Can Coaching Help to Enhance Employee Wellbeing?

Jonathan Passmore
May 30 2024 | Einblicke
A woman with a notepad sat on a black chair speaking with a woman on a sofa.

Employers recognise that in a competitive marketplace for skilled knowledge workers, promoting health and well-being not only reduces employee absence and turnover, but also optimises productivity, performance and ultimately profitability.

Wellbeing is of interest to everyone. We all want to be well, and we want to do well. Some organizational leaders recognized the importance of wellbeing as far back as the 19th century. Entrepreneurs invested in workers housing, built libraries and provided education, sanitation and entertainment for their workers. However, since these early pioneers of workplace wellbeing, it has taken a while before the concept as a whole to have taken hold. Most organizations now invest in the health and wellbeing of their employees through a variety of interventions, from gym membership to Employee Assistance Programs and, perhaps most recently, providing coaching.

How to create a healthy workplace environment for employee wellbeing

Researchers like Anthony Grant saw wellbeing as a continuum. Grant and his colleagues proposed a framework containing workplace engagement and mental wellbeing and found that in workplaces where wellbeing and engagement were high, workers could flourish (1). The question was, how could organizations help encourage these environments so that their employees had the best chance of flourishing?

One model for making progress is the PERMA-H model (2). The model captures the following five domains which individually, and in combination, have positive effects on wellbeing outcomes:

  1. Positive emotion

  2. Engagement

  3. Relationships

  4. Meaning

  5. Accomplishment

  6. Health

So, by improving each domain, it is likely overall wellbeing is also set to be improved.

How can coaching contribute to improved wellbeing?

Coaching and wellbeing go hand in hand. Working with a coach is a highly individualized and targeted intervention that will allow individuals to focus on their growth and move closer towards a state of flourishing. Based on the five domains highlighted by the PERMA-H model, here are five ways coaching can contribute to improving wellbeing.

1. How might coaching help in increasing engagement?

Engagement is a state of wellbeing in the work context characterized by vigour, dedication, and absorption (3) and thus has much in common with flow, a state in which we find ourselves fully engaged by the task and time passes without awareness. In order to have more experiences of flow, and increase engagement at work, the coach might work to explore the coachee’s personal strengths, helping them to make best use of them in the role. Alternatively, the coaching might explore the coachee’s values with them, checking their alignment and resonance with how they perceive their role.

2. How might coaching help in developing positive relationships?

Relatedness is one of our basic psychological needs as human beings (4), and the quality of our social relationships is one of the most important predictors of wellbeing (5). At the workplace, colleagues and in particular positive supervisor-employee relationships can be a source of meaning, and an anchor of support and comfort during stressful times. Coaching can help coachees identify and nurture positive relationships that give them stronger feelings of vitality, positive regard and mutuality. A coach might explore and help the coachee to make sense of their role, better understand their network of support and how they can foster this within a workplace context.

3. How might coaching help in developing meaning in the work that I do?

As the world of work continues to undergo change, this offers both challenges and opportunities for employees to re-think their relationship to work. Individuals who report a high presence of meaning in their lives and work are more likely to report higher levels of wellbeing. Conversely, a lack of meaning is correlated with negative emotions, such as high anxiety and even depression (6). In other words, knowing what makes your work and life meaningful is an important factor in a person’s health and wellbeing. Coaching can help coachees appreciate how they bring value to their role, enabling them to build a stronger sense of meaning and purpose. Ways of doing this include using techniques such as the meaningful photos exercise and personal values exploration.

4. How might coaching help in reaching my goals and feeling accomplished?

The process of goal setting and goal attainment sits at the very heart of the coaching process and is linked to greater performance, as well as greater wellbeing. Research shows that the process of goal pursuit alone, reaching small steps and achievements along the way of goal attainment, is linked to greater wellbeing (7). So, coaching can help individuals achieve goals, and in doing so contribute to improved wellbeing.

5. How might coaching help in taking care of my body?

Physical activity, balanced nutrition, and sleep have all been linked to several positive wellbeing outcomes, such as positive emotions and cognitive functioning (8). Coaches, while not trained as mental health specialists or therapists, can help individuals to think about these aspects of their lives, and like other aspects, develop a personal plan which contributes towards improved sleep, improved diet and greater physical activity.

Each person may have their own wellbeing challenges. Coaching, including explicitly wellbeing coaching, delivers positive outcomes because it works with each person individually to help them identify their goals and uses a range of evidence-based approaches to help them plan, prioritize and implement their own strategy to move towards a state of flourishing.

Jonathan Passmore is a Professor of Coaching & Behavioral Change at Henley Business School, Senior Vice President at EZRA and Chair of EZRA’s Science Board


(1) Grant, A., Passmore, J., Cavanagh, M., & Parker, H. (2010). The State of Play in Coaching Today: A Comprehensive Review of the Field. International Review of Industrial and Organizational Psychology, 25.

(2) Seligman, M. E. (2012). Flourish: A visionary new understanding of happiness and well-being. New Y0rk, NY: Atria Paperback.

(3) Schaufeli, W. B., Bakker, A. B., & Salanova, M. (2006). The Measurement of Work Engagement with a Short Questionnaire: A Cross-National Study. Educational and Psychological Measurement, 66(4), 701–716.

(4) Ryan, R., & Deci, E. (2000). Self-Determination Theory and the Facilitation of Intrinsic Motivation, Social Development, and Well-Being. The American Psychologist, 55(1), 68–78.

(5) Diener, E., & Seligman, M. E. P. (2002). Very Happy People. Psychological Science, 13(1), 81–84.

(6) Steger, M. F., Frazier, P., Oishi, S., & Kaler, M. (2006). The meaning in life questionnaire: Assessing the presence of and search for meaning in life. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 53(1), 80–93.

(7) Lyubomirsky, S. (2008). The how of happiness: A scientific approach to getting the life you want. Penguin Press.

(8) Hefferon, K., & Mutrie, N. (2012). Physical Activity as a “Stellar” Positive Psychology Intervention. In E. Acevedo (Ed.), The Oxford Handbook of Exercise Psychology. Oxford University Press.

(9) Wood, A., Froh, J., & Geraghty, A. (2010). Gratitude and well-being: A review and theoretical integration. Clinical Psychology Review, 30, 890–905.

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