Boundaries are a Coach's Best Friend

Ask any corporate health coach, and they’ll tell you that ethics and boundaries are essential to their job, yet they are challenged more frequently than for coaches outside the corporate realm.

For one thing, corporate health coaches are employed by the same organization as their clients. While they are not working in the same department, they are still considered ‘coworkers’. They know the same people and work in the same culture.  This commonality can sometimes skew the perspective of the closeness in the relationship.  

Logistics also contribute to misperceptions about boundaries, as both coach and client share common spaces (lunch room, bathroom, onsite workout facility) and participate in the same events (company-wide meetings, celebrations).  These shared experiences may promote feelings of familiarity.  

Finally, accessibility may also play a role in the blurring of boundary lines, as a client may feel compelled to take advantage of an opportunity to share private information outside the scheduled coaching time and place (passing in the hallway or during the lunch break).

For the coach, these shared components of everyday work life are beneficial in supporting their clients. They lend to a better understanding of what the client may be experiencing in the workplace.  Yet from the client’s perspective, having these things in common with the coach may lend to a misunderstanding of the roles and relationship.  It is for these reasons that a corporate coach must be even more diligent about upholding the ethics and boundaries with a client.  

Take, for example, Naomi and Rachel.  Naomi has been working with Rachel since she returned to her job after a mental health leave of absence.  Rachel has been glad to be back at work and, with Naomi’s support, understands how to manage her anxiety with nutrition, exercise, meditation and prioritizing her activities so as to not take on too much and go into overwhelm.  

At the end of a workday, Naomi is surprised to see Rachel coming to her office with her toddler in tow. Rachel explains that the daycare called, her child needed to be picked up, and now she has to try and finish her work in order to meet a printing deadline.  She asks Naomi if she would mind watching her daughter for an hour so she can focus on getting the job done.  

As a coworker and compassionate human being, it might be easy to say “yes” and extend the favor of watching the child.  But as a corporate coach, this request must be responded to with “no” and a gentle, but firm, clarification of professional boundaries.  Here is how Naomi handled the situation:

  • She explained that her role as corporate health coach did not allow for her to extend personal favors.
  • She also mentioned the issue of liability for the child’s safety.
  • In an effort to help, Naomi said that what she could do was to make some calls to see if anyone else was available to watch her daughter.

Gaining respect and a true understanding of ethics and boundaries for corporate health coaching is not a small task.  In the Nickerson Institute’s training program, students are asked to define and analyze common situations that challenge their ethics and boundaries and then demonstrate their understanding in practice sessions.

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Article written by:

Jeannette spent 20+ years in marketing with multi-national corporations before striking out on her own as a marketing consultant. In 2017, she was inspired to become an Integrative Health Coach and shortly after, joined the Nickerson Institute as Program Director.