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Should you engage a career coach? 

You can barely open a magazine these days without seeing an article about why you need to see a life coach. Headlines like ‘Rewrite your life story!’, ‘Is it time for a new beginning?’ are everywhere. As well as exercising our bodies, we are increasingly encouraged to exercise our minds. We need to be mindful. We need to be able to switch off. We are encouraged to meditate and avoid toxic people. While this sort of discipline is undoubtedly helpful, how does it fit with the reality of life in the workplace? Because whilst it’s admirable to go in each day armed with your positive mental attitude, what happens when the two worlds fail to fit together as nicely as one might have hoped?

The workplace can be stressful and things happen that are beyond our control. People don’t always behave the way we feel they should…colleagues can be unreasonable and sometimes downright unpleasant! While we may wish to avoid these people, it’s rarely a realistic prospect in a workplace where people have specific roles and you need to interact with them to get stuff done.

In an ideal world we should be able to talk openly and honestly to our managers about interpersonal issues at work, as well as making them aware of the significant events outside of work that may affect our resilience; but so many of us don’t feel able to because we fear being negatively perceived in an increasingly competitive workplace where outstanding performance ratings are lucrative.

The trend towards a more inclusive, transparent organisational cultures is positive and in such workplaces employee authenticity is encouraged. This should mean a shift to more tolerant, accepting ways of working where people feel they can be themselves without judgement.

The reality though is that organisations are still at different stages of this journey in terms of their employment practices. While some have taken steps to demystify their processes around career progression and genuinely strive to be meritocratic, many more have not. And with the best will in the world such changes can take time, particularly in larger, more established businesses. It’s hard to ignore the fact that many senior leadership teams continue to be male-dominated or populated by females who feel the need to behave like men to succeed.

As an employee, it can be a challenge to see colleagues or peers getting promoted or fast tracked when you’re not clear how they have made this happen. You can stay calm and work to keep your emotions in check but it can be hard not to get frustrated as you try to work out what you could do differently to enable your own progression. Throw an attempt at work-life balance or the constraint of caring responsibilities into the picture and your perceived ability to influence the situation becomes a real challenge.

As an HR professional, I’m all too familiar with the ‘they work really hard’ refrain of the line manager as they justify another promotion or salary increase to an employee on the basis that long hours = added value.

So, what should you do if you find yourself perplexed about what to do next to achieve your career goals? One option is to employ the skills of an experienced career coach.  Hiring a career coach isn’t cheap, but if you’re feeling stuck or confused about your career and what to do next, a coach can be an invaluable resource.

A career coach will work with you to help you achieve your goals. This could include helping you to put in place strategies to help you secure that promotion; or to navigate the politics of your organisation to get yourself known. A career coach can help you through difficult situations or conflict at work or they can help you to understand the different dynamics within your organisation and guide you to try new approaches and techniques that are more likely to succeed.

Importantly, your coach is independent, on your side (which is not to say that they won’t challenge you) and there to support you without judgement to achieve your full potential.

If it gets to the stage where you feel you have done all you can in your role or organisation and think you want to try something new, then this is also something your coach can help you with. Ultimately, your career coach is someone trustworthy who is there to help you navigate challenging situations on your career journey.

Many of us spend time and money outside of work investing in our well-being; be it through working-out, meditating or even therapy. Yet at work, we continue to be reliant on internal structures, which are often broken, to help us achieve our potential at work.  A coach can help you take ownership of your career so you can achieve your professional goals and have more fun doing it.

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