Work-related coaching for participants with and without mental disorders

by Lilly Werk and Beate Muschalla, Technische Universität Braunschweig

After completing more than 50 coaching interventions at Technische Universität Braunschweig meanwhile, the different problems of participants with and without mental disorders became apparent. We want to give an insight to prototypical problems and coaching processes by two case studies: 

Exhaustion at work in the sense of healthy suffering: revision of the quantity of work

A 32-year-old sports scientist has two workplaces: she works full-time as a coordinator for workplace health promotion in a state organisation, and part-time as a freelance trainer in a gym as well. She reports exhaustion due to work overload. On the days she trains at the gym, she does not get home until around 11 p.m. and regularly has only five hours of sleep on weekdays.

Her ability to concentrate decreases in the course of the working day, she often cannot keep the half-hour lunch break because of many appointments. Although she is under constant pressure, she continues to enjoy her work. She is not aware of any mental disorders, neither present nor in her medical history.

On the basis of an overview of all work tasks, the participant realises that her workload is significantly higher than two years ago, when there were no symptoms of exhaustion. The coach explored her working days with the young women. They found out that it is hardly possible to process all tasks without overtime working.

By improving her own work organisation with a weekly schedule, the participant practiced scheduling more break times, planed individual tasks less tightly into the workday, and delegated some tasks to colleagues so that she could reduce overtime.

Exhaustion at work in the case of mental disorders: Preparation for workplace integration

The 49-year-old retail saleswoman had been working in a supermarket for twenty years. She first became ill with depression at the age of 37. Her current depressive episode began one and a half years ago. She was treated by a general practitioner and a psychotherapist and was on medication.

In addition, she had been diagnosed with asthma, arthrosis, and soft tissue rheumatism, which is why she has a degree of severe disability of 50%. Due to this, she had been unable to work for ten weeks in the previous year and had subsequently reduced her full-time position to 25 hours per week. Because she could no longer manage many tasks at work due to her reduced endurance, and did not want to work late shifts, she had conflicts with her superiors and colleagues.

In the coaching, the participant was encouraged through a change of perspective to gain understanding for her colleagues who had to take on more late shifts and other tasks because of her. In a role play, the coach practiced with her the return to work interview.

The saleswomen found a good way to explain her work ability deficits to the team, gain understanding, and she was also able to suggest a team-based solution for an adjustment in work organisation in future.

The important point in this case is to get the team on her side, by signaling that she as well was ready to cope actively and not only demanding help and workplace adjustment. In the end of the coaching, she looked forward to the return to work interview, as she was able to consider the team perspective and felt well prepared.


Werk, L., & Muschalla, B. (2022). Coaching bei Erschöpfung und Überarbeitungsgefühlen. Arbeitsmedizin, Sozialmedizin, Umweltmedizin, xx, xx-xx.

Muschalla, B., Fay, D., & Seemann, A. (2016). Asking for work adjustments or initiating behavioral changes – what makes a “problematic co-worker” score Brownie points? An experimental study on the reactions towards colleagues with a personality disorder. Psychology, Health, & Medicine, 21, 856-862.