Ethics in Workplace Coaching

Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Scott Tuning

Scott has been a faculty member in higher education for over 10 years. He holds an MBA in Management, an MA in counseling, and an M.Div. in Academic Biblical Studies.

Workplace coaching is a beneficial practice that can improve employee performance, however there are ethical considerations. Explore common ethical coaching issues, including confidentiality, ongoing dependency, and setting boundaries. Updated: 01/24/2022

Common Coaching Ethical Issues

By its nature, professional coaching places two individuals with a substantial power difference in close proximity. Professional relationships that involve power differences, delicate confidentiality issues, and a fair degree of co-dependence are sure to raise ethical challenges. Professional coaching is subject to these challenges as well. Let's take a look at some hypothetical and real-world examples of ethical dilemmas that can occur during a professional coaching process.

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  • 0:04 Common Coaching Ethical Issues
  • 0:33 The Purpose of…
  • 1:07 Confidentiality
  • 2:13 Ongoing Dependency
  • 3:09 Professional Boundaries
  • 3:58 Lesson Summary
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The Purpose of Professional Coaching

Ethical issues that are diagnostic in nature can occur when the stated goal of the coaching process is different from the underlying one. Left uncorrected, ethical dilemmas of this nature ultimately degrade into a case in which the motives of one or both of the parties are no longer honest or transparent. It's all too common to see professional coaching prescribed as a way to bring about an involuntary separation when a termination is needed. While professional coaching can and does make a difference in performance, professional coaching shouldn't be a disciplinary measure.


Virtually all coaching scenarios will, at one point or another, deal with the issue of confidentiality. In coaching relationships, there is a delicate balance in the environment of transparency and confidentiality. When performed ethically, professional coaching is not transparent, but it is not entirely confidential. In other words, the entire world doesn't have to see the mistakes of the individual being coached, but the coach cannot ethically commit to maintain complete confidentiality because of situations in which the rights or well-being of others is at stake.

Let's look at an example. Throughout much of the 20th century, the Catholic Church faced a firestorm of controversy related to allegations that priests who had been accused of child sex abuse were placed in coaching programs as a means of restoring them to ministry. These programs were designed to allow priests to privately confess any inappropriate actions they had engaged in, and offered some the chance to be reinstated if they completed the coaching requirements. This was an unethical use of the normally ethical principle of confidentiality.

Ongoing Dependency

Professional coaching should be viewed as a task or a journey that leads to a defined endpoint. Ethical issues arise regarding dependency when the coaching relationship is no longer teaching someone how to do the job better, but has instead created a situation in which the coach is functioning like a client or a supervisor. Such an arrangement is unethical and fails to meet the objectives of a professional coaching program.

Let's look at an example. When new physicians fresh out of medical school wish to engage in complex specialties like surgery, they often experience years of professional coaching after they leave school to learn more and more about their field. However, there is a definite end, a point at which the coaching must stop. Ethical dilemmas can develop when individuals being coached fail to develop their own skill set and continue to rely on their coach to make decisions or perform tasks for which they should be fully equipped.

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