The Hidden Toll of Microstress | Harvard Business Review

Leadership & Culture

As pointed out in my one-page summary on 2023 talent priorities according to seven sources, employee wellbeing (EWB) is a growing focus for many firms. While organizations have programs and initiatives to support EWB (e.g., wellness programs), one often overlooked driver of employee wellbeing is: reducing or eliminating sources of stress related to ways of working. This article by Rob Cross and Karen Dillon—authors of the forthcoming book, The Microstress Effect: How Little Things Pile Up and Create Big Problems–and What to Do About It (April 18, 2023)—share ideas for identifying and mitigating these sources of stress in organizations. They define microstressors as “individual stressors that seem manageable at the moment, but they accrue, and they can create ripple effects of secondary and sometimes tertiary consequences that can last for hours or days — and even trigger microstress in others.” The accumulation of these unnoticed small events ultimately affects employee well-being. The article addresses various angles of this topic, including different microstressors in the workplace, such as misalignment between collaborators on their roles or priorities or unpredictable behavior from a person in a position of authority. It includes a diagnostic to determine which of the 14 microstressors might be part of the work environment. Leadership teams can use the tool to identify opportunities for improving the work environment, organizational performance, and employee wellbeing.