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Using coaching to reduce staff turnover and workplace stress Back  
Many top executives struggle to keep control over their working lives, while also managing a healthy lifestyle outside the office. Eibhlin Johnston looks at some of the key issues that can hamper the an executive’s performance, and offers some helpful tips on how coaching can help keep a handle on some of the workplace’s more stressful aspects, while at the same time reducing staff turnover.
Issues around communication and control are the hot topics raised by executives during executive and motivational coaching sessions. This is very interesting when you consider that most jobs are based on communication and listening. A whole range of people - lawyers, tax advisers, heads of operations and investment managers - are all required to communicate effectively in their work on a daily basis.

Arguably, anyone who has reached a senior position in the business world is a highly-skilled communicator. What is also interesting is that communication, or lack of it, is regularly highlighted as one of the key issues affecting the stress levels of senior employees. How does this happen to such effective communicators?

Those academy-award winners amongst you may believe that you are able to conceal this stress. Are you sure? How do senior executives really deal with stress? From reports, it is possible that many executives operate like a pressure cooker; containing the stress levels until the pressure becomes too much and then…Boom. Families and friends are often the unfortunates who bear the brunt of unexpressed executive stress. Some executives choose to ‘shut down’ when they leave the office; resulting in cold, distant relationships with friends or family. Others choose to re-direct the anger which is meant for a colleague to someone they love or even to a stranger. You may remember the person in front of you who insisted on paying for a pint of milk using a visa card, or the idiot driver that pulled out in front of you on the way home last night? Perhaps you re-directed your frustration towards your child who did not perform better in school.

How simple life would be if you could scream at the person who causes your anger as it arises (maybe even your colleagues), and smile warmly at the person driving the 4x4 beside you! The first step is to identify your behaviours that are stress-related. The second is to understand and deal with the cause of stress as it arises. What other stress is connected to communication?

The inner voice
Executives often look at how they communicate with themselves - the inner voice. Nearly everyone I have met experiences this inner voice. This voice has an opinion about everything they do or don’t do. How many times, just before an important meeting or presentation, do we stop and tell ourselves how good we are and how much the audience are going to love us? Executives struggle with this inner voice that constantly tries to ‘put them down’ and criticise them for not being ‘good enough’.

The negative inner voice can be your cruellest enemy. If you believe everything it tells you, you may end up with a deflated sense of value. We all have positive and negative defining beliefs about ourselves. A defining belief is something that you believe is true about yourself that makes you behave in a certain way. How many of you are aware of your own defining beliefs and how they affect your behaviour? One of the most common beliefs that we come across is that senior executives believe and accept that they must work long hours in order to succeed.

Many executives get the ‘emotional’ support they need to feel ‘worthwhile’ and ‘valued’, from their job. The link between work, self worth and being successful in business often compensates, or indeed may even be the cause of, weakness in another life area; weaknesses that are ignored such as health, relationships and work-life balance. Those of you who have experienced a dynamic coaching process will have experienced the changes that happen when you begin to understand these defining beliefs and apply them to your advantage.

Staff turn-over and the lack of highly skilled staff are the subjects of many coaching sessions. Is it possible that staff shortages and high levels of staff turnover are connected to poor communication? Most executives would agree. However, during exit interviews, employees are reluctant to cite poor relations with peers and/or the boss as the reason for leaving although this is often the case.

Quite often, poor staff relations and poor communication go hand in hand. How many of us truly listen? Are we too busy thinking about what we want to say next, thinking about what advice to give or the many other things on our busy desks. Perhaps in some cases, we don’t understand and don’t want to appear foolish so we are reluctant to ask for clarification. If we were truly able to listen more effectively to others, we would eventually reap the rewards and succeed in communicating properly in the work-place. In order to be effective communicators and listeners we also need to learn more about and to be aware of the unspoken signals. For example, what’s not being said, facial expressions, long pauses and a tense working atmosphere. The answers are in front of you if you learn how to read the signals!

Most executives I coach struggle to delegate work effectively. Delegating tasks is recognised as one of the simplest ways of relieving stress and the burden of work- overload. How is something so simple so hard to do? Effective communication is one of the keys to successful delegation. When questioned, most executives remember at least one situation where they delegated effectively, the positive results and the sense of relief it brought.

The reality, in many cases, is that it’s not always easier to do it yourself. As with many other things in life, the more you delegate the easier it gets. A strong dynamic team, communicating effectively, will delegate effectively. Now is a good time to start. Maybe start with the next task on your desk. Are you sure that you are the only person that can do the task?

This article would not be complete without mentioning control. Whether it is as a result of our conscious or subconscious mind many of us simply want to feel in control. Quite often we resist change so that we can be in control. This resistance is often the result of your inner voice telling you that something may not work. Perhaps it is a fear that it may work better and we just do not want to let go? Why do we try to control what is beyond us? Some things are within our control and some things are not.

I will leave you with one of my favourite stories. While interviewing Olympic rowers at the 1996 Olympics, sports broadcaster Charlie Jones interviewed a number of the competing athletes. Any time he asked them a question about something which was outside their control (like the weather, the strengths and weakness of their opponents or what might go wrong in a race), the Olympians would respond with the phrase ‘That’s outside our boat’ (so I don’t worry about it). Everyday, we face issues that are ‘outside the boat’; things that are outside our control. Communication is inside the boat! Think about it.

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