Employees Cope Better When They Engage

Two of the ways to cope with stress are to engage or disengage. “Engagement coping aims to handle the stressor or emotions involved, whereas disengagement coping attempts to escape the stressor or emotions associated with it,” said Tuija Muhonen of the Centre for Work Life Studies at Malmo University in Sweden. “Engagement coping then includes both problem-focused and emotion-focused strategies, e.g. support seeking, acceptance and cognitive restructuring, whereas disengagement coping is focused on emotions with the aim of escaping feelings of distress, and includes strategies such as avoidance and denial.” Muhonen and Eva Torkelson of the Department of Psychology at Lund University, conducted a study on 136 Swedish municipal employees to determine which coping strategies were most effective. In addition to coping style, optimism has been shown to directly influence one’s ability to cope with stress. “People who are optimists have a propensity to use more problem-focused coping strategies, whereas pessimists are more prone to using denial or behavioral disengagement,” added Muhonen.

For their study, the team assessed how the participants coped under stress using the Brief COPE scale, which measures 14 specific techniques for handling stressful situations. They also evaluated all of the participants for optimism, psychological and physical well-being. They found that there was a direct link between coping strategy and well-being. “Active coping, emotional support, instrumental support, positive reframing, planning, humor and acceptance were correlated to better psychological well-being,” said the team. “Higher optimism was significantly related to active coping, emotional support, instrumental support, positive reframing and planning, whereas denial, behavioral disengagement and self- blame were related to lower optimism.” They added, “Only two of the coping strategies, namely denial and acceptance, acted as predictors of physical well-being. Denial was related to poorer physical well-being, whereas acceptance was related to better physical well-being.” The researchers believe their results have significant clinical implications and could have benefit workplace environments. They added, “Considering the high rate of stress in current working life, it is important to investigate further the effectiveness of disengagement and engagement coping in order to be able to strengthen coping capacity among employees.”

Muhonen, Tuija, and Eva Torkelson. “Exploring Coping Effectiveness and Optimism among Municipal Employees.” Psychology 2.6 (2011): 584-589. Print.

© Copyright 2011 by By Noah Rubinstein, LMFT, LMHC, therapist in Olympia, Washington. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • Justine


    October 15th, 2011 at 12:38 PM

    Well of course this seems like a real no brainer to me.
    If you are willing to engage in the situation then that means that you are willing to face it head on and deal with resolving it.
    Those who go through life disengaging, well, they have an issue with trying to bury their heads in the sand and hoping that it will go away.
    Sadly they have not learned that life does not always work this way.

  • Delores Stewart

    Delores Stewart

    October 15th, 2011 at 6:54 PM

    I couldn’t work in a job where it was run by a manager with a “just do as I say” mentality. I’m a questioner and always have been since I was a small child. If a working practice doesn’t make sense or I can see a better way to do it, I’ll ask why we do it that way. I’d be miserable if I couldn’t.

  • Abe Hyde

    Abe Hyde

    October 15th, 2011 at 7:00 PM

    Denial is pointless, as is avoidance. If you’re that unhappy at your work, say something! If it can’t be resolved, do the next best thing-leave and find another job. Eight hours a day is too long to be spending in a place you detest. You can be kinder to yourself than that. There are always, always options if you keep an open mind.

  • d.j.


    October 15th, 2011 at 7:03 PM

    Your boss can only stress you out if you allow it to happen. Don’t let them get to you. If you’re doing your job to the best of your ability, that’s the best you can give. However if you’re not, then think seriously about going that extra mile to please them. They are keeping a roof over your head and nobody is irreplaceable. Knowing you are doing your best will help the stress melt away.

  • Emily


    October 16th, 2011 at 10:29 PM

    While optimism is always a great thing,I think the better coping while engaging is just due to the fact that we’re considering workplace here.Would you rather engage and solve a problem or withdraw at the workplace.I don’t think too many of us have a choice!

  • Emmanuel Tucker

    Emmanuel Tucker

    October 16th, 2011 at 11:05 PM

    I see coworkers that do the same job as I do getting worked up all the time. As far as I’m concerned that’s a choice. I refuse to allow my job to stress me out. It’s a means to an end and nothing more. It helps me pay bills and care for my family. I go in, I work, I come home. It won’t ever take over my life!

  • jerome taylor

    jerome taylor

    October 17th, 2011 at 9:21 AM

    I think engaging not only helps you fix the problem but also gives you confidence and strength to face a similar situation again with a lot of self-belief…

    And running away from a problem is not going to make it vanish anyway.So that would only bring you down even further…

  • Angela


    October 18th, 2011 at 5:53 PM

    I have worked with people before who would adamantly disengage when they felt the leat bit slighted. I think that all of you can probably relate to a situation like that, in that it makes for a horrible work atmosphere for everyone. Not only is it bad for the employee who chooses to deal with work things like that but it makes it uncomfortable for everyone in the workplace. I guess I have always tried to be more of a team player than that and really don’t understand when co workers go out of their way to make things bad for everyone.

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