BCG Henderson Institute

The Microstress Effect with Rob Cross and Karen Dillon

“The problem is we’re getting hit with a volume, velocity, and pace of [microstresses] that our minds weren’t really designed to absorb.[...] Our bodies are reacting to this, and we slowly take ourselves out of things that add meaning to us.”

A “microstress,” as defined by Rob Cross and Karen Dillon in their new book of the same name, is a small amount pressure from our everyday interactions that is hardly perceived in the moment. But when many microstesses pile up, they become debilitating.

Cross, the Edward A. Madden Professor of Global Leadership at Babson College in Wellesley, Mass., has studied the underlying networks of effective organizations and the collaborative practices of high performers for more than 20 years. Dillon is a former editor of Harvard Business Review and the author of such books as How Will You Measure Your Life? and Competing Against Luck.

Together with Martin Reeves, Chairman of BCG Henderson Institute, they discuss the microstresses that drain capacity, deplete emotional reserves, and challenge identity. Although these pressures are impossible to eliminate, there are strategies—building resilience, leading a healthy life, and finding purpose—that can mitigate the impact, enabling people to reshape their interpersonal interactions and live more satisfied lives.

Company leaders, the authors argue, should also be aware of microstress triggers hiding in plain sight: the burdens levied by our agile, collaborative way of working that can have damaging ripple effects.

Key topics discussed: 

[01:11] The gravity of microstress
[07:29] Types of microstress
[12:26] Solutions to microstress
[19:04] Microstress in organizations
[25:35] Positive aspects of microstress
[29:14] Where to start with countering microstress


If you’d prefer to read this conversation, you can download the AI-generated, lightly edited transcript here.

Additional Inspiration from Rob Cross: 

Additional Inspiration from Karen Dillon:

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