Example of an H-WORK intervention: mini-coaching for work-related problems in a large state organisation

By Lilly Werk and Beate Muschalla, Technische Universität Braunschweig

What has been done in the H-WORK project until now?

H-WORK is an EU project that started in January 2020 and deals with mental health at work in nine EU countries. At the German test organisation, a needs analysis on mental health interventions was conducted in fall 2020 and since 2021, the mental health-oriented intervention “Work-related counseling and individual mini-coaching” is available for employees of the organisation.

How does such a coaching look like?

Participants should come with a work-oriented problem to solve, the willingness to fill in a questionnaire, to talk about the work-related concern and to work on small tasks during the coaching process. The coaches are psychologists with master’s degrees behavioral training expertise. Three sessions are held to discuss the work-related concern and to work out together what can be done actively to solve problems at work.

What are the important factors influencing mental health in the workplace?

An important influencing factor is the fit between the requirements of the workplace and the personal resources and abilities of the employees (person-job-fit). In the best case, this should already be taken into account when hiring. If there is an imbalance, it can be useful to analyze the workplace and the work duties to see what adjustments can be made to achieve a better fit.

What role does the Corona pandemic play in the coaching sessions?

Thanks to the organisation’s good technical infrastructure, we were able to switch the coaching sessions very quickly to an online format. So far, the feedback on the online format has been very positive, as there is hardly any loss of interaction due to image and sound transmission.

In terms of content, it is noticeable that the Corona pandemic has in some cases exacerbated problem areas in the workplace, but these problems were also existing before. Restructuring has been necessary at many workplaces, so that the organisation of work for individuals is also changing. Questions about the compatibility of home office and homeschooling of children, accessibility in the home office or work-life balance during the Corona pandemic are not uncommon in coaching.

Can you give an insight into the coaching practice? What are topics the employees want to work on?

15 coaching sessions have already been done, and there is a wide variety of topics and problems that employees are concerned about. However, two major areas have already emerged: one area is personal work organisation. Employees want to work on their own time management and prioritisation, in order to get through the work week as effectively and stress-free as possible. The other major area is about interpersonal aspects. How do I deal with people with whom I don’t see eye to eye? What makes a good work team? How do I work with colleagues in a relevant way? Even if several people are involved in such situations, we can work out in coaching how best to deal with the situation ourselves and try out in role plays what we could do alternatively in the real situation.

Many general conditions at the workplace are simply predetermined. Time pressure, for example, the spatial conditions, the colleagues. Against this background, how can I influence my mental health myself? Isn’t this the responsibility of my employer or supervisor?

The saying “Everyone is the architect of his own fortune” can also be applied to the workplace. Of course, we have framework conditions that cannot be changed so easily, but I can change my evaluation of the situation and my behavior. The mental evaluation of situations has a great influence on how we experience situations and subsequently deal with them. Therefore, in coaching we work out together what can be actively changed to positively influence the workplace situation. This can be a new evaluation perspective, an optimized self-organization, or a walk during the lunch break.

What are your first conclusions and hopes regarding the coaching sessions?

It is amazing how much three coaching sessions can achieve, even in a short time. Many of the participants already know before the coaching session exactly which areas they would like to work on, and bring along many of their own ideas and a high motivation to change. These are the best prerequisites for a successful coaching process!

Contact for material and scientific or practice exchange: l.werk@tu-bs.de , b.muschalla@tu-bs.de