Executive Coaching – The Future of EAPs? | EAPA-SA

When attending to employees with behavioural or performance issues, some EAP programmes may use the terms counselling and coaching interchangeably. However, by definition, coaching differs from counselling in that it is not a remedial service, and using the term coaching to describe a service that is primarily aimed at correcting a problem behaviour misrepresents true coaching.

The possible benefits of calling counselling “coaching”, one of which may be to lower client resistance by avoiding the stigma associated with the need for corrective counselling, are not worth the way in which coaching services may be misconstrued and undervalued – not being seen for the inherent value in being coached.  To better understand the concept of executive coaching, it’s necessary to first define what is and what it is not.

“…by definition, coaching differs from counselling in that it is not a remedial service…”

“Coaching is fundamentally a process of facilitation.”

What is coaching?

Coaching is fundamentally a process of facilitation. Unlike consultants, teachers, or mentors, coaches are facilitators, not providers. Coaching’s non-directive style makes it an empowering experience for clients.

 This is one of the essential differences that makes coaching distinct from other forms of counselling. Although coaches help create the plan, clients ultimately set their own agenda and responsibility for outcomes.

  • Coaching involves a collaborative partnership between coach and client that supports action toward a desired outcome. 
  • Coaching strives to help clients overcome obstacles, maximize their potential and stay accountable to the actions they, themselves, have created to realise goals. 


Coaching is often misconstrued to be:

  • a form of counselling for people who don’t want to bother with clinical education and training;
  • the same as consulting, with different title;
  • a specialist advisor role requiring the counsellor to have expertise in the client’s profession;
  • a completely unregulated and loosely defined service not bound to a code of ethics.

What makes coaching distinct?

It is coaching’s purpose that makes it distinct. Coaching helps clients achieve ambitious goals through a strengths-based, developmental approach in which individuals design their own agenda and actions to realise their desired outcome.

“It is coaching’s purpose that makes it distinct.”

Utilisation rates for counselling are generally known to decline as an employee rises in the ranks of an organisation. Since coaching is growth-focused rather than problem-focused, it is desirable and relevant to a larger pool of potential clients, especially as compared to counselling. 


What are the benefits of providing coaching to employees?

Historically, EAPs encompass a set of professional services specifically designed to improve or maintain the productivity and the healthy functioning of a workplace; addressing an organisation’s particular employee-needs through the application of specialist knowledge and expertise about human behaviour and mental health.  Coaching adds to this set of services by assisting organisations to grow their employee’s professional skills. Clients must feel comfortable and safe when seeking coaching. It is a process which creates awareness and action through confidential communication.

  • Coaching uses a process of inquiry and discovery to build the client’s level of awareness and responsibility and provides the client with structure, support, and feedback.
  • The individual will uncover barriers and areas of resistance to job performance and leadership effectiveness and find opportunities for success.
  • The coaching process empowers the client to move forward to action and to be accountable.

“An executive coaching programme through an EAP is great for team growth…”

An executive coaching programme through an EAP is great for team growth and has been repeatedly proven to improve the productivity and success of any team. It helps to improve on-the-job performance of managers, supervisors, and other higher level professionals and is an excellent way to train management and executives with the aim of creating self-awareness and enhancing effectiveness.

Specific benefits of executive coaching include:

  • Clarification of goals and performance expectations
  • Clarification of organisational and individual goal alignment
  • Better people-management skills
  • Removing or overcoming obstacles to performance
  • Empowerment and improved accountability

Although, typically the primary work of coaching is between the coach and the executive, coaching as an organisational intervention can be conducted within the context of an organisation’s goals and objectives.  In this case, the executive, the coach and the organisation begin the process by determining the ultimate goals of the coaching, specific results for each goal, expected time frames and appropriate measurements for success. 


The challenges of EA practitioners providing executive coaching 

Should EAs decide to add coaching to their service offering there are some important issues to bear in mind: 

  • The need to build the competencies required for working with healthy employees

EA practitioners are usually called upon to assess and provide counselling for employees struggling with some kind of personal problem. There are certain similarities found in coaching but there are differences as well.  

  • Assessment mechanisms differ: The data to aid in leadership development and the manner in which this information is fed back to clients differs from the process an EA will follow when, say, assessing an employee for substance abuse or counselling them through a family or financial problem.  
  • The confidentiality of a coaching relationship is not the same as that found between an EAP and client: While what is said in a coaching session may have some confidentiality, coaching in an organisation can be quite public.  While the process does involve many activities with which the EA professional is familiar, such as building a working relationship, setting goals, listening and asking relevant questions, the learning process may vary. The developmental coach will be working with healthy individuals who can do far more than meet them halfway.  
  • Managing perceptions or the identity of the coaching service: EAP’s continue to battle the stigma associated with counselling to help with substance abuse or mental health problems. If it comes across as counselling, coaching will attract the same stigma. 
  • To link with a definable organisational need: EAPs who are interested in providing executive coaching will benefit from seeking out partners in human resources departments or learning and development providers with whom they can collaborate in the creation of a win/win for the employees being coached and the organisation itself. 



What is the potential benefit of offering coaching for EAPs?

Coaching is provided for a particular set of purposes known as “the coaching value chain”, and include preparing certain members of management for succession, helping to build project management skills or helping managers to work in a more diverse workplace.  

  • Coaching by an EA professional can help managers and supervisors become more effective at coaching their own people. It could be very beneficial to work with human resources to assess how this expertise can be leveraged to support existing activities to build coaching capabilities within the ranks, linked to clear organisational needs and aligned with traditional EAP values. 
  • In today’s world of work, senior management and executives see coaching as a valuable perk that will hone skills that they will take with them into their career future and expect their employer to provide them with coaching. This represents an excellent opportunity for EAPs to offer coaching services and engage with a wider range of employees, including those who are high-value employees such as executives, emerging leaders and high performers, many of whom would rarely contact an EAP for other services. 


  1. https://www.eapassn.org/Q218-Executive-Coaching 
  2. https://careplussolutions.com/executive-coaching/ 
  3. https://directionseap.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/06/Organizational-Coaching-and-EA-Professional2.pdf 

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