Sue Pressman, ACA’s 69th president

Being compassionate, listening to others and showing empathy are hallmarks of people who connect and find success in relationships, including those forged in the workplace. This month, I would like to focus on developing healthy workplace relationships.

Before the coronavirus pandemic shut down offices worldwide, much of the work performed in all industries with clients, customers, co-workers and colleagues was done in person. However, as the pandemic began to spread, travel and safety restrictions altered how we connect, interact and achieve results. The world of work has changed dramatically. Videoconferencing platforms have become the replacement for in-person interaction. 

In light of our current work reality, I asked several career/employment counseling practitioners three open-ended questions. Tom Ayala, Kay Brawley, Lynn Downie, Bill Fenson, Michael Lazarchick, Lisa Severy and Karol Taylor provided their insights and perspectives. All of these practitioners are past presidents of ACA divisions or branches. I have identified and highlighted some of the common themes across their responses.


What makes work relationships work?

1) Understanding the culture of the workplace.

2) Experiencing mutual support and respect among employees and supervisors.

3) Focusing on the success of the organization’s mission and purpose.

4) Celebrating individual successes by the team and avoiding competition.

5) Embracing and sharing the different work styles of team members.

6) Showing empathy and celebrating each individual’s diverse strengths.

7) Developing trust, creating safe spaces, and encouraging openness and flexibility.

8) Empowering employees.

9) Creating opportunities for individual colleagues and teams to connect and network.


What techniques help clients overcome challenges connected to workplace relationships?

1) Communication is key. Sometimes, engaging a third person can be helpful when communication has broken down.

2) Helping clients build a strong self-understanding by getting in touch with their authentic self to eliminate self-defeating behaviors.

3) Visualizing the perspective from the other person’s point of view. This might involve developing scenarios and story writing.

4) Discussing the concept of managing upward and supporting your clients’ efforts to develop new self-affirming habits and behaviors.

5) Enhancing self-esteem. This helps clients to feel good, reduces their anger and decreases the likelihood of them becoming overly critical or striking out at others.

6) Actively listening to clients’ stories, clarifying these stories, reframing these stories and exploring new options for growth opportunities.

7) Exploring what wellness means to clients.

8) Encouraging self-care and striving for work-life balance to help build tolerance.

9) Helping clients realize that staying and bearing the burden may not always be the best choice.


What are one or two of the most important skills that career/employment counselors need to
be successful?

1) Empathy.

2) Openness and active listening.

3) A basic understanding and awareness of the labor market and future trends.

4) Encouragement and positivity.

5) The modeling of adaptability and flexibility.

6) The ability to help clients assess who they are, what strengths they bring to the workplace, what they want to do and where they want to work.

7) The ability to solidify a strong therapeutic alliance.

8) The ability to facilitate personal growth and identity building.

9) The ability to listen and reflect to let clients know that you heard what was said and then to suggest unbiased alternatives that allow clients to make choices.


The intersectionality of career and employment counseling with mental wellness has never been clearer. As we look over the themes that are applicable to the workplace, most if not all of them can be applied in any counseling setting. To quote ACA past President Simone Lambert,
“Career counseling will be so important in 2021.”


“The secret to change is to focus all of your energy, not on fighting the old, but on building the new.” — Socrates

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