Many firms today realize the importance
of attracting and retaining highly skilled, quality employees as a
necessary component of their competitive advantage. One of the reasons
that a quality workforce along with innovative tools for attracting and
retaining has become so important is because previous sources of
competitive advantage have become less important overtime.
For example, previously, a firm’s
success was attributed to an emphasis on product and process technology,
access to financial markets, developing economies of scale & learning
curves, patents, protected and regulated markets & individual
attractiveness. Recently, however, some scholars have noted that these
traditional sources of success are less important than in the past and
emphasize that the selection and management of a quality workforce has
become an increasingly critical factor to organizational success. Today,
HR practitioners are busy developing new and innovative tools to attract
and retain quality workforce.
One such tool that soon is likely to
gain popularity in the corporate world is Employee Counselling.
Employee Counselling is a service offered by
companies to their employees. Organizations that care for their
employees are perceived as more meaningful and purposeful. Every
organization has economic and social goals. Here, it is worthwhile to note
some observations made by the Chairman of Infosys in this regard. He
states, “The task of leadership is to make people believe in themselves,
the organization, in the aggressive targets the organization sets. Belief
comes from trust: the trust that this organization isn’t about making one
set of stakeholders better off; it is about making every one of us better
A firm may gain competitive advantages from Employee Counselling
activities especially if its reputation and image is valuable, rare and
not easily imitated. Employee Counselling therefore is a very powerful
tool in the hands of companies in attracting and retaining quality
Although Counselling is known by many names like 'therapy' or 'helping' it
is by and large, an attempt to encourage change. The counselle’s problems
could be so complex that it might be difficult to see any system of help
as an elegant solution. But, Counselling has shown some effectiveness over
the years, as a process of helping people come through with their
Counselling is a process of helping people to learn how to solve certain
interpersonal, emotional and decision problems. Counsellors help their
counselles to ‘learn’. The criterion for success in any Counselling is
real changes in behaviour on the part of the counselle. Counsellors are
concerned that their counselles become independent problem solvers.
Continued dependence on the counsellor as well as others is discouraged.
Counsellors are concerned with habit changes that increase peoples'
satisfaction with themselves. It could be anything from helping people
choose a career option, becoming appropriately assertive or communicating
more harmoniously with team members. Largely, Counselling has been a
'remedial approach'. But recently there has been a slight change in
emphasis, from remedial to 'preventive'.
It is rightly said, ‘half knowledge is
dangerous’. People often harbour myths about the counseling
process. Some false beliefs about counseling are as follows:
(source: Magazine - Dignity Dialogue, 31July 2001)
No human being is perfect and we all constantly fight our own inadequacies
in our own ways. Working in any organization requires an individual to be
geared up to face the challenges of work-life. This does not mean he/she
can escape the duties and responsibilities of family life, whether married
or unmarried. Not every individual is competent enough to take and manage
the stress of a hectic life style. Thus, we cannot deny the fact that
every individual has intra and inter-personal problems whether at work or
at home. The HR function of any organization has the most important
challenging job of "making the most" of their Human Resource. An employee
can give his best to the organization only if he is in a positive "frame
of mind". A mentally preoccupied or troubled individual will be in a
position to give very little to his company.
No successful organization will ever be free from stress among its
employees. Organization should be able to deal with stress on individuals
at all levels. Here the role of Counselling comes in, where people can
talk and attempt to solve their personal and work related worries. Need
for employee counselling arises due to various causes in addition to
stress. These causes include: to deal effectively with one’s own emotions,
interpersonal problems and lack of team spirit at workplace, inability to
meet job demands, over work-load, confrontation with authority,
responsibility and accountability, conflicts with superiors, subordinates
and management and various family problems, health problems, career
problems, etc. Counselling is a process of helping an individual to help
Counselling, basically aims at helping individuals take charge of their
lives. For this, individuals need two types of skills: ability to make
decisions wisely and altering one's own behaviour to yield desirable
consequences. A counsellor's job, then, becomes one of arranging
appropriate learning experiences so that people develop these skills.
Counsellors avoid giving speeches about what should be done, but ideas for
action are developed with the active co-operation of the counselle. The
Counsellor does not try to talk the client into feeling that the situation
is hopeless. Instead, he/she encourages the client to begin taking action,
the successful consequences of which would encourage the client to
According to Eisenberg & Delaney, the aims of
counselling are as follows:
1. Understanding self
2. Making impersonal decisions
3. Setting achievable goals which enhance growth
4. Planning in the present to bring about desired future
5. Effective solutions to personal and interpersonal problems.
6. Coping with difficult situations
7. Controlling self defeating emotions
8. Acquiring effective transaction skills.
9. Acquiring 'positive self-regard' and a sense of optimism about one's
own ability to satisfy one's basic needs.
Counselling is discussion of an employee’s problem that usually has an
emotional content to it, in order to help the employee cope with the
situation better. Counselling seeks to improve employee’s mental health.
People feel comfortable about themselves and about other people and are
able to meet the demands of life when they are in good mental health.
