Things coaching clients ask about work-life balance

Things coaching clients ask about work-life balance

A stone balancing a feather

Much is being said and written about the benefits of a healthy work-life balance. The UK saw the recent extension of the right to request flexible working hours. So how is it that in my coaching practice it seems that almost every single client brings it as a theme to improve?

Caveat: the biased view from the coach

Of course, people come to coaching for a reason. I predominantly coach clients in organisations, for example as part of a leadership development programme or as a coach supporting organisational change. Both can do much to upset work-life balance and both present opportunities to re-appraise habits and opportunities to re-balance where necessary.

Work-life balance: some facts

Let’s first have a look at some interesting facts and figures from the  the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).

The OECD’s Better Life Index report found that the UK scores above average when it comes to the percentage of employees working very long hours. 18% of men and 6% of women, together averaging at 12.3%, work more than 50 hours a week.

According to this report, the UK ranks 27 out of 36 of member states. Best ranking? Denmark, also known as the happiest country on earth. Also in the OECD work-life balance rankings top 5 is Norway, rated as the world’s most prosperous country in the world for five years in a row by 2013. There has to be a link!

Indeed, the EOCD report states:

Finding a suitable balance between work and daily living is a challenge that all workers face. Families are particularly affected. […] This is a challenge to governments because if parents cannot achieve their desired work/life balance, not only is their welfare lowered but so is development in the country.

– OECD Better life Index

Work-life balance as a theme in coaching

So, with that in mind, what gets discussed in a session where someone brings work-life balance issues to their coach? Three questions I am often asked in client sessions:

Am I allowed to use my sessions to discuss work-life balance?

This one is a telling question. The asker is looking for the boundaries of what can and cannot be on the coaching agenda as far as their employer is concerned, while also letting me know it is a theme for them personally.

Before I start coaching in an organisation, I always ask what is off the agenda as far as the sponsor (person or organisation who pays for my services) is concerned. Work-life balance is often mentioned as a welcome theme, albeit within boundaries. Many clients arrive at their first session not knowing what to expect, and need to first establish what would be unreasonable to expect their employer to pay for. For many work-life balance is a grey area when it isn’t for their employer.

What can I reasonably ask my manager or employer for?

Many clients discover in a session that they are simply unaware of what their organisation’s policies are when it comes to flexible working. Some people use their sessions to practise having a challenging conversation with their manager. They sometimes need figure out what they really want to achieve to improve their work-life balance, and what they are prepared to concede if a deal needs to be struck.

How do other people achieve a healthy work-life balance?

This theme pops up when people are looking for creativity to solve the problem of work-life balance. Sometimes the client needs my probing questions to recognise examples of successful behaviours they already exhibit in other situations. Sometimes our conversation uncovers successful strategies used by people they know. Occasionally I’ll share some examples from past clients, and use questioning to come up with new ideas for the client to try out.

Coaching for a good work-life balance

Coaching itself is unlikely to solve the problem of work-life balance for clients. It does, however, offer space to explore what strategies might work, while perhaps also getting some insight into what expectations clients may need to let go of.

As a coach I am never qualified to advise on legislation, policy or my client’s Terms of Employment. I also will withhold my personal opinion on what the client should think or do. For each of these needs there are HR professionals, colleagues and friends to help my client! What I am qualified to do though is to talk through options and support my client in finding new ways to balance work with personal time. My role as unbiased outsider fills the gap in the list of helpers above.

How much of a theme is work-life balance for you? And what strategies are you using – successfully or otherwise – to keep the balance?

Things coaching clients ask about work-life balance

The strength you didn’t know you had

Character_StrengthsI like to talk about strengths.

And because I spend a lot of my time talking with people, I am convinced that each of us has at least one strength we are not aware of at all. Or perhaps we are aware of something of a strength, but do not fully appreciate that strength the way it is perceived by others. I especially love talking about those.

The thing about strengths…

The nature of a strength is that it is something you do which doesn’t cost you a great deal to be good at. In fact, using your strength is a source of mental energy for you, making it a pleasure to engage with it. Knowing this, it is easy to see how our strengths might elude us, but not others: they might really catch the eye of others, but to us what we do is the norm, and so we take our strength for granted.


The case of Bob’s hidden strength

Take for example Bob*. Bob had invited me to facilitate a team development day with him and his team. Using VIA Strengths Cards the team explored each others’ strengths to build a team profile. Working in pairs the team chose those cards they felt applied to their colleague, explaining along the way why they opted for each one.

The conversations around the room were revealing. Every participant discovered how something they ‘just do’ was considered a strength in the eyes of their colleague. It was a very cheerful session, peppered with hoots of laughter and the odd squeal of disbelief.

Bob had opted to study his cards on his own instead of joining a pair to make a three. When the team decided to pick Bob’s strengths cards for him, they noted with surprise that ‘creativity’ was not a card he had picked for himself. The discussion which followed highlighted not only how Bob’s talent for problem solving was seen as above average by all, it also showed Bob that his personal interpretation of ‘creativity’ was entirely different from his colleagues’.

And the point of all this is…?

Bob made two discoveries: he was offered an updated definition for the strength of creativity, which included problem solving. He also found out how his team perceived him in this respect, adding a new insight into his leadership. Both of these revelations were important to him.

Working with strengths, whether in a 1:1 coaching session or in a team setting, is a positive way of exploring how others perceive you. You are very likely to discover that something you do and have been taking for granted yourself is a major contribution to team life in the eyes of co-workers.

Truly, what’s not to like?

Go on your own strengths discovery

Curious? Want some yourself? Well, here are a few tips to get you going.

  1. Do a free online strengths profile here (registration is required; free). Tip: write down your strengths before closing the window!
  2. Read some more about strengths to deepen your understanding of your strengths profile, here.
  3. Buy your own set of strengths cards, here. They can be used at work as well as with family! In fact, they have been known to open up the least talkative of teenagers to a good conversation.
  4. 10 tips to use Strengths Cards can be found here: Strenghts based cards 10_tips
  5. Drop me an email or a line to find out what I might be able to do for you or your team!

* Not his real name