Public spending cuts have far-reaching impact on coaching

The drastic cuts in UK public spending announced on 20 October in the Comprehensive Spending Review (CSR) will impact coaching in myriad ways.

UK Chancellor George Osborne has set out around £83 billion in public spending cuts, the largest cutbacks in Government expenditure since the emergency budgets of the post World War II era. In the wake of the CSR, coaches and coaching buyers interviewed by Coaching at Work predict growing numbers of clients presenting with stress, anxiety or depression.
This will make greater demands on coaches who will need to ensure they have adequate training and supervision to cope and be of service to the client.

However, they also predict greater opportunities for those coaching around redundancy, careers, transition and change, resilience and setting up new businesses, for example.

Public sector coaching offerings across the UK will feel the pinch. Ken Smith, co-ordinator of the Coaches in Government Network, said the use of external coaches in central government is likely to continue to be very restricted and: “The deeper underlying trend, within the current austerity measures and rationalisation of L&D, to run down the internal L&D capability in the sector will continue and carry with it a sharp decline in the investment required to sustain and further develop internal coaching, within and across departments.”

However whilst cutbacks or worse in public sector coaching schemes are inevitable, many predict coaching will hold its own. It is seen as an asset to support radical structural and other change in the public sector, according to a report by the European Mentoring and Coaching Council and Institute of Business Consulting, External executive coaching: a joint study of sponsors´ experiences and perspectives, by Paula Roberts, a member of both the EMCC and the IBC’s Steering Committee for Coaching.

Kathy Ashton, people development manager at Leeds Metropolitan University, said the university had already cut back from six to four faculties, with other restructures in areas including HR in the pipeline as it geared up to deal with the CSR.

However, she said:
“Coaching is being viewed by our university as something that will support organisational change, rather than as something which might be affected by it in a negative way.”
Ashton is defining the offer as “coaching in transition”, and offering it to managers affected by change, during their transition either into a different role within our university, or indeed a transition towards voluntary redundancy.
“It can be really useful in supporting staff needing to make decisions about future roles too,” she said.

Many public sector leaders such as Sue Mortlock, associate-leadership at the NHS Institute for Innovation and Improvement, felt as their organisation had many coaching successes under their belt, it was unlikely that coaching would now be abandoned. Instead there would be opportunities for doing things differently.
“There are opportunities to be creative there for the taking,” said Mortlock.

Smith said: “Coaches are likely to be working in the short to medium term with clients on agendas focussed on transition, either out of their organisations or into new roles in substantially reshaped ones. This will bring consequences for coaches’ skill set and even for their personal resilience and well-being, as they find themselves working more often with more emotional content.”

Public sector executives are “rabbits in the headlights” as they face having to implement radical cuts for the first time in their careers, according to a respondent to the EMCC/IBC report.

Two coaches told Coaching at Work they had public sector clients who feared they would never work again. Others were already encountering much more stress, anxiety and even depression, including suicidal thoughts in clients. Coaching supervision is and will be a lifeline, said one.

Independent coach Marianne Craig has worked for many years with career changers but working with people who are being forced to change sector or career is very different for both client and coach.

“I believe that coaches have much to offer the thousands of people facing redundancy as well as those managing the changes. The huge scale of the change presents both a challenge for coaches and an opportunity – for example to become skilful in working with anger, fear and grief.”

Independent coach and occupational psychologist Lynne Spencer, who runs the CIPD´s open course, Career Coaching, agreed career coaching redundant employees is very different.

“It needs a health warning attached. Along with other medical and addiction related topics, it is perhaps the main area of work psychology which can involve life and death or severe mental health risks.”

Spencer warned that coaches need to be able to pick up on signs of depression and anxiety and to know both when to refer and to whom and when coaching around careers, they need to be realistic about work options.

Many coaches are responding to the climate by getting more training under their belt, in redundancy coaching, for example. Santander´s Caroline Curtis, who works with external clients on a pro-bono basis, plans to take a course in psychotherapy.

How you think public sector cutbacks will affect coaching

Many coaches and coach supervisors will need more training to help them work with stress, anxiety and depression and to know when to refer on

Increased need for coaching supervision to help coaches work on their own resilience

Many public sector coaching schemes cut back or disbanded

More creativity in surviving schemes

More demand for coaching offers including:

  • redundancy coaching
  • transition coaching
  • careers coaching
  • stress and wellbeing coaching
  • coaching supervision
  • coaching around change
  • leadership coaching

More pressure to evaluate coaching and show return on expectation

Coaches need to ask themselves whether their fees are too high

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