Peer coaching: the key to healthy happy workplaces

Peer coaching is a growing phenomenon infiltrating Australian businesses that contributes to the individual and collective needs of an organisation, by embracing, supporting and developing positive change.

This innovative approach is working wonders with those employees renowned for making regular health and well-being related resolutions, but failing to stick to them. Unfortunately, the vast majority of these attempts don’t last beyond a few weeks, let alone the long term. “I’ve tried every diet known”, “nothing sticks”, “I had every intention to be good”, “I fell off the wagon again”, the excuses fly thick and fast, contributing to a perpetual cycle of relapse, stress and diminished self-esteem linked to the continual and relentless perceived failure.

The fact is that lasting long-term change requires well-designed, regular and consistent action that specifically taps into the internal drivers of an individual – their vision of health and wellbeing. To sustain those efforts of an individual, support in mastering the desired new habits is essential.

Why?

To be brutally honest, we are social creatures who cherry pick the best facet of a regime to suit our cognitive biases. That, and change is hard – our pesky subconscious has a nasty habit of reverting to the comfort of familiarity; even when we know it’s to our detriment.

But while change is hard, it’s not impossible. Studies regularly show that a support group of peers facing the same, or similar circumstances, have a better rate of success at change.

What is a peer?

In the context of this article, a peer is a workplace colleague who shares common characteristics (role, gender, age and/or workplace demographics) with another individual allowing them to relate to one another and encourage personal awareness and growth. This is as opposed to the usual expert-led approach of bringing in a facilitator to prescribe a ‘cure all’.

Peers don’t have the answer, but they have the questions and these questions then lead to a number of inherently gained benefits:

  • knowledge and information sharing
  • emotional and accountability support; and
  • reciprocal relationships.

Given that most people spend the largest chunk of their day at work, empowering team members to share their knowledge and information and to identify obstacles together can result in the development of a rich and nourishing workplace.

Emotional and accountability support offers encouragement to goal setting, which also includes support through any relapses; not with validation to the cause of the relapse – “It’s ok, we all fall off the wagon sometimes”, but rather “what have you learnt from that experience and what will you do next time?”.

The development of reciprocal relationships offers the chance to share problems confidentially and allows thought-provoking questions to be asked and potential solutions to be developed. This contributes to reducing or eliminating negative thoughts, statements and relapses while increasing self-efficacy of participants.

Peer coaching with willing participants can positively contribute to the individual and collective need of an organisation, and expand social ties and a sense of community – with an astute employer using this to their advantage. The bonds formed through peer coaching play an important role in the health resolutions of individuals becoming an actual way of life, long after the initial program has concluded.

If creating a positive workplace that nurtures healthy, happy staff is important to your organisation, the innate social needs and desire for inclusion of all employees should be embraced, celebrated and developed – and peer coaching is the ideal tool to deliver that very outcome.

Penni Lamprey, Director, Happy Healthy Staff

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