benefit from coaching sessions, both group and individual. Group sessions might help them receive support and an opportunity to share their experiences, learn, get useful suggestions and solutions, and gain different perspectives from other group members. They could then use what they've learned to pass onto their team members.


It is important to keep in mind that employee well-being impacts performance, satisfaction, and loyalty—all of which are essential for an organization to succeed.


References

Jarosz, J. (2021). The impact of coaching on well-being and performance of managers and their teams during pandemic. International Journal of Evidence Based Coaching and Mentoring, 19(1), 4-27. DOI: 10.24384/n5ht-2722




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