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Introduction to Employee Counseling

Human resource management was not a very popular discipline in the earlier part of the last century. Managers at that time viewed labour force as a commodity to be bought or sold like any other commodity. This type of management was probably effective at its time. But it proved to be short-lived, which is evident from the ever-increasing importance of what is now called “Human Resource Management”.

Human Resource Management is the part of the organization that is concerned with ‘the people’ dimension, consisting of staff support and function in the organization. Every organization is comprised of people (Hoque, 2000:17) and deals with acquiring their services, developing their skills, motivating them to high levels of performance. Getting and keeping good people is critical to the success of every organization.

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One important aspect of human resource management is to continuously monitor and maintain employee performance. Improving employee performance is important both to the employee themselves and to the organization. It makes sense to have a healthy high performing workforce as not only does it create happier individuals who provide quality service but also their contribution to drive and achieve set organizational objectives.

Workplace Counseling may focus on work performance but its emphasis is more on a problem-solving approach, which is concerned with the discussion and analysis of problems and issues that affect employees work performance in an attempt to find solutions.

There seems to be ever-increasing importance could it be because mangers have suddenly woken up to the fact that it helps to retain valuable employees, or because people are more prone to problems than ever before. The correct answer would be a combination of both. In the face of increasing employee turnover and escalating recruitment/training costs, many managers find counselling a better alternative to retaining troubled employees by helping them resolve problems.

Counselling is also used for other potential problem areas in an organization such as career planning and development or to help employees prepare for implementing changes such as retirement, changes caused by health, stress, conflict etc.

Work and careers are important aspects of society and we live in a society where the rate of change appears to be accelerating. Career counselling helps people of all ages to make appropriate and realistic career choices. Job seekers who are having trouble deciding what they want in a career and needing direction whether it is about their current job activities or deciding on a course of study can receive assistance through career counselling.

A counsellor’s approach is based on measurement, through testing, of the employee’s aptitudes and interests followed by a recommendation made by the counsellor on occupation, which provides a match in terms of the aptitudes and interests required. (Nathan et al, 1992: 20).

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Career counselling is directed towards helping employees first to acquire greater freedom of choice in their occupational lives, secondly to develop their capacity to make such choices effectively and finally to manage their occupation – relation problems. But as Nathan and Hills point out it is a process, which enables people to recognize and utilize their resources to make career-related decisions and manage career-related problems (Nathan et al, 1992:2-3). Although this focuses on the work-related part of an employees life, it also takes into account the interdependence of career and non – career considerations.

Career counselling is normally available for those who want it and who pays for it or who may have access to it without paying (Feltham, 1997:72). Those individuals who may be able to get it without paying would include employees being offered free career counselling by their employers (where the counselling on offer may be provided by line management, the personnel function, an employee counselling service or independent consultants) and trainees on trainee courses.

Organizations around the worlds are beginning to establish Employment Assistant Programs (EAPs), which can be cost-effective and provide professional, confidential and a broad range of counselling services for supporting employees and their families. Till the 1960s the main focus was only on alcohol and drug-related problems, which was a probable reason for the limited success of the program.

However, during the 1960s, 1970s and the 1980’s the advent of Employment Assistant programs was aimed at solving a broad range of problems, which could explain its rate of success. Other changes were taking place with the EAPs provision that more closely ally counselling with organization culture, management and performance appraisals.

EAPs being the most visible form of counselling provision were set up as either internal or external services portrayed by Hoskinson (1994:10). Today companies who utilize counselling provision whether external or internal tend to combine counselling with a broad range of other helpful facilities and see it as a helpful model of organizational change and not just an aid to individuals within the organization.

Employers offer career help to their staff for example career development workshops for women, helping with job-hunting for people who are being made redundant, retirement planning services and career counselling sessions with a personnel officer.

However, there are difficulties involved in providing help, which is independent, and client-centred rather than organization centred. On the other hand, there are independent services staffed by specialist career counsellors, occupational psychologists and counselling psychologists, for people with career-related dissatisfactions.

