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Does Executive Coaching Work? Evidence on the Effectiveness...

2024.01.16


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While executive coaching has been gaining in use steadily as individuals and organizations experience first-hand the positive results, the number of treatment-control research studies on the impact of executive coaching is still small.

A 2023 study by Brooks et al. offers a straightforward experiment with promising results.1

After 10 weeks of working with an executive coach, leaders experienced a reduction in three dimensions of burnout and an increase in one dimension of engagement. The control group maintained their levels of burnout and engagement.

More specifically, the coached group had decreases in their emotional exhaustion, cynicism, and personal inefficacy, while their vigor increased.


Key Concepts

Burnout and engagement are regarded to be opposites on the spectrum. Each is comprised of multiple dimensions.

The study looks at coaching’s effect on three dimensions each for burnout and engagement.

3 dimensions of burnout:

  • emotional exhaustion perceived depletion of mental and physical energy at work
  • cynicism indifferent attitude toward work and members in the workplace
  • professional inefficacy amount one perceives they are unable or incompetent to perform work tasks

3 dimensions of engagement:

  • vigor individual’s invested, energetic, resilient work ethic including perseverance when faced with challenges
  • dedication feeling deeply connected to work so that one feels challenged, eager, and a sense of meaning
  • absorption feeling joyful while fully attending to one’s work

Study Overview

100 leaders in Spain were recruited to participate, with 92 ultimately completing the duration of the study. They were randomized to receive an hour of coaching each week for 10 weeks or were told they were on a waitlist for the coaching (the waitlist people got coaching after the experiment was over)2. The researchers controlled for age, gender, and education in the analysis.

All leaders completed pre- and post-surveys that assessed various aspects of burnout and engagement.

Here are some example statements that the participants rated in each survey.

Emotional exhaustion

  • I feel emotionally drained from my work.
  • I am tired when I get up in the morning and have to face another day at my job.
  • Working all day is a strain for me.

Cynicism

  • I have lost interest in my work since I started this position.
  • I have lost enthusiasm for my work.
  • I doubt the significance and value of my work.

Personal inefficacy

  • I can effectively solve problems that arise in my work.
  • I contribute effectively to what my organization does.
  • In my opinion, I am good at my job.

Vigor

  • At my work I feel bursting with energy.
  • At my work I always persevere, even when things do not go well.
  • At my job, I am very resilient, mentally.

Dedication

  • To me, my job is challenging.
  • My job inspires me.
  • I am enthusiastic about my job.

Absorption

  • When I am working, I forget everything else around me.
  • Time flies when I am working.
  • It is difficult to detach myself from my job.

More Information for Coaches

Coaches might be interested in knowing that the framework for the 10-week coaching engagement is based on the GROW model (a 4-stage model based on behaviorism).

The paper includes information on what topic/technique was used in each of the 10 sessions. It’s ungated so you can give it a read for yourself if you like.


1Research Citation: Brooks, P.J., P. Ripoll, C. Sánchez, and M. Torres. (2023) Coaching leaders toward favorable trajectories of burnout and engagement. Frontiers of Psychology. 14:1259672. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2023.1259672.

2It would have been an even better paper if the researchers could have continued the study for 10 more weeks – both to see whether the effects of the coached group persisted and whether the control group saw similar benefits from a coaching treatment.


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