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The skill of a Work Coach within an EAP service

By Michael Whitlow, PAM Wellbeing.

Published 12 September 2023


Demonstrating the case for the skill of work coaching in supporting those back to work and in work. A personal reflection.

Dr Shriti Pattani, past SOM president, promoted employment support for the over 50s who may have chronic health conditions. She and SOM advocate primary care services to capture this group and piloted a scheme of Work Coaches within GP practices (SOM Jan 23). The Government, recently published a consultation – Occupational Health Working Better (Chapter 3:66 August 23), where they say they will consider the “emergence of innovative new approaches to low-intensity work and health” including  the “SOM-led initiative which also involves a pilot ‘join up’ between OH, primary care, and DWP Work Coaches to reduce worklessness due to ill-health”

According to the DWP, “Work Coaches are customer-focused, dedicated individuals,  able to deliver exceptional service with empathy and compassion to people who need their support”. Work Coaches use sound judgement and tailored coaching to help people’s ability to find, stay in, and progress in a job.

This is an insight from a Work Coach perspective:

Having worked as a Work Coach and experienced many situations, I discovered a lot of what I did was to help those in need with their confidence in work and their ability within it. It always seemed to come down to a few things: – what they have to offer, their skills and recognizing competency.

Competency questions are always the biggest obstacle, no one enjoys answering competency questions:

“Give me an example of when….”

This is difficult for most as it asks them to think of a time when they have succeeded or made a mistake. Two things rise from this:

Difficult to think of success, as at the end of the day it is their job! People can’t perceive something as successful if it’s just a part of their day-to-day tasks. Getting them to understand this can be enlightening for them. 

No one wants to acknowledge that they have made a mistake as they feel it will go against them. However, I discovered that encouraging them to rephrase it in their own mind and instead of “mistake”, look at it as a lesson, rephrase the question from “when have you made a mistake” to “tell me a time when you have learned from a negative experience”. I found that people can engage far more when rephrasing a mistake.

Key skills are also a huge part of someone’s confidence. I found that most people don’t know what skills they have. They know what their job role was and what their day-to-day was, but they’re unsure how to bullet points this. Asking them to describe an average day would usually give me an idea as to what key skills they have.

Transferable skills: Like key skills, it’s useful to know what these are, but people find it difficult to put into words what skills they have to offer.

Confidence: As I stated at the beginning, confidence is such a huge part of why people find it difficult to get back into work or into a different career because they’re unsure as to what they can bring to the table. Going over my previous two points can help them to realise their potential, thus increasing their confidence.

I discovered very quickly that mental and physical health impacts an individual significantly harder than we think. As someone who experienced mental health problems that impacted work, I am not only passionate but knowledgeable about this.

Moving from Work Coach to Case Manager within Occupational Health Psychological Services

A Case Manager role within EAP (Employee Assistance Program) provides short-term interventions for employees (DeGenarro 2008).

Transferable skills, moving from a Work Coach to a Case Manager within EAP (Employee Assistance Program) were a lot more obvious than I had anticipated. Working with the public, helping them to realise their potential and supporting them back into work, gave me the skills and understanding to support those already in work but struggling. I have found that people need someone to speak to when they’re feeling low or unmotivated. An ear can be enough in some circumstances.

I quickly discovered that the positions are very similar in the respect that anyone I speak to is going to need me to be patient and able to listen. Most people are unsure what to do, they’re confused, upset, and can sometimes be annoyed. So, it’s very important to recognise the intentions of the individual, i.e., what exactly is motivating them to get in touch. Having gone through it myself in the past, I find that I’m able to empathise and put myself in their position. Although listening tends to be one of the best things you can do for someone, being able to effectively understand what it is they’re going through can help just as much if not more so. It is my job to accommodate everything being said, let them know they’re being listened to and give tailored advice specific to that individual.

The first thing I tend to do is note that they have acknowledged that there is something wrong.  That this is courageous. Some people can’t see past their pride so keep struggling each day. It is important to respect that it’s difficult to even ask for help.

The second thing is to make notes and be able to repeat back any important thing they have shared. There is nothing worse than trying to explain something and having to repeat it, especially when you’re not in the best mental state.

The third thing is patience, some people may talk slowly or take a little bit of time to say what they mean, so just allowing them to get to that point organically can help them to open up.

I have always tried not to act like I know what they’re going through, it can be frustrating for some people if someone keeps saying they understand or they get it because usually, you feel like you’re the only person going through it so no one can understand, which is why it’s best to listen. This aside, sometimes solidarity can be a very useful tool in certain cases but again, it comes down to the individual and it’s up to the skill of the Case Manager to determine this and then tailor the experience to them.

Wanting to help people is a huge part of either role. Knowing that you’re making even the slightest difference makes either role easier. Admittedly, it can be emotionally demanding but wanting to help can make any day better with the knowledge that someone will benefit. Applying a different perspective can make all the difference, especially when it comes to mental health. Not only can it help the caller, but it can also help you to apply a more positive phrase to things that may appear tedious and unhelpful.

To conclude, most of the skills I learnt while working as a Work Coach, I have easily applied to the case manager role. The day-to-day within both positions is very similar in the respect that every call and every email is from someone looking for support at work. We all understand the importance of needing to work so anyone willing to reach out to overcome their battles is already making huge steps. Although each call is different they all share the same goal. Thanks to my experience as a work coach, I have started to understand what it takes to actually support somebody who, without us there to help, would otherwise get worse in the long term. There are many uncertainties so being consistent for those reaching out is very positive.


Michael Whitlow

Michael is a Case Manager for PAM Wellbeing part of PAM Group. Originally studying to be an English teacher, then working in customer services, he went on to become a Work Coach and Training Facilitator before moving into case management. PAM Wellbeing case managers ensure that all counselling cases are matched to the most appropriate counsellor for the individual’s needs and monitor the ongoing activity of the case.

He is a keen musician and has been a guitar teacher as well as a mental health advocate. He has always been fairly goal-driven & ambitious and always looking for his next challenge.


OH Today Spring 2023
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