Being able to coach through transitions is more relevant than ever, given the far-reaching impact of the pandemic. Sheila Panchal, Stephen Palmer and Siobhain O’Riordan draw on their research to offer some pointers

Transitions facing employees in the workplace today can range from day-to-day adjustments, such as adapting to a new team member, through to more significant changes, including organisational restructure or redundancy. In addition, we can experience transitions outside of work, from milestones such as moving house to broader, lifespan transitions such as becoming a parent or experiencing mid-life.

The current Covid-19 context means we are all faced with uncertainty and, as such, the need to be able to navigate transitions is greater than ever before.

Areas impacted by Covid-19 include: health, working patterns and practices, role/career change, finances, relationships/social and education. Over and above health impacts, considerable changes continue to impact many other life domains.

Of course, transitions can also be chosen (eg, applying for a new role), or imposed, which might include Covid-related transitions, such as furlough or loss of a business. They may be initially perceived as positive, neutral or negative. Some people may adapt readily and easily. Others can feel lost, confused and alone during times of change.

As coaches, you may well have a role to support others through transitions of many types – here are some approaches from our work on this topic.

  1. Build transition strengths

Make it work

Our work has highlighted seven transition strengths. People can build on these to boost their transition resilience during a transitional time. As coaches, we can employ a psychoeducational approach by sharing these strengths with clients and offering information and strategies to develop them.

Figure 1 defines each of the strengths in our INSIGHT model, and suggests practical steps to boost each, in the context of Covid-19 transitions.

Fatal flaws

  • Too much information

Psychoeducation could be overwhelming for some. Balance the ‘information giving’ with plenty of open questions and time for the person to explore what the ideas mean for them.

  • All talk no action

Discussions around the INSIGHT strengths can enable some useful perspectives to be unlocked. This has great value, yet it is also worth spending sufficient time focusing on how the person can bring these ideas outside of the coaching sessions and into daily life to gain more benefit, as noted by the ‘Tailoring Action’ strength.

  1. Focus on the person

Make it work

When coaching through transitions, it is key to remember that everyone’s experience of a particular transition will be unique according to their past and present circumstances, and their personality. The aim is to support the person to navigate the transition in the most positive way possible, and to make decisions that are right for them.

Fatal flaw

  • The guessing game

When talking to people about transitions, be careful to avoid biases, stereotypes and generalisations. Take time to fully understand the person’s own context and experience. This can be especially important when coaching people through transitions that we have also personally experienced as coaches.

  1. Focus on the managers

Make it work

In the workplace, managers play an important role when supporting team members through transitions. This has become particularly true in the Covid-19 pandemic, but also applies to scenarios such as welcoming a new team member or managing a maternity transition. Coaches can work with managers to help them understand their role, and how to play it well, which benefits themselves and the team member.

Fatal flaw

  • Putting others first

At times of significant change, such as Covid-19 or a major re-organisation, managers can become highly focused on others’ experiences and wellbeing and may neglect their own. When coaching managers, a good starting point is to discuss their transition experience and how they can proactively build their own transition resilience, if needed. Focusing on themselves first will often put them in a much better position to both understand, and support, others.

About the authors

  • Sheila Panchal CPsychol is a business psychologist with a focus on leadership and transition coaching. She is co-author of Turning 30: How to get the life you really want (with Jackson, 2005) and co-editor of Developmental Coaching: Life transitions and generational perspectives (with Palmer, 2011). She is a co-director of the Centre for Positive Transitions.
  • Prof Stephen Palmer PhD is co-director of the Centre for Positive Transitions at the International Academy for Professional Development. He is professor of practice at the Wales Academy for Professional Practice and Applied Research, University of Wales Trinity Saint David, and adjunct professor of coaching psychology at Aalborg University, Denmark. He is coordinating director of the ISCP International Centre for Coaching Psychology Research, and founder director of the Centre for Coaching, London. He is the honorary president of the International Stress Management Association and the International Society for Coaching Psychology. He has written or edited more than 50 books and has published more than 225 articles. Stephen is the publisher at Coaching at Work.
  • Dr Siobhain O’Riordan PhD is a chartered psychologist and chartered scientist. She is a fellow of the International Society for Coaching Psychology and principle practitioner member of the Association for Business Psychology. Siobhain is a director and course co-director at the International Academy for Professional Development and a co-director of the Centre for Positive Transitions.



