One of the most difficult challenges for a business owner is increasing employee productivity and improving performance, especially when you don't have management experience. You can easily find yourself at odds with employees if you approach a situation in the wrong vein.

Often when there is a possible mental health challenge impacting an employee's work, the first thing we think is that the employee needs to see a therapist, or counselor. However, you need to be clear about what is going on. You should be asking yourself whether the employee is just lacking skills that may impact his performance, rather than having a mental health challenge. And not all employees who have a mental health challenge need to see a counselor. Sometimes they need coaching.

It seems  tricky to distinguish whether an employee needs a coach or a counselor, but it's actually relatively easy. The main difference between coaching and counseling is how both are time driven. Basically, counseling is past-oriented while coaching is future-oriented. When considering what to do with that employee who has you pulling out your hair, here are two paths to consider:

Counseling is usually used to get at the heart of a pain or disease that disrupts the day-to-day activities of an individual. According to the American Counseling Association, professional counseling is a professional relationship that empowers diverse individuals, families, and groups to accomplish mental health, wellness, education, and career goals. Counselors work with clients on strategies to overcome obstacles and personal challenges they are facing. This is ordinarily accomplished by exploring one's past, including childhood, to determine what things, situations, thoughts, etc., that person has carried into adulthood.

Counseling typically deals with behaviors and thoughts that impact performance and productivity, as opposed to knowledge, skills, and abilities needed to improve performance and productivity. Counseling can be achieved in the workplace through an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) or through a private counseling practice. The cost can range from $50 to $250 depending on the counselor's experience and credentials. However, before seeing anyone, you should check with your insurance program to see who is within your network and how many visits you are allowed within a year.

The other side of the coin is coaching. Coaching is used to strengthen the knowledge, skills, and abilities of an employee. The main focus in coaching is to examine where you are and where you want to be. This basically means that time is spent looking forward and striving for future changes. According to the International Coaching Federation (ICF), coaching is defined as partnering with clients in a thought-provoking and creative process that inspires them to maximize their personal and professional potential. A coach establishes a close relationship with an employee to help him clarify his goals, which should align with his employer's expectations.

A coaching relationship can last anywhere from a few months to a couple of years. The cost of coaching runs the gamut based on certifications such as ICF, credentials, and experience. You can expect to pay anywhere from $150 to $400 for workplace coaching. There are several types of coaching, including life, career, transformational, executive and business coaching, with each having a different purpose and goal. What is most common in the workplace is executive, business, and career coaching for entrepreneurs and their employees.

If you have taken appropriate steps to changing the behavior and improving the 
output of an employee and you still aren't seeing the desired results, consider whether that employee needs counseling or coaching before you throw in the towel. You may find that they too want help but don't know how or where to get it. As a leader, provide them with the right path to a successful career.