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Effective Coping Strategies for Employees: Learning to Reframe and Mix in Some Humor

Positive cognitive reframing has long been an effective tool for coping and building resilience

As the saying goes, “To err is human.” We all experience small errors and mishaps throughout our daily lives. These setbacks are no fun, often complicating our day, our work, and adding to stress levels.

Even though stress can have a very real impact on employees physically, it often begins as a mental process. When facing life’s setbacks, the way employees view the experience can either intensify—or minimize—the resulting stress response.

In a study at the University of Kent, researchers set out to determine which strategies were more effective for dealing with small failures and setbacks. Specifically, they looked for those strategies that helped people keep up their spirits and feel more satisfied after the fact.

For the study, participants completed daily diary reports detailing the most troubling setback they experienced during the day, what strategies they used to cope, and how they felt at the end of the day. Coping strategies included self-distraction, denial, venting, positive reframing, humor, and acceptance.

Those using strategies like venting, self-distraction, and denial reported poorer mood and satisfaction as a result. The more subjects employed these coping strategies, the worse their moods and satisfaction levels at the end of the day. 

In contrast, those who employed positive reframing, acceptance, and humor to cope with setbacks all reported positive effects on mood and satisfaction. And, the more of these techniques the subjects applied to the situation, the more satisfied and happier they felt at the end of the day.

These findings held true for all participants, even those with high levels of perfectionism.  That was surprising to researchers because those with perfectionist standards tend to be dissatisfied no matter what they achieve. Yet, when coping through positive reframing, they too reported high levels of mood and satisfaction. 

Can these coping strategies—so effective in the study—be applied to daily life? Mental health experts think so. Positive cognitive reframing has long been an effective tool for coping and building resilience. So, the next time an employee experiences a setback, you might want to offer one of these coping techniques for them to try:

Positive Reframing

The goal is to adjust your viewpoint of an experience to see it in a more positive light, vs. ruminating about any negative aspects. When something goes wrong, try focusing on what was achieved, or look for some useful lesson or meaning in the situation. For example, if you rushed to the bus stop this morning, but still missed the bus, you might:

  1. Take a moment to be grateful you live in a city where another bus will be coming along shortly.
  2. Use the experience as motivation to set your alarm earlier tomorrow and to keep your hand off the snooze button. 
  3.  Adopt a different bedtime routine for a better nights’ sleep to make it easier to wake in time for the bus each morning.


Rather than dwelling on what happened and beating yourself up over it, try accepting it without judgment by applying these steps:

  1. Acknowledge that the outcome wasn’t what you wanted, but that it is over with and can’t be changed.
  2. Breathe through feelings of frustration or anger, observing them mindfully and letting them pass. 
  3.  If feelings persist, consider how getting stuck in the situation can only make it worse, not better and that by choosing to accept the situation, you can move forward.

Find the Humor

This technique is a little less scientific as there isn’t always a stepwise way to find humor in a frustrating situation. Still, if we’re able to find something to laugh at in our little slip ups, it can help us to reduce any lingering bad feelings and let go.

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