Whilst I was in Abu Dhabi this week, I was very interested to hear that Sharjah Women’s college is due to launch a career counselling degree which comes on the back of the Ministry of Education’s announcement last year that a career counsellor will be placed in every government school by 2015.

I welcomed this news wholeheartedly as during the eight years of working in the region, I have seen that counselling is not generally a service that is freely available in the same way as it is in Europe and America.

What is Counselling?

Counselling takes place in a private and confidential setting to explore the difficultly or distress an individual may be experiencing. It may also be that their dissatisfaction is with their life, or loss of purpose or sense of direction. By listening attentively, the counsellor can begin to see the difficulties, from the other person’s point of view and help them to see things more clearly and possibly from a different perspective.

Counselling is a method of exploring alternatives and does not involve giving advice or directing the individual to take a particular course of action. A counsellor’s role is not to judge but provide the opportunity for the person to diffuse feelings such as anger, anxiety and grief.

In this context, it is essential that counsellors would need to have a full understanding and appreciation of the cultural differences of the region.

The business case

Most of us work at a frenetic pace and sometimes the pressure that comes with this can get in the way of our day to day performance. In industry, if employees are not working effectively or they are experiencing too much pressure, they are probably costing the organisation a good deal of money in terms of lost productivity and poor performance. It is possible for a business to lose its best talent because no-one recognised the signs that an individual was not coping effectively. And even if stress-related incidents were identified, there were no systems in place to help the situation.

Although we may all have personal, or relationship issues, there are few managers who see it as their role to listen to an employee’s domestic problems. In fact, however, this maybe a rather short-sighted policy because if home problems are getting in the way of the employee working effectively, then it does become a managerial issue that needs to be addressed.

Counselling as an intervention

The aim of a counselling intervention is as a preventative tool that will work alongside more formal management interventions. HR would usually be the gatekeeper for the service and if an employee needed counselling support, they would go to HR in the first instance, or there could be a referral from their manager.

The types of problems that a counsellor should be able to help with could be anything ranging from challenges at work to personal issues at home. One can affect the other. A professional counselling intervention is certainly the answer to diffusing stress-related issues in the workplace, and such a referral facility needs to be a part of the HR function.

Employees need to be reassured, however, that the service is confidential and reportage does not go back to management. It should also not be seen as a weakness on the part of an employee who wishes to be referred for help and support — in fact in many ways, it is a sign of forward thinking.

Organisations grow through the people who work for them. When individuals have problems, or are experiencing stress, then their productivity declines. They become preoccupied with their problems and can distract others in the workplace which can ultimately also affect the general morale. The sooner these problems can be rectified, the better it is for the organisation.

For example, sickness absence can cost an organisation an enormous amount of money, and conflict within a department can reduce efficiency and destroy morale. The effects of a bereavement at home can be reduced and shortened when appropriate support is available.

Counselling in the workplace is a resource that has been proven cost-effective. This service has been working highly successfully in the UK for more than 30 years and I believe that its availability in the UAE would be a distinct benefit.

Key Points

1. Counselling is always confidential

2. It offers the client different perspectives

3. Personal issues can benefit from professional help

The author is a BBC Guest-Broadcaster and Motivational Speaker. She is CEO of an international Stress Management consultancy and her new book, ‘Show Stress Who’s Boss!’ is available in all good bookshops.