Janis Mwosa


The purpose of this article is to discuss the importance of counselling in the work place as a way of maximizing human resources.

The main reason why counselling is important in the work place might be considered a selfish one. Employers are interested in the productivity and performance of their staff. They are in business to produce: they have tight deadlines to be met and few staff members with which to meet them. If employees are unhappy, anxious, or stressed they will not be able to perform well on their jobs. Their productivity and performance will go down. In addition, their interpersonal relations both at home and on the job may suffer more even when they ordinarily do not have interpersonal relations’ issues. This creates stress and again impacts on their performance.

To quote G. A. Cole: “It is … in an organisation's interests to avoid uneconomic use of their human resources, and the provision of counselling services may be one way of sustaining employee performance, achieving business targets and showing commitment to employees as individuals.”1

What is counselling; who can counsel?

Counselling, according to Brammer and Shostrom is defined as a way of relating and responding to another person so that he/she is helped to explore his thoughts, feelings and behaviour to reach a clear self-understanding. Also, the person is helped to find and use his/her strengths to be able to cope more effectively with making appropriate decisions, or taking appropriate action. 2

Makinde (1983) also looks at counselling and defines it as an integrative process between a client, who is vulnerable and who needs assistance, and a counsellor who is trained and educated to give this assistance. The goal of the interaction is to help the client learn to deal more effectively with him/herself and the reality of his environment.3

People who are in a position to counsel in the work place could be co-workers who would function as peer counsellors, supervisors and managers who would counsel their own staff and staff members like the human resources manager and the training manager who could counsel any staff member because of the uniqueness of their positions. In addition, directors or senior managers are well placed to counsel members of the management staff.

When to counsel
There are many situations in the workplace when counselling might be called for:

Some of these problems arise outside the work place. They can be personal problems such as sexual behaviour that might pose a high risk for HIV/AIDS, or addiction to drugs or alcohol. They may be related to family issues: money problems, sickness and death in the family causing grief or trauma.

They may also be issues related specifically to the work place, such as matters like career development, discipline, performance, relating to customers or clients, promotion, redeployment, transfers, redundancies, retirement, etc. There might be problems individuals have in relating to others in the work place, either as individuals or as part of a team. Other problems may lie in relating to customers, to bosses or to those in authority in general. Bosses might also have problems in relating to their juniors.

Consequences of staff with problems
Staff members with problems may take more time off work for sicknesses that are either real or imagined. Many may suffer from stress related illnesses like high blood pressure or ulcers. This is expensive for the organisation both from the viewpoint of the cost of the treatment and the cost of the time away from the job. Remaining staff members also suffer since they will have to do additional work to cover for the member who is away. This impacts on their productivity and lowers their morale.

Others may agitate for job or career changes within the organisation because the problems make them unable to cope with their work. They may even decide to leave their job and this will create difficulties as new people will have to be found, recruited, inducted and trained to replace them. This is an expensive and time-consuming exercise for an organisation.

For employees who are in customer care situations their personal difficulties will impact on the customers they serve. Their organisation may lose business as a result of their problems. Customers who are badly treated initially quickly escalate to becoming problem customers who take a great deal of the organisation's time and senior management intervention before they can be soothed.

Bosses with difficulties will impact on the staff they supervise. Each staff member may lose productivity even though they are ordinarily productive because they are hurting from the way their boss treats them The boss's decisions will be clouded with the personal issues and the organisation may lose money or customers as a result. Expensive mistakes may be made.

Modern business methods call for people to do a great deal of work as part of a team or a project group. When the members of the team don't interact well because of their personal issues, the work of the team or the project will suffer.

A personal experience
I personally know about the importance of counselling in the work place. I was fortunate enough to have worked for a large organization that actively supported counselling. As managers, we were all given the opportunity to attend a three-day course in counselling skills. All the managers who were in charge of branches or departments received this training. This opened our eyes to the many chances we had as managers to improve things in the work place by applying counselling techniques with our staff. I felt much more confident about my own ability to counsel staff after having attended the course.

I was also fortunate in that my deputy was a trained counsellor. It was his responsibility to counsel other staff members on request, in addition to his duties and responsibilities of being my deputy. I learned much about counselling from him and I also attended his peer-counselling course. He had had special training in grief counselling and in training of peer counsellors. As I was head of training and ran a training school, we had the opportunity to interact with all of the staff in the organization. With a hundred to a hundred and fifty staff coming through the school on a weekly basis, we had an opportunity to make a major impact on the staff. We were able to counsel many people on their work, career and family issues. In some cases, people were sent to us as a last resort and we were able to save their jobs. Several of my own staff members made dramatic turnarounds in their work behaviour and they were able to go on and lead productive lives.

We also ran peer-counselling courses in the school on a regular basis. Ordinary staff members, section heads (first line supervisors) and secretaries were among the majority of the staff we trained. Our organisation had many branches all over Kenya and when we first started the programme our aim was to have at least one trained peer counsellor in each branch and department. Once this objective was accomplished, we were later able to expand this to open the course to all who were interested.

Although the course participants were trained in general counselling skills, the emphasis on the peer-counselling course was on counselling people on their social and sexual behaviour in an effort to cut down on the spread of HIV/AIDs. Later, when the American embassy was bombed, we had a number of staff members who were involved and it was necessary for them to get counselling to overcome the stress and trauma of their close call with death. A number of our peer counsellors got additional training in dealing with this and the affected staff persons were then counselled. The same staff also served as volunteer counsellors for the other survivors.

The ability to counsel is an important skill for managers and caring co-workers. Organisations that have people trained in counselling will be better able to handle their people issues than those that do not. Staff who are feeling anxious, stressed, or unhappy will not be able to perform very well on the job despite their background and experience. If they have had an opportunity to talk through their problems with a trained counsellor, they will be able to be much more productive. This will save the organisation time and money.

Notes: 1. G. A. Cole. Personnel and human resource management. 5th edition. London: Continuum, 2002, p.291.

2. L. M. Brammer and E. L. Shostrom. Therapeutic psychology: fundamentals of counseling and psychotherapy. New Jersey: Prentice-Hall, 1977.

3. O. Makinde. Fundamentals of guidance and counselling. London: MacMillan, 1983.

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