The mind is the most powerful tool you have. Most people are aware of this, but sometimes employers forget that this is where the creativity, ideas, and value of their staff lies.
According to Christopher Harvey, the founder of professional coaching service Harvey Sinclair, companies should see the benefit in investing in their employees’ mental health.
Harvey says the coaching he does doesn’t just help people — there’s a real economic interest to it as well.
“If you drain an employee, you beat that horse as hard as you want, it’s going to do the best it can with what it’s given,” Harvey told Business Insider. “But if you give that horse more up front and you invest more in the horse as well, it’s going to give you more in the race.”
‘From functional to exceptional’
Harvey got into coaching because he wanted to become “the guy that wasn’t there” when he himself had needed help.
He wanted to be there for people who were reaching breaking point but didn’t realise it. Harvey himself went through huge personal battles, including a marriage that only lasted five weeks, and his parents’ messy divorce.
To get through all of this, he threw himself into his career, made his way up the ladder, and became very successful. He only realised this wasn’t wholly fulfilling when he looked in the mirror one day and thought: “Why am I so dis-satisfied?”
“I got to the point where I thought, is life worth living? Until you get to that point, I don’t believe people take you seriously,” Harvey said. “They look at you and think, ‘Spoilt kid, had a bit of a rough time, let’s whack him on some medication.'”
In reality, coaching is about making people the best they can be, says Harvey. It’s not about fixing people — it’s about getting people to a good place mentally before they need medical professionals to make them better.
“I don’t deal with broken people,” he said. “I deal with people who are functional and I take them to exceptional.”
The ‘burnout economy’
Harvey refers to something called the “burnout economy,” which basically means people let themselves get to a bad place because they simply chose not to do anything about it.
“It’s like with a balloon — you can fill it up with water and then suddenly it bursts, and then at that point you look on the floor and it doesn’t look anything like what it did when it was in your hand,” Harvey said. “It’s a shriveled up piece of plastic, and I’m not kidding, that’s what people’s minds look like after they have had a burnout, because they look at themselves and go ‘How do I pick myself up from this?'”
The answer is, it’s hard. That’s when doctors and psychiatrists have to get involved. Harvey says it’s his goal for people to get the help they need before they ever get close to this point. The best way of doing this is by having a “proactive economy.”
“It’s where we acknowledge that these people who have extraordinary talent, who are in these jobs, they are ordinary people,” Harvey said. “They are flesh and blood just like you and me, anyone else. They just happen to have extraordinary talent. And they need to value their highest value asset.”
Clive Brunskill / Getty
Harvey thinks it’s unacceptable that people get to breaking point when their employers can afford all the available help.
It’s not ‘one-size-fits-all’
There’s no one-size-fits-all to wellbeing coaching. Everyone is different, and everyone will have a different problem they are struggling with. In fact, blanket solutions like offering weekly meditation sessions or trying to get everyone to work on the same issues can actually be more damaging. This is why Harvey Sinclair is going for a more bespoke approach.
The first step is developing rapport with clients, and establishing what it is they’d like to get out of the coaching. It could be anything from improving your performance at work, to the health of your relationships, your opinion of yourself, or the way you deal with your family.
He then asks people to draw a “Wheel of Life,” which has eight to 10 different aspects of life on a zero to 10 scale. Clients have to shade out an area of this wheel to represent the level of satisfaction in each of the segments.
“We don’t want to throw someone in the deep end in coaching — it’s about building a relationship,” Harvey said. “You need to get off to a peaceful start and be honest and open. The challenging stuff comes later on.”
Harvey explains that to see a change in coaching you have to push people to places they’re not capable of going by themselves. He says it’s different to therapy because clients don’t necessarily know something is wrong. Usually, people just want to be happy.
“It doesn’t make people feel like they’re being treated for something,” Harvey said. “People are exploring and you’re creating something better than what you came in with. That’s why we are able to make impact on people.”
Also, employees are likely to feel more valued by their company if it takes a real interest in their health. When the best and brightest are coming out of university, if they’re weighing up two different companies to work for, there’s more incentive for them to choose the one that offers wellbeing coaching. It’s also a good way of getting employees to stick around.
The ‘stiff upper-lip’ attitude needs to change
Harvey says that coaching is gaining traction in some companies like Google, but he would like to see it become adopted everywhere, even if it takes a while for people to come around.
He predicts that in 18 months coaching will become formally regulated, which could be the boost the industry needs to be taken more seriously. Many people, especially men, see wellbeing coaching as “fluffy” and a waste of time where people go around in a circle and talk about their feelings. Another common misconception is that coaching is for those who are weak.
“Our perception of strength is to not seek help,” Harvey explained. “Our perception of strength, certainly in London, is that if you’re a strong person and you’re a capable person, then you are someone who can do it by yourself.”
In reality, this isn’t true. Boxer Anthony Joshua, for example, is at his physical peak right now because of his own talent, but also because of his team. He’s always crediting his coach and the rest of his team at every turn. He couldn’t do it alone, and Harvey argues nobody who is working a highly stressful job should be expected to either.
“If you were going to do a marathon, you wouldn’t do it without training,” Harvey said. “Yet when people walk through the door at J.P. Morgan, they’re saying ‘I’m ready for this.’ And I don’t think they are ready for that. I think some people get through it because they’re more naturally resilient. But at some point, whether it’s tomorrow, or in ten years, they will burn out.”
Harvey says the stiff upper-lip attitude also has to change. He said Prince William and Prince Harry opening up about their struggles with mental health has started a shift, but there is still a long way to go.
For example, Aaron Lennon, a 30-year-old professional footballer who earns £60,000 a week, was detained under the Mental Health Act earlier this month.
“How unacceptable is that?” Harvey said. “That just shouldn’t be happening, not to someone who is surrounded by an organisation that can afford all the resources to support people.”
“I don’t want to see that happen to people in the city,” he added. “We don’t need people getting to that place. And if it takes me getting an absolute battering along the way — because there will be lots of rejection and people sniggering thinking it’s a load of garbage — I know the statistics speak for themselves. And if I can help some people, then it’s worth doing.”
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