Why strengths coaching when employees return to work from maternity, sick leave and other breaks?

Whilst I was peeling carrots last Sunday my daughter reflected on how happy she is that she’s been allowed to drop GCSE Spanish. She’d fallen behind in Y9 after three months medical leave and I mused that it was a shame because she’d always seemed to enjoy it. “No,” came the reply. I was good at it, but I didn’t enjoy it.” In Strengths Psychology speak this is a ‘learned behaviour’ – something that you’re good at but don’t find energising (at best) and might even feel drained by.


What is a strength?

A ‘strength’ as defined by Dr Alex Linley, the developer of a psychometric called Strengths Profile, is “a pre-existing capacity for a particular way of behaving, thinking, or feeling that is authentic and energising to the user, and enables optimal functioning, development, and performance.” Note that word energising. A strength is only a strength of you’re good at it and you feel good when you use it. The Strengths Profile tool distinguishes between Realised and Unrealised Strengths: Realised Strengths are ones you’re making regular use of and Unrealised Strengths are those you never or rarely use in comparison to your Realised Strengths.

Why and when do we use Strength Profile?

When we’re working with coachees on our Comeback Community employee experience programme we invite them to complete Strengths Profile and have a debrief on their profile just before they return to work. It’s a great way to get them connecting with what they are good at and recalling past successes at work. This way our coachees usually feel more ready, able and energised for their return from maternity, sick, shared parental other leave from work.

What are some examples of strengths?

In the Strengths Profile tool there are 60 possible strengths that could appear in your profile. Here are some examples:

  • Action – You feel compelled to act immediately and decisively, being keen to learn as you go.
  • Compassion – You really care about others, doing all you can to help and sympathise.
    Detail – You naturally focus on the small things that others easily miss, ensuring accuracy.
  • Humility – You are happy to stay in the background, giving others credit for your contributions.
  • Personal Responsibility – You take ownership of your decisions and hold yourself accountable for your promises.
  • Strategic Awareness – You pay attention to the wider context and bigger picture to inform your decisions.
  • Time Optimiser – You maximise your time, to get the most out of whatever time you have available. (Interesting side note: when the Strengths Profile team analysed 21,000 profiles in March 2021 they found Time Optimiser to be the most frequently occurring Weakness. It appeared in 48% of profiles).

What happens if I’m not using my Strengths at work?

You’re probably not performing as well or feeling as good as you could. Research by the team at Cappfinity (the organisation behind Strengths Profile) finds that when managers emphasised performance strengths, performance was 36.4% higher, compared to a 26.8% decline when emphasising weaknesses. Some more benefits of focussing on strengths at work:

  • People who use their strengths more reported lower levels of stress over both 3 and 6 month periods.
  • Increased use of strengths correlates with mindfulness which can help control stress and counter depression. (Jarden, Jose, Kashdan, Simpson, McLachlan and Mackenzie, 2012).
  • Strengths use supports goal attainment: Strengths alignment increases the setting of personally meaningful goals. (Madden, Green and Grant, 2011).
  • Strengths use is a good predicator of workplace engagement and people who use their strengths at work are six times more engaged. (Harter, Schmidt and Hayes, 2002, and Gallup, 2012).

Can strengths help me find my work more enjoyable?

YES and let me tell you about Unrealised Strengths in particular. I’ve had many coachees returning from maternity leave who tell me they stayed in a job they would otherwise have moved on from if it hadn’t been for trying to get pregnant or being pregnant. Strengths Profile distinguishes between ‘realised’ and unrealised’ strengths: strengths you’re already making quite a bit of use of and strengths that you’re not using much if at all. The Unrealised Strengths quadrant is a box of delights when it comes to helping coachees who are bored/tired/less enthusiastic about their role than they might be. Considering how you can make use of Unrealised Strengths in your work can freshen up how you’re feeling and bring a new angle or interest. You’re bringing novelty into your role when you use strengths you’ve neglected or when you consciously use a Realised Strength in a new way.

Why is the world’s most frequently occurring Strength a problem?

When the Strengths Profile team analysed 21,000 profiles in March 2021 they found Humility to be the most frequently occurring Realised Strength. It appeared in this quadrant on 57% of profiles. (The most commonly occurring Unrealised Strength was innovation, defined as “approaching things in ingenious ways, coming up with new and different approaches”). Whilst humility can be a wonderful strength, we need to be cautious of the potential downsides of not owning, celebrating and communicating our contributions, which can include:

  • Other people getting the invitations and opportunities that are deservedly yours.
  • Your perspective/knowledge/help not being sought.
  • Resentment when your contributions aren’t recognised.
  • Direct reports modelling your behaviour and experiencing the same downsides.
  • And one study found that if a team members feel their boss is being humble towards them because they are an exceptional employee, this can lead to a sense of entitlement and ‘deviant’ behaviour (see Qin & Chen et al, 2020).

If humility is one of your top strengths I invite you to share some of your achievements (that you’ve written in your What’s Gone Well? journal, if you’re one of our coachees 😉) with a team mate or two this coming week.

In HR? Comeback Community employee experience for returning employees

COMEBACK COACH is one part of a broader package of support that we call the Comeback Community employee experience. It’s a blend of online resources, coaching, live expert Q&As, career development tools and line manager support that we deliver in organisations such as CIPD, Lily’s Kitchen, GAM Investments, Federated Hermes, FDM and more. Drop us a line and let’s set up a time to talk: hello@talentkeepers.co.uk.

Returning to work? Comeback Community employee experience for you

You dear Bright Mind are the best possible person to help make the return to work experience where you work, a better one. There’s a simple, straightforward and quick way you can help us to start a conversation with your HR team. Just visit www.comebackcommunity.co.uk/introduce, fill a few boxes and leave the rest to us. And you can join us on Instagram @comebackcommuk for daily inspiration to keep you feeling confident, connected and cared for throughout your leave and return to work.

Until next time,
Stay Bright.