Strength description


Potential actions


1. Increasing self-knowledge


I reflect on my personality, strengths and values during transitions, and use these to guide decisions


  • Consider your strengths. Take stock of your strengths (try the free online Values in Action strengths survey: Leverage your strengths to boost wellbeing.
  • Work with your personality. How do you prefer to do things? Are you spontaneous or structured? Prefer time with others or alone? Organise yourself accordingly. Plan routines and social interaction according to your needs.
2. Normalising transitions


I appreciate that transitions take time, involve a range of emotions, and affect all
of us
l  Keep these ‘transition truths’ in mind:

1) Transitions take time. Don’t expect too much of yourself and others as you adapt to new circumstances. Recognise small achievements and progress.

2) Transitions involve emotions. Accept all the emotions you are feeling – anxiety, fear and sadness. Acknowledge any positive feelings too, such as gratitude and connection.

3) Transitions affect everyone. With Covid-19 transitions in particular, everyone is impacted in some way, and many will be having similar experiences to you.

3. Supporting positive coping


I draw upon positive coping strategies
during transitions
  • Focus on the basics: Prioritise sleep, diet, relaxation and exercise.
  • Engage support and connect: Find people you can openly talk to, and try out new forms of communication.
  • Monitor input: Limit your exposure to the news; rely on credible sources.
  • Take control: Try to focus on what you can control, rather than what you can’t. It may help to focus on one day at a time rather than looking too far into the future.
  • Set boundaries: Think about boundaries between home/school/work. Rules and structures can be useful, eg, I will look at my emails between 7am and 9am.
  • Help others: Volunteering to support others can help you maintain wellbeing by focusing on others’ needs.
  • Gratitude: Try to appreciate what you have, and look for the good in every day.
4. Integrating past, present and future


I can make helpful connections between
past, present and future during transitions
  • Past: What skills, ideas and perspectives from your past can be applied in the current situation?
    How have you handled past transition?
  • Future: How might this situation connect with your future? Imagine yourself at a point in the future – how would you like to look back on this time?
5. Giving time and space


I allow myself time and space to reflect during transitions


  • Find time. Make space to process your experiences. You could do this alone (eg, daily journaling), or with others (friend, counsellor, coach). Most companies offer Employee Assistance Programmes (EAP) where you can talk to a trained counsellor confidentially, and at no cost.


6. Highlighting broader context


I am aware of the broader context during transitions, and understand the influences around me


  • Helpful perspectives. Ideas connected to the broader context may be useful: ‘This is a change that is impacting many people around the world – we are all in this together’; ‘We are all required to make changes in order to help not only ourselves but for the greater good’
  • Check influences. Be mindful of influences from family, friends and colleagues at this time.
    Make decisions and choices that make sense for you.
7. Tailoring action


I take positive and constructive action steps during transitions


  • Set goals. Short-term goals can be constructive. These could be weekly or even daily. Take small steps to move forward.
  • Recognise achievements. Acknowledge achievements, however small. Writing these down regularly can help to consolidate them in your mind.
Figure 1: INSIGHT Transition Strengths



Further reading

  • S Panchal, S Palmer and S O’Riordan, ‘Coaching through developmental transitions’ (ch. 11), in Positive Psychology Coaching in Practice, Hove: Routledge, 2019
  • S Palmer, S Panchal and S O’Riordan, ‘Could the experience of the COVID-19 pandemic have any positive impact on wellbeing?’ in European Journal of Applied Positive Psychology, 4(10), 2020
  •  S Panchal, S Palmer and S O’Riordan, ‘Enhancing transition resilience: Using the INSIGHT coaching and counselling model to assist in coping with COVID-19’, in International Journal of Stress Prevention and Wellbeing, 4(3), 2020