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Coaching boundaries: workplace versus life coaching

A regular question that comes up in the coaching training I run and the coaching supervision groups that I work with is ‘What is the difference between work and life coaching?’ and more specifically, ‘At what point does workplace coaching stray into the realms of life coaching / something else, and what should I do about this?’

Whilst grappling with this in a recent supervision session, we developed what I think is a clear model which can help to answer these questions. It highlights the difference between the two coaching practices and also helps to define when to refer a workplace coaching client to another professional, perhaps a life coach, therapist, counselor etc., all depending on the presenting issue. The model is outlined here:

Workplace versus life coaching boundaries diagram

Clearly, when we are coaching we are always dealing with the full person. However, in a workplace context coaches are typically engaged to help improve performance or effectiveness in the workplace, often sponsored (and paid) by the employer. In such cases there needs to be clarity for the coach about what topics to coach and what not to coach and this is what was raised in the supervision.

The model above shows that a workplace coach still works with the person but that the focus is on the person in work. However, work topics are not immune to personal pressures; this can range from being regularly late for work due to caring responsibilities or finding work stressful because the hours a job demands eats into personal / home life considerably. The question remains though, when does a workplace coach refer?

The conclusion using the model above is that there is always a grey area (work / life boundary) which I would argue is very much part of workplace coaching, but that if the topic of the coaching has strayed out of that dotted area altogether it is no longer the realm of the business / workplace coach but should be referred to a life coach or other appropriate support professional. This has certainly helped me when supporting both workplace coaching clients and those I supervise, to more easily see when it’s time to refer!

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You have been a wonderful and approachable tutor, always making heavy theory fun and interesting, therefore easier to learn.
Ena Saxena
Saxon Consulting