Workplace stress is getting more and more common in pace with changes in the global society. According to Palmer, Cooper and Thomas (2003), stress occurs when the perceived pressure exceeds the ability to cope. According to Kagan, Kagan and Watson (1995), stress reduction programs are effective for employees in highly stressful work environments. Workplace counselling may not be just for workplace related issues. According to Athanasiadesa, Winthropb and Gough’s (2008) findings, employees have used the workplace counselling service for both personal and work issues. Very often, employees faced challenges in both areas of their lives as personal problems may impact the ability to work and vice versa (Athanasiadesa, et al., 2008). However, the willingness of employees to go for workplace counselling is often influenced by their trust and confidence in the work of the counselling service (Milne, Blum & Roman, 1994). It was found that confidence is closely linked with the familiarity and perceptions of accessibility to the counselling service (Milne, et al., 1994). In this paper, we will explore the impact of workplace counselling on employees.
Stress at work has generated so much concern such that stress related conditions were identified as one of the most important health issues of the 1990s by the US National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (Health and Safety Executive, 1998). When individual problems are seen in the context of a large workforce, and when they go unnoticed and resolved, the cost, collectively, can be beyond measure (Carroll, 1996, p. 4). Thus, as employees struggle to cope, employers and health experts are struggling to find new ways to manage workplace stress & its implications (Carroll, 1996, p. 1). Stress reduction programs are effective for employees in a highly stressful work environment (Kagan, et al., 1995). Job performance, physical and emotional problems were all significantly and positively influenced by psycho-educational training programs (Kagan, et al., 1995). Amazingly, through a follow-up period, it was found that the improvement was maintained and even enhanced (Kagan, et al., 1995), with only the improved sense of personal accomplishment at the end of the week of training being a transient gain (Kagan, et al., 1995). Kagan, et al., (1995) concluded that two combinations (coping with people and interpersonal awareness; coping with people and physiological reactions) are the most effective in the short term and evidently, interpersonal awareness is the most effective in the long term.
According to Athanasiadesa, et al. (2008), employees have used the workplace counselling service for issues that related to their personal lives or to their work. Frequently, participants were facing challenges in both areas of their lives which is not surprising as personal problems may impact the work ability and vice versa (Athanasiadesa, et al., 2008). Additionally, due to the convenient location of workplace counselling being at the workplace or somewhere near to it, it is likely that employees will use their workplace counselling service when their difficulties have reached a boiling point. Being part of their responsibility for the welfare of the employees and the care for them, many employers are providing facilities to help employees increase their level of physical fitness and reduce instances of physical illness (Carroll, 1996, p. 2). In-house counselling, workshops, talks on specific topics, such as alcohol awareness and stress management, etc, are methods of helping employees manage their physical and mental well-being (Carroll, 1996, p. 3).
Counselling also highlights the value of people as organizational assets (Carroll, 1996, p. 4). However, although counsellors have been effective in changing attitudes, behaviour change has been more difficult to demonstrate (Corrigan, Dell, Lewis & Schmidt, 1980). Behaviours requiring minimal subject commitment have been influenced by counsellors (Heppner & Dixon, 1978), but behaviours requiring greater commitment is not as susceptible to counsellor influence. Non-judgmental listening is considered a valuable function of counselling by many participants (Gyllensten, Palmer, & Farrants, 2005). However, some expressed a concern that counselling was not necessarily the most effective solution for someone who was stressed (Gyllensten, et al., 2005). This doubt about the usefulness of counselling appeared to be based on the perception that counselling was mostly about listening rather than helping the employee to recognize and cope with stress triggers (Gyllensten, et al., 2005). Negative preconceptions of counselling and mental health difficulties had a discouraging effect on the participants when they contemplated seeking psychological support (Athanasiadesa, et al., 2008).
Many employees hold negative and stereotypical attitudes towards counselling, which affects their willingness to attend counselling (Gyllensten, et al., 2005). Many feel that there is a stigma to the word ”counsellor” and was suggested that a name change [perhaps to ‘coach’] would be useful in order to get people to attend counselling (Gyllensten, et al., 2005). There is also a concern about the perceived link between counselling and psychiatry (Gyllensten, et al., 2005). Some feel that counselling may not be a suitable solution to stress for all employees, and suggested that problem-focused coaching may be a better approach (Gyllensten, et al., 2005). There are also concerns regarding referral process of counselling, as employees were worried about being viewed as mentally ill when being referred (Gyllensten, et al., 2005). This concern reflected the stereotype that counselling was only suitable for serious mental health problems (Gyllensten, et al., 2005). Nevertheless, providing both oral information and written information about counselling together does seem to modify the perceptions of counselling and the willingness to seek help (Gelso & Mckenzie, 1973). Thus, to effectively alter misconceptions, oral and written information should be made available to all (Gelso, et al., 1973).
According to Sharpley, Bond, and Agnew (2004), the most common personal drawback was the fear of confronting, expressing and reliving unpleasant experiences. Other drawbacks were the realisation that one may require counselling, finding the courage to go, a belief that seeing a counsellor may cause rifts or resentment from family members, and that the end result may not be favourable (Sharpley, et al., 2004). The cost of counselling, competency and qualifications of counsellors were also considered a possible drawback (Sharpley, et al., 2004). Others thought that the counsellor might be biased, lack empathy or have had no life experience (Sharpley, et al., 2004). Counselling was also viewed by some as possibly being unhelpful, while embarrassment, inadequacy, confidentiality and trust were also of concern (Sharpley, et al., 2004). Drawbacks of counselling included becoming too dependent upon the counsellor, receiving incorrect advice, and the lack of cooperation between counsellor and client (Sharpley, et al., 2004).
In conclusion, despite the differing views and approaches to workplace counselling, it is still a very useful tool in handling stress and emotional problems in the workplace. Employees will feel much relived after sharing their problems with a counsellor, who will help them to have a clearer understanding of their problem. With a clearer understanding of the problem, they will find that the problem is actually solvable. Also, with adequate education about the counselling services, the acceptability of counselling services will be enhanced, thus decreasing the stigma against counselling. The public would then be more willing to be attending counselling sessions. In addition,