What we’ve learned about employee wellbeing from 1000+ coaching sessions


On average, 25% of employees are at risk for stress, burnout or leaving the company. Often, organizations do not know how their employees are doing and which employees are at risk. Inuka Coaching helps organizations to identify these employees with a self-scan and offers them help via digital one-on-one coaching. With the Inuka Coaching Method, 2 out of 3 employees go from ‘at risk’ to ‘resilient’ within 4 sessions (Cambridge Mental Health Journal, 2021)

If you would like to learn more about Inuka Coaching or the Inuka Method, scroll to the bottom of this article.  

The last 3 years we have provided over 1000+ coaching sessions with employees. Needless to say, we have learned a lot from this and we would like to share these lessons with you. We believe that (employee) wellbeing is more important now than ever. 

Photo by Brooke Cagle on Unsplash 

 5 lessons we have learned about employee wellbeing


1. Creating a psychologically safe environment is essential in supporting employees’ mental health

The struggles that the employees deal with in an organisation largely depend on the type of the organisation. We see that for example in health care, the emotional burden of COVID-19 was a topic that coachees often brought to the sessions. In the fashion industry on the other hand, the culture of the company partly revolves around fast moving and urgency. In that case, it can be difficult for employees to say no, because they get many requests. This is why the themes that play a role in an organisation can vary a lot, depending on the type of organisation. However, regardless of the type of organisation, creating a psychologically safe culture in the workplace is essential for employees to thrive.  

What is psychological safety?

Psychological safety means a feeling or climate where the learner can feel valued and comfortable, yet still speak up and take risks without fear of negative consequences either to themselves or others. A psychologically safe learning environment is crucial to our mental wellbeing, since it allows us to express ourselves authentically and to be vulnerable. Professor Edmonson found that teams that perform best at teamwork and problem solving, score high on psychological safety. 

In a psychologically safe environment, employees can speak their truth and share any concerns that they have. The simple (easier said than done) act of discussing concerns openly can already be a huge load off the employees’ shoulders.  

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Our learnings

In September 2021, Inuka hosted a round table with HR managers to have a real conversation about employee wellbeing. One of the things we have learned about employee wellbeing from that conversation was that modelling psychologically safe behaviour as a leader is important for employees to feel safe enough to talk about mental health. One of the ways leaders can do this is for example by showing vulnerability, admitting their mistakes, listening with attention and talking openly about their mental health.  


2. Having someone that truly listens to you can make a big difference in the way you feel

The first step to changing how you feel is to become aware of your feelings. Standing still for a moment and realizing that you are struggling. Expressing your story of struggle to someone while they actively listen to you can be very healing in itself. Research has found that listening seems to make an employee more relaxed, more self-aware of his or her strengths and weaknesses, and more willing to reflect in a non-defensive manner. Another thing that helps coachees is knowing what options they have to improve their wellbeing. 

“Brainstorming about solutions makes you feel like you have the power to do something about the way you feel. It also makes you realize that you do not have control of some things. Being aware of this can help you to let go of the things you cannot control.” — Shruthi Abirami Ramiah, Chief of Coaching at Inuka Coaching. 


3. Not many people like asking for help. This is why mental health support should be easy to access and low-threshold

When a person is struggling with anxiety, depression or other mental health issues, their mind is most likely already making it difficult for them to reach out for help. Especially at work, the tendency to pretend that everything is okay might be higher. This is why it is crucial that mental health support is very easy to access within an organisation. If an employee first needs to go to a department, and then to another department, and to tell their story to several people before they can get help, they will most likely feel unmotivated to get help. One of the most important things we have learned about employee wellbeing, is that whenever an employee is not doing well, they need to know where they can immediately get help. Anonymously, without any delay or complexity.  


4. Digital coaching is as effective as face-to-face coaching, but it’s not for everyone

At Inuka Coaching we offer chat-based coaching and coaching through video chat, although most of the conversations are done through chat. The advantage of chat-based coaching is that it can be done anonymously. It is also very accessible; if you want to do the coaching on the train, that’s possible. However, there are also down sides to it. It can be easy to disengage, and to lose your concentration at the coaching, since the coach does not see you. We are aware that chat-based coaching is not for everyone. Some people like that it is chat-based, and they actually ask for it. Some people prefer video-chat coaching or seeing a coach in person; it is a personal preference. We have seen that the turnover rate for digital coaching is similar to face-to-face wellbeing support.  


5. Healthy coping strategies are essential in preventing burnout

Everyone will experience moments of imbalance in their life. Sometimes, life will throw challenges at us and this is inevitable. However, we have the power to choose how we react to these challenges. The way in which we respond to stressors will largely determine the quality of our mental health. This is why it is crucial to learn healthy coping strategies.  

A coping strategy is a typical way of confronting a stressful situation and dealing with it. For example, the situation is that you feel overwhelmed due to your workload. A way to cope would be to work more hours, take less breaks, put more pressure on yourself. Another way to cope would be to set boundaries, communicate how you feel, take time with loved ones, do something that you find relaxing. A healthy coping mechanism is one that works in the benefit of your well-being. 

“When I look at the people that I have coached who were ‘in a tough place’ (well-being score 0–3 out of 20) or ‘at risk’ (well-being score 4–14 out of 20), what mainly helped them was to take good care of themselves. Certain themes that come up frequently are: learning how to set boundaries, more me-time, structure the day, delegate some of the workload or hold off some of the work.” — Tania Stout, Super Coach at Inuka Coaching. 


How Inuka Coaching originated 

Inuka means arise in Swahili. And arising, that is what co-founders Robin van Dalen and globally recognized psychiatrist Prof Dr. Chibanda did when they founded Inuka Coaching. 

Dr. Dixon Chibanda is one of only 13 psychiatrists in Zimbabwe, his home country of 16 million people. When Robin and Dixon met in 2015, Robin had just recovered from her own depression and was working for Philips Africa Innovation Hub. At that moment, she was exploring what we as a society can do for mental health. Robin and Dixon shared the same vision: to make mental health support more widely available via a digital platform. 

Inuka Coaching was born soon after that. Since 2016, Inuka has been on a mission to make top-quality coaching with real, measurable results, accessible to everyone. Since then, we have provided 1000 coaching conversations to employees from 15+ countries. 

About the Inuka Method

The Inuka Method is based on Problem Solving Therapy and has been proven to be effective. Before a coachee starts coaching, the coachee does a self scan first. This self scan is WHO-validated and gives insight into how the coachee is feeling. After a few coaching sessions, the self scan can be done again to see the progress of the coachee. 2 out of 3 coachees who initially scored ‘at risk’ go back to scoring ‘resilient’ within 4 coaching sessions. Additionally, Inuka distinguishes themselves from other e-Mental Health services by providing the management of companies with a reporting service. This gives the management insight into how their employees are doing (anonymously). 

Inuka foundation

Inuka wants to reach as many people as possible with effective mental health support. This is why the Inuka Foundation gets 10% of Inuka Coaching’s profit. The mission of the Inuka Foundation is to make mental health support accessible to vulnerable groups.  These groups are not able to access quality mental health support due to the lack of professional services, the high levels of stigma and the high costs of care, specifically in low income and middle-income countries. The foundation achieves this through private and public partnerships that reach vulnerable populations through mental and healthcare programmes, events and activities. At the moment, we make Inuka Coaching available for free in Zimbabwe, Kenya, Palestinian territories and Uganda. 

This article was originally published on the eMental Health International Collaborative. Click here to read the article on their platform.   


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