Counselling and ‘Psychological Counselling’
are different from each other. Counselling in the form of advising,
consoling and sharing happens in all spheres of life and does not need a
specialized counsellor. Even in organizations, this kind of Counselling
usually happens at all levels. This is informal or friendly form of
Counselling. Psychological Counselling is a process that emphasizes a
formal relationship between the counselle and the counselor. The focus of
the relationship is achieving specific goals, that is, solving the
problems as disclosed by the clients. The help is confined to specific
times and days and the relationship ends when the objectives are achieved.
The counselor has specialized training and applies the principles of
psychology to help clients. There are several institutes, which provide
courses in counseling. These courses train postgraduate students of
psychology in the specialized field of Counselling. These professionally
trained counselors are well equipped to help individuals needing
assistance. They are trained to maintain confidentiality, to maintain
objectivity and minimize biases or prejudices.
In order to establish a helpful
relationship, the counsellor may acquire certain attitudes and certain
skills. The set of attitudes required for an efficient counsellor are:
• Respect i.e. High esteem for human dignity, recognition of a person's
freedom & rights and faith in human potential to grow.
• Sincerity, authenticity.
• Non-judgemental approach towards the counselle.
The set of skills required for an efficient
• Decency skills i.e. social etiquettes, warm manners
• Excellent communication skills which also include non-verbal
communication and listening skills
• Maintaining confidentiality
Through these attitudes and skills the counsellor creates a positive
feeling in the counselle, and a hope that the counsellor will be of some
help. The establishment of this rapport marks the start of treatment.
There are seven core techniques given by Rogers, Carkheff and Patterson,
which assist the counsellor to apply appropriate core counselling
conditions. They are as follows:
☺ Active Listening
Models for human development like mentoring, coaching and counselling are
no longer confined to the non-corporate world. These systems are today a
part of Human Resource Management of the corporate sector. Inspite of
counselling being an upcoming HR system like coaching and mentoring, few
companies recognize the significance of Counselling and that their
employees will benefit from such a service but may not employ a full time
counselor. Awareness need to be created not only at the individual
employee level but also at the industry level about Employee Counselling.
This is clearly brought out by the primary research conducted by the
A primary research was carried out in
the year 2002 at a manufacturing company based in Mumbai, India. This
public limited company has five manufacturing sites across the country and
four sales divisions. This research aimed at investigating the (felt) need
for employee counseling in the organization. The design of this research
study was exploratory in nature. The primary source of data collection was
structured interviews, the sample being one hundred and ten (110)
employees which is 20 % of the employee strength – five hundred and fifty
three (553) of the corporate office of the company. The interview schedule
comprised of both closed and open ended questions. A random sampling
technique was used. The employee sample was 20 % of each of the divisions
operating from the corporate office and was a perfect mix of managerial
level employees, staff level employees and worker level employees.
Some important conclusions that were
derived from the research study are:
• Majority of the employees of the
company (61% of the sample) were unaware of the concept of Employee
Counselling. Those employees who had a partially correct idea (25 % of the
sample) about employee counseling knew that it was related to helping an
employee in distress, advising, creating self-awareness and personality
development. The remaining 14 % had an incorrect understanding about the
• After the researcher had explained
what employee counselling was all about, 69 % of the sample agreed that
there was a (perceived) need for employee counseling in the company. The
reasons were many, most common ones being to assist employees solve their
personal and/or work related problems and to improve the employee
relationships and overall culture of the workplace. Among the 31 % who
were of the viewpoint that employee counseling as an institutionalized
process was not needed in the company, 57 % of this group felt that the
company had a family culture and the informal relationships between the
employees could be leveraged upon.
• Only 22 % of the sample disagreed on
the importance of employee counseling as a part of HR –systems while 78 %
of the employees felt that counseling is an important HR function.
• 83 % of the employees were unaware of
the companies practicing Employee Counselling in India (this could also be
because the sample was a mix of managerial employees, staff level and
The research results indicate that majority of the sample under study
responded positively to the hypothesis i.e. a need for Employee
Counselling was felt and that it would benefit the organization. However,
the awareness about the concept of counselling and employee counselling,
particularly so was found to be exceptionally low.
Psychological counseling is of various types. Rational Emotive Behaviour
Therapy by Dr Albert Ellis popularly known as REBT is most widely applied.
Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy (Source: Albert Ellis Institute, New
REBT is a practical, action-oriented approach to coping with problems and
enhancing personal growth. REBT places a good deal of its focus on the
present: on currently-held attitudes, painful emotions and maladaptive
behaviors that can sabotage a fuller experience of life. REBT then
provides a variety of methods to help people reformulate their
dysfunctional beliefs into more sensible, realistic and helpful ones by
employing the powerful REBT technique called "disputing." Ultimately, REBT
helps people to develop a philosophy and approach to living that can
increase their effectiveness and happiness at work, in living successfully
with others, in parenting and educational settings, in making our
community and environment healthier, and in enhancing their own health and
REBT is based on a few simple
principles having profound implications:
1. You are responsible for your own emotions and actions,
2. Your harmful emotions and dysfunctional behaviors are the product of
your irrational thinking,
3. You can learn more realistic views and, with practice, make them a part
4. You'll experience a deeper acceptance of yourself and greater
satisfactions in life by developing a reality-based perspective.
