Workplace stress is an integral part of everyone’s life. No matter how much you love your job, there are simply days when coworkers, deadlines, or technology get on your last nerve – and when we notice these things, it’s typically because they’re the big stresses. And while too many of these big stresses can easily wear you down and wreak havoc on your career, we often fail to acknowledge and reckon with the impact of micro-stresses.
What Is Micro-Stress?
As the name suggests, micro-stresses are things that wear us down in little ways, the types of irritations and annoyances that we don’t tend to think of as problems, but instead accept as just part of work and life. Many of these are relational, and some of them can escalate to major stress sources when they go on too long or take extreme forms, such as poor communication norms within your organization or other people’s persistent failure to meet deadlines. In other cases, micro-stress sources are nearly invisible, such as a lack of alignment between your professional role and your priorities or the emotional strain of being in a management role.
Spot Your Stress Sources
One of the biggest challenges when it comes to addressing micro-stresses is that how someone responds to a given challenge or frustration, particularly small, internalized ones, tends to be highly personal. The first step to dealing with these stresses, then, is to work to identify what drives these feelings for you and what may be adding additional strain to your team. So, how can you get started with this?
When assessing your work environment for micro-stresses, one place to begin is in those areas prone to high degrees of burnout. We know, for example, that cybersecurity professionals like CISOs have high rates of burnout compared with other C-suite professionals. For CISOs, such burnout stems from the big stresses – like managing major security crises. Those stresses can trickle down to other staff, though, who may be overcommitting time and energy to managing their passwords while still ultimately producing poor protections.
In addition to seeking out micro-stresses based on burnout statistics, another strategy is to turn to some of those ubiquitous personality surveys. Whether your company prefers the MBTI or Strengths Finder or some other process isn’t important. Rather, you want to look at how your strengths align with your professional role, evaluate team members’ communication strategies, and essentially use these surveys as a means of spotting situations where staff and their work conditions aren’t fitting together as well as they could.
Tackling The Problem
Once you’ve identified some key micro-stresses in your work environment, the next step is to begin seeking out solutions. Returning to the example of burnt out CISOs and other cybersecurity workers, then, one thing that might help is to hire a cybersecurity consultant who can perform a comprehensive system evaluation and identify any major problems with your current infrastructure. By temporarily handing off these tasks to someone acting as a CISO as a service, that also gives these always-on professionals a chance to look more closely at other aspects of their role, including how they collaborate with other staff and what changes would reduce their stress.
Often, eliminating micro-stresses means working collaboratively with many others in your organization. For lower level staff, that might mean talking to leadership about smart, secure ways to manage secondary tasks more easily, by adopting a password management system, for example. Or it may mean having managers and those they supervise actively discuss how they prefer to communicate so that they aren’t missing important information or overwhelming each other.
Micro-stresses can negatively impact your organization, make it harder to retain staff, and generally lead to situations in which staff are less productive and less committed to their work. Though they may not seem serious compared to other crises, over time they can be enormously destructive over time, wearing down your staff. It’s just as important to target these as they big issues. Don’t let them slide because they seem small, because they aren’t going anywhere.