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Cope or Quit: How coping skills play a role in turnover

Posted by Deb Muoio

Jan 28, 2016 4:44:55 PM


It’s hard to find a job that doesn’t involve at least some degree of stress. Even the people who dress up as cartoon characters at Disneyland have to deal with hot weather and the clamouring attention of children with potentially sticky, ice creamy fingers.

How well you cope with a stressful situation depends a great deal on your perception of it – a perception pieced together from all of your past experiences of dealing with life’s hardships.

Simply put, if you view a situation at work as extremely stressful to the point where you can barely cope, chances are you will feel hopeless, helpless, and at a loss as to how to get through it (if you even manage to get through it at all). People who are not equipped with healthy coping skills tend to default to unhealthy coping strategies, like denial, isolating themselves, blaming (or taking out) their problems on others, or finding comfort/distraction in detrimental habits (e.g. overeating, drinking etc.).

How does this relate to turnover? It means that an inability to cope with stress places an employee in a seemingly impossible situation with only one way out: Quitting. It’s as simple as that…stress causes the “fight or flight” reaction. If you cannot use effective methods to “fight” the situation, your survival instinct kicks in and brings you to the realization that the only way out of the situation is to flee, either literally or figuratively. This also means that people who don’t have strong coping skills may actually be setting themselves up for turnover.

Here is what data from our Turnover Probability Test reveals:

  • 23% of people with poor coping skills have quit more than one job (compared to 7% of those with excellent coping skills).
  • 25% go into a new job viewing their supervisor in a negative light (compared to 10% of those with excellent coping skills).
  • 41% cannot function under the pressure of a tight deadline (compared to 13% of people with excellent coping skills).
  • 52% tend to be short-tempered (compared to 10% of people with excellent coping skills).
  • 64% have a tendency to get discouraged easily (compared to 12% of people with excellent coping skills).
  • 70% have difficulty adapting to change (compared to 30% of those with excellent coping skills).
  • 84% struggle to bounce back from failure (compared to 21% of people with excellent coping skills).
  • 86% have difficulty unwinding at the end of a tough work day (compared to 33% of people with excellent coping skills).

Reasons for quitting

Our study on turnover also reveals that the quality of an employee’s coping skills dictates why they would choose to quit a job. For example:

Top three reasons why people with healthy coping skills have quit a job:

  1. They moved on to what they felt was a better job opportunity
  2. They felt they were being treated unfairly by management
  3. They didn’t see any potential for growth or advancement in the company.
Top three reasons why people with poor coping skills have quit a job:
  1. They were frustrated with office politics (e.g. gossip, favoritism, nepotism, backstabbing, etc.)
  2. They felt that the work environment was toxic
  3. They also wanted to move on to a better opportunity.

This isn’t to say that a good employee is someone who will cope with harassment, a micromanaging leader, or other stress-inducing problems with a smile on their face. Even employees with good coping skills know that sometimes, the best way to deal with a stressful situation is to get out of it. However, what our research does indicate is that strong coping skills are likely to act as a buffer against work stressors that are common to nearly all jobs. Employees who can cope with stress are better able to adjust to challenging work situations, and are less likely to see quitting as their only option.

Coping tips

Here are some tips that can help you improve your coping skills:

  • Evaluate the source of stress. Is it something that you can control, or is it out of your hands? It's important to gauge the controllability of a problem so you can target the best response. If the problem is something that you can change, then information-seeking, changing the way you think about the problem and other problem-based coping methods can be useful. If it seems out of your hands, however, it may be better to learn to live with the stressful situation using emotion-based coping methods, such as seeking social support, distracting yourself, or finding healthy outlets to release negative emotions.
  • Snap shut the rumination trap. Over-thinking problems in your life and allowing them to take over your thoughts can make an issue seem even more overwhelming. If you find yourself obsessing over a problem at work, make an effort to stop those thoughts in their tracks. Get some fresh air, switch to an engrossing task, or have a quick chat with a colleague.
  • Take pleasure in the small victories. Even the most challenging occupations have moments when you can stop and savor a job well done, a person helped, or a difficult task accomplished. By stopping for a moment to reflect on and savor your accomplishments, you may begin to feel more satisfied with the work you're doing. It doesn't matter whether you consider your accomplishment minor (e.g. getting to work on time) or major (e.g. signing an important deal). All accomplishments contribute to your success overall and should be celebrated as such.
  • Know the benefits of having an internal locus of control. Although taking responsibility for your actions may sometimes result in disappointment and a slightly bruised ego (like when you accept blame for a failure), it also leads to greater self-motivation and a more proactive attitude towards life. People who feel that they have control over the outcome of their actions are more likely to take ownership of their behavior and to take life by the proverbial horns. Rather than waiting for things to happen, go out there and create your own opportunities.
  • Eliminate unhelpful "cognitive shortcuts." Cognitive shortcuts are ways of thinking and viewing the world that can turn into an unhealthy habit - often without realizing it. For example, you might automatically blame the fact that you haven't had a raise on your boss' stinginess or a slow economy. You might think, "There's nothing I can do to change this situation." Unfortunately, these negative thoughts can turn into self-fulfilling prophecies. You may become disengaged, and put only a half-hearted effort into your work which, if anything, will only prove to your boss that you don't deserve a raise to begin with! Stop such cognitive shortcuts in their tracks. First, learn to recognize when you slip into a cognitive shortcut, figure out the assumptions that guide the faulty reasoning, challenge them and then try to put things into perspective. Rather than falling into a pattern of "woe-is-me" thinking, use your mental prowess to find practical, common sense solutions to the problems you are experiencing.

Stayed tuned for the next installment of the stress series in which we cover ways to reduce stress at work.
If you’re interested in using COSA - R2 (Coping Skills Assessment - 2nd Revision) or other assessments, request a free trial for ARCH Profile here.

Want to learn more about using psychological tests for hiring, leadership development, career development or talent retention? Download our free eBook loaded with down-to-earth information about psychological testing for HR purposes.

Request your free trial of ARCH Profile!

Topics: Wellbeing at Work, Retention, Employee Wellbeing, stress, Turnover

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