The staff could go to the on-site career counsellor and let rip about anything, from how they hate their job to how they could take the boss’s place. Employers are convinced it is a small price to pay to ensure that staff give their best. If employees don’t show initiative and perform badly the organization will suffer. Counselling is meant to enable people to do as the world changes around them and improves the morale of the workforce because it shows concern for staff. More tangibly it enables employers to gain from their staffs’ hidden talents and interests.

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Golzen and Garner (1990) have surveyed some of the changes in career and work patterns. They note, following Peter Drucker (1969), that what employers are primarily selling to employees are knowledge and skills, and that such knowledge is either relevant to the task in hand, or irrelevant. Traditional expectations of employer-employee loyalty no longer match current realities or can be expected to do so.

Despite the advantages of workplace counselling, criticism has been made levelled at introducing counselling as part of workplace life. Some see it as becoming part of the politics of the organization and used by factors for their own ends (Carroll, 1996:19). There is no doubt that politics play a large part in work-life and, given the opportunity, certain individuals and departments would make capital out of owing or not owing to the counselling service.

Some organizations predetermine the approach such as length of time employees can be seen (for eg four to six sessions), or by insisting that assessments are first made by a psychologist before referral to the counsellor. This again may be a point out of lack of clarity about the precise aims and objectives of workplace counselling. This could be viewed as a strength rather than a weakness as it allows for flexibility for counsellors, particularly adaptation to an organization and a multiplicity of approaches that widens than restricts choices.

Another criticism of counselling is its way of managing emotions where it could be viewed as a method of organizational social control dictating to individual’s employees which emotions are permissible and which are not within the organization. In some organizations, there is a great deal of anxiety that going for counselling will be seen as a weakness that will take its toll on career and promotion. However, counselling helps employees deal with emotions that ought to be more appropriately directed outwards towards career progress.

Organizations are changing rapidly, that staff must be more flexible in what they do – for example in moving from retail to marketing and is also an opportunity for the organization to tell the employee how they need to adapt to changes such as new technology. The employer can identify the skills needed and work out whether they can be developed in – house or whether they should be brought in.

However, as a result, employees cannot expect to move automatically to more senior positions as there is more opportunity for development, but less for promotion. Some of the technology giants have used career counselling to help employees to adapt to change (Pamelia, 2001)


While counsellors are concerned with human tasks of listening to and address individual struggles, managers struggle to get things done and do so efficiently. Employers are turning to counsel as one way of helping to manage the mammoth changes taking place in organizations.

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Change is never easy: it disrupts, disorientates, causes grievances and takes time. Support is needed for employees and teams as a transition in organizations are managed.

Employees do not leave their problems aside as they turn to face their working day. Eventually, the organization will face the financial costs of psychological and social problems. Counselling helps employees to deal with a variety of problems and if left unattended may and do affect performance in the working environment, a variety of which may lead to employee termination. If they successfully practice it they can cut down on costs associated with recruitment and training.

More and more organizations are becoming aware that existing employees are truly their best assets and acknowledge the fact many employees seek to understand their personal characteristics, strengths and weaknesses which would help them meet and satisfy their future development needs that would satisfy their short and long term financial objectives.


Brott .E. P., The Career Development – The Storied Approach: A Postmodern Perspective for Career Counseling. Alexandria, June 2001

Carroll .M., Workplace Counseling. London: Sage Publication Ltd, 1996

Drucker .P., The Age of Discontinuity. London: Heinemann, 1969

Feltham .C., The Gains of Listening – Perspectives on Counseling At Work. Bristol: The editor and contributors, 1997

Golgen .G. and Garner .A., Smart Moves. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1990

Herr .E. L., Career Counseling – A Process in Process. British Journal of Guidance and Counseling, 25, 81– 93, 1997

Hoque .K., Human Resource Management in the Hotel Industry – Strategy, Innovation and Performance. London: Routledge, 2000

Hoskinson .L., ‘EAPs: Internal versus External Service Structures. The Key Differences and Potential Synergies’, Germany: Paper Presented at the European EAP Conference, Augsburg, October 1994

Nankervis .R. A., Compton .R.L. McCarthy .T. E., Strategic Human Resource Management, 3rd Edition. Melbourne: Nelson Thomas Learning, 1999

Nathan .R. and Hill .L., Career Counseling. London: Sage Publication Ltd, 1992

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