REBT distinguishes clearly between two
very different types of difficulties: practical problems and emotional
problems. Your flawed behavior, unfair treatment by others, and
undesirable situations, represent practical problems. Regrettably,
your human tendency is to
upset yourself about these practical problems, thereby unnecessarily
creating a second order of problems--emotional suffering.
Some other types of counseling processes are Sigmund Freud’s
Psychoanalytic Therapy; Carl Roger’s Client Centered Therapy; Carkhuff
Model of Personal Counselling; Gestalt approach to counselling; Rational
Emotive Behaviour Therapy by Albert Ellis. Freud’s Psychoanalytic Therapy
is based on the power of the unconscious mind. According to Freud, who is
the Father of Psychology the human mind is like an iceberg. As only the
tip of the iceberg is seen by the naked eye so is only one tenth of the
human mind known to us. Psychoanalytic therapy taps this semi and
unconscious mind through different techniques like dream analysis, etc. It
was Carl Roger who supported a view that counselles should be addressed as
‘clients’ and unlike Freud’s psychoanalytic therapy where a counselle
plays a passive role, in Client centered therapy the client plays a more
active role as compared to the counselor. Hence the name Client Centered
Therapy”. Carkhuff model of personal counseling is an offshoot of Roger’s
Client Centered Therapy. It focuses on attending, responding,
personalizing and initiating action as indispensable counselor skills.
Gestalt approach to counseling focuses on looking at human beings from a
‘holistic’ perspective. The word ‘gestalt’ means “a whole being”.
Whatever type of therapy the counselor has expertise in, whether it be
Client Centered Therapy or REBT or any other, institutionalizing an
employee counseling system in an organization is a different ball game all
together. Right from getting top management approvals and budgetary
sanctions to getting trained counselors on the rolls or on part time basis
all are equally challenging. Preparing the employees for counselling is
another yet important areas. One of the biggest fears that prevent
employees from using the services of a counselor is the social and
professional stigma attached to counselling.
If a system is being introduced in an organization for the first time, it
is advisable to do a pilot. For example, the company in which the author
has done primary research on employee counseling – an institutionalized
set-up for counseling can be initiated at a particular division/location
on an experimentation basis. If this process succeeds overtime, the same
model can perhaps be replicated throughout the company. However for this,
the process should be predictable, repeatable and measurable. Some
criteria to gauge the impact of employee counseling are feedbacks,
dip-stick surveys, focus groups, indirect or direct effect on absenteeism,
employee turnover, work performance and productivity, motivation levels of
employee’s et al.
For introducing and sustaining any new system, the following four steps
prove handy – create awareness, educate the employees, then motivate them
and finally all this will lead to (expected or required) actions.
1. Creating awareness:
The starting point to introducing any new system in an organization is
creating awareness. Infact in the above mentioned research, 75 % of the
sample population was not aware about a trained counsellor in the company
(please note the counsellor is not officially designated the position of a
‘counsellor’ but is occupying some other ‘post’). Awareness can be created
by various means the most common ones being posters and notice boards.
“The roots of education are bitter, but the fruit is sweet” – Aristotle
Educating the employees implies some formal training about the new process
to be introduced or leveraging on informal channels. However, a systematic
and planned formal approach is usually preferred.
After creating awareness and educating the employees, it is imperative to
motivate them with the right set of attitudes and values as required for
the process. Especially for a process like employee counseling, the
mind-set of the employees plays a crucial role in influencing the success
As is commonly known, actions speak louder than words. If the above three
steps are methodically followed, it generally leads to positive results.
Introducing a system is not more challenging than sustaining a newly
introduced system. To ensure sustainability of a new system, whether it is
employee counseling or any other, the parameters to determine success need
to be well defined. For any system to sustain itself, the process should
be crystal clear.
The way the corporate sector has opened up to the world economy, it is now
high time for organizations to open up for employee-orientated HR
processes like counseling, coaching and mentoring. The corporate world is
changing and so are the Human Resource Management practices. It is
imperative that we adapt the changing styles to manage our people better.
It is not just for the benefit of the employees but in the interest of the
organization to show that ‘we care’ about this important segment of our
Primary research based article by Prof.
Written By - Prof. Gowri Joshi
The views expressed in this article are the author’s personal views and do
not represent the views of the institute.
Prof. Gowri Joshi is
a faculty for Human Resources at a premier
B-school in Mumbai. She is a graduate specializing in Human Development
and her PG specialization is Human Resource Management.
Her interest areas include Behavioural training and personal counselling.
successfully conducted soft skills training sessions for the insurance
sector ; have offered personal counseling services to students and
teenagers (after having topped a certificate course in personal
counselling ); conducted self development workshops for different target
groups like Mumbai police; NAB students; college students; orphan / street
children from NGOs etc.
Currently she teaches
subjects like Principles and Practices of Management, Human Resource
Management, Organizational Development among others at a management
institute in Mumbai.