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The future of online behavioural interventions in the workplace

To work in a more goal-oriented way, to improve performance, to develop as a leader or to find out whether you are still in the right place; increasingly organisations facilitate the dialogue around these developmental needs. For some years now also online interventions - that are supported by digital means - are widely offered (e-counselling, e-coaching, Apps). How effective and usable are all these different online interventions and tools in this respect? 

From traditional therapy, counselling and coaching to online guidance

In the newly published handbook “The psychology of work and health” by Wilmar Schauffeli and  Arnold Bakker, eCoachPro colleagues Alexander Waringa, Anne Ribbers and Jantine van Soolingen wrote a chapter on how coaching, therapy and counselling have paved the way for online interventions. Based on this book chapter we have written an English whitepaper. In this article a sneak preview and more information on how to receive this whitepaper.

According to research agency Technavio, the market for 'soft skills' training will grow by 10% a year to 25 billion dollars worldwide by 2020 (Technavio, 2016). Expenditure on individual coaching also continues to grow annually and, according to the International Coach Federation (ICF), currently is[1] around 2.5 billion euros a year worldwide (International Coach Federation, ICF, 2016). 

 [1] International Coach Federation (ICF):

Counselling expert

Within counselling and coaching, the counselling expert (coach or counsellor) plays a crucial and determining role. As a result, these types of interventions are quite labour-intensive and therefore relatively expensive. E-coaching and e-counselling are types of coaching and counselling in which the counsellor and employee no longer need to meet at a location. The intervention takes place remotely and online. Today, there are also online interventions now in which little or no intervention is required from the counselling professional. These are apps and online programmes in which an employee can work on his development journey entirely independently.

Schaufeli eCoachPro

Role of coach or counsellor 

This figure shows how the role of a coach or counsellor differs according to the complexity of a development question or desired behavioural change. The more complex certain development issues are, or the more extensive the desired behavioural change is, the more intensive the guidance and support from the coach or counsellor should be. In the case of very serious case histories or a psychological disorder for which short-term counselling is not sufficient (e.g. post-traumatic stress disorder), referral to a psychotherapy therapist is recommended. Within a therapy framework, there is more room for long-term individual counselling and treatment. 

Workplace counselling / coaching 

  • Workplace counselling is the provision of brief (short-term) psychological therapy for employees of an organisation, which is paid for by the employer (McLeod & Henderson, 2003). An example is an employee who has lost a family member and after a while is still so intensely sad that he cannot work. A counsellor can help this staff member with mourning and guide them to return to work. 
  • Workplace coaching is a useful intervention when there is no obvious problem but a desire for development, for example when an employee wants to increase his personal effectiveness, acquire certain skills or reflect on his career. In traditional face-to-face coaching, coach and client work towards a goal in several conversational sessions.
  • Within workplace counselling and workplace coaching, the expert (coach or counsellor) plays an important role. As a result, these types of intervention are quite labour-intensive and therefore relatively expensive. 
  • Workplace e-coaching and e-counselling are types of coaching and counselling in which there is no need for the coach or counsellor and employee to physically meet. The support takes place entirely remotely and online. Nowadays, there are even online interventions in which little or no support is required from the professional. These are apps and online programmes in which an employee can work on his development inquiry entirely independently.


Since the 1980s, an important development has taken place that has influenced the possibilities for counsellors and clients to be in contact with each other: digitisation. With the development of the internet, the ability to store a lot of data (in the "cloud") and the dizzying growth in the number of mobile devices, people can be in contact with each other anywhere and anytime (Waringa & Ribbers, 2018). 

Therefore it’s logical that these developments also have an effect in the world of personal and professional development. Digital resources are increasingly being used to replace certain elements in the face-to-face guidance process. Five categories can be distinguished regarding digitisation in the guidance process (Kool, Timmer, & Van Est, 2013). These categories can be represented on the basis of two factors: degree of digitisation of the coach and degree of digitisation of the client (see figure 3). This results in the following five categories (Kool et al., 2013).


  1. No digitisation: the coach and client meet face-to-face at regular intervals.
  2. Digitisation of communications: the communication about the guidance takes place online and sometimes asynchronously. 
  3. Digitalisation of the coach: guidance is offered digitally, without the intervention of a person (human coach). 
  4. Digitisation of the client: measuring instruments are used to gather information about the physical and mental condition of the client. Such physical measurements can provide extra insight into the client's situation and progress.
  5. Autonomous e-coach: in this scenario, the coach's tasks are taken over by an autonomous ICT system and the data collection from the client is fully automated.

E-coaching and e-counselling

Digitising communication and supporting various coaching activities online changes the way a coach or counsellor shapes the coaching engagement. This is expressed in the definition of e-coaching below:

"E-coaching is a non-hierarchical development partnership in which there is physical distance in the communication, and the learning and reflection process takes place both in the analogue and digital spheres” 
(Ribbers & Waringa, 2012).

This definition shows that e-coaching is a form of coaching in which part of the coaching has been digitised. As a result, coach and client no longer need to come together and can communicate remotely. When integrating text based coaching to the dialogue, this offers the possibility to realise many more contact moments, for example several times in one week which reinforces the learning curve of the coachee.  

More information and/or questions?

This article is an abridged version of the book chapter "The future of behavioural interventions in the workplace" from the handbook "The psychology of work and health". If you are interested in the full article/book chapter, please respond by sending an e-mail to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Or by responding to our LinkedIn post using #futureproof.

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