Coaching through the challenges of COVID-19

Most of us have found the last months extremely challenging and we are not alone. Recent articles in the national press report that more than 900,000 people have used Beyond Blue’s online support forums during the pandemic. In response, Beyond Blue are calling for a network of coaches, trained in mental health issues, to be made available during COVID to support the hundreds of thousands of Australians who experience mild to moderate depression. But it is not only those who have been diagnosed as experiencing depression who need support during COVID. Most leaders are feeling challenged right now, both in managing challenges in their own lives and in helping others to navigate their own journeys through adversity and complexity.

At KPMG we thought carefully about how to best support our people through COVID and felt coaching could make a difference. When the first lockdown measures were announced in March 2020, leadership coaching was offered to anyone who asked for it, a change from our usual approach. More than 80 people requested coaching in the first six weeks of the pandemic. Of all the people we have coached in the last 12 months, this is the population who say they have derived most value from coaching. Coaching services are being provided internally, by an internal coaching team established in July 2019. Everyone in the team has received mental health training and two members are organisational psychologists.

We found our people to be experiencing a range of issues. In the first few weeks of COVID we coached people who didn’t have enough work to do and feared redundancy. We coached those who had too much work to do, leaders bending over backwards to support clients and/or their teams through the crisis. We coached people experiencing anger, frustration and guilt and people struggling to work with others experiencing those same emotions. We coached people who were living in isolation, with friends and family living out of state or overseas. We coached people sharing living space with flatmates, working from their bedrooms or inside cupboards. And we coached people who were trying to work with children at home, feeling unable to meet the needs of both colleagues and family.

We have learned so much over the last six months. We have learned that resilience may be best thought of as a collective phenomenon. Many people are appreciating coaching as a place to talk confidentially about their experiences during COVID. People don’t always want to talk to colleagues about things they are struggling with, and they may not always receive a sympathetic ear in-the-moment from family members experiencing the same stresses. As coaches we have been able to help people understand they are not alone in their predicament and to disseminate collective insights. We have become conscious of the role we have in connecting people with each other, so the organisation can become more collectively resilient. It is easier to be resilient with others than it is to be resilient by yourself. We have learned the value of thinking systemically, of noticing factors that may be getting in the way of connection. For example, most recently, seeing how people new to the organisation have found it particularly hard to build relationships within the business, the kind of relationships we would normally build just by sitting next to people and bumping into them by the coffee machine. The themes we identified allowed us as a firm to be immediately responsive to the needs of our people. Our insights informed the ongoing design of leadership programs, cultural initiatives, our mental health offerings and our communication strategies.

Life with COVID continues to be challenging. These are uncharted waters and we will navigate that journey most effectively if we continue to do this together. The coaching we put in place at KPMG has helped us not only to support individuals in managing individual stresses and anxieties, but also to help us all understand what everyone else is going through, and to reach out a hand.

It may be helpful to consider the following questions:

  • How much time are you making to reflect on how you’re doing? What’s going well? What might you do differently?
  • How often are you checking in with others to see how they are doing? Not just direct reports, but peers, more senior colleagues and clients?
  • How tuned in is your organisation to how others are experiencing COVID? Not only are people living in different circumstances, but we all have different personalities and different perspectives. This may be a time to get curious before too quickly dispensing advice.
  • Do people in your organisation have the opportunity to reflect with others versus reflecting only by themselves? If not, what might your organisation do to help?

If you need to talk to someone reach out to Beyond Blue 1300 22 4636


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