This paper briefly reviews Cognitive Behavioural Coaching (CBC) in the workplace as an approach to reducing stress and improving performance. CBC is based on three fundamental assumptions: firstly, how an individual imparts or thinks about the reality of a situation will impact their decision and reaction to the situation. Secondly, that cognitive behaviour can be identified, worked on, and adapted by increasing an individual’s awareness. Finally, the changes in an individual’s thinking and feelings can result in a desired behaviour change over time.
Managing stress and building resilience in the workplace is essential to creating and retaining a productive team and will over-time improve performance. The challenge is that stress is personal impacting individuals in different ways, it is not linear, not just about work, the task in hand or the environment, as such to manage stress you need to work directly with individual employees.
There are many definitions of stress, the UK’s Mental Health Foundation identifies stress as “the feeling of being overwhelmed or unable to cope with mental or emotional pressure”, and Palmer (2010) states that “stress occurs when pressure exceeds your perceived ability to cope.” Stress is present in everyone’s lives and one of the noticeable effects of increased stress, particularly in the workplace, is the impact on performance or productivity. Nixon P (1979) identified a clear relationship between stress and performance based on research by Yerkes and Dobson (1908), outlined in figure 1.
Figure 1 – Human response to stress curve
Source – Nixon (1979), Yerkes & Dobson (1908)
In this model the optimal stress level “eustress” is when the individual is in-the-zone between their comfort zone and the top of the curve, this is where employees perform at their best. However, there is a fine balance, or a tipping point between “eustress” and “distress”, Karmakar (2017) described “as stress begins to be perceived as excessive the person reaches a fatigue point where their performance starts to decline with the ultimate end of excessive stress being burnout”.
CBC can effectively manage and reduce stress in the workplace, by working with employees to identify beliefs, thoughts and distortions, Grant (2006) identified that “coaching has great potential for helping people reach their organisational goals, whilst simultaneously reducing distress (excessive stress) and imparting cognitive and behavioural skills needed to build resilience”. Grant further outlines that a key benefit of CBC is that it not only focusses on the existing stress but provides the client with the tools to manage future difficulties i.e., build resilience.
The “Thought Wheel” and “ABCDE model” are two frameworks that can identify and reduce stress that individuals may have in the workplace. They are effective in helping employees manage their thoughts, emotions and create an environment that can help them deal with problems or everyday events that they may encounter, rather than letting them take control. By coaching these models and incorporating them into thought and decision-making process, employees can build psychological resilience and expand the range of their good stress (Eustress).
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Grant, A., Curtayne, L., & Burton, G. (2009). Executive coaching enhances goal attainment, resilience, and workplace well-being: a randomised controlled study. The Journal of Positive Psychology, 4(5), 396-407.
Karmarkar, R. (2017). Guidelines for Stress Management. Psychology and Behavioural Science International Journal, 3(2), 1-3.
Oana, D., & Oana, C. (2016). Evidence-based training in cognitive-behavioural Coaching: Can personal development bring less distress and better performance? British Journal of Guidance and Counselling, 44(1), 12-25.