A CEO explains why a constant level of 'low grade stress' is a good thing


Mike Steib

Todd France

Mike Steib, CEO of XO Group, says "there is an optimal level of stress."


Just about everyone gets stressed at work.

And according to Mike Steib, that's not necessarily a bad thing.

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The CEO of XO Group, the media company behind the couples and family planning brands the Knot, the Bump and the Nest, says there's an "optimal level of stress."

A little bit of stress gives people just enough motivation to be productive, he told Business Insider. "There is an optimal point - you feel urgency. You're working on something important, but it's not freaking you out."


He's not immune. "Every day there's this feeling, this low-grade stress: What if I didn't do the right thing? What if this doesn't work out?'" he said. "In any job, if you care a lot about what you're doing and you sign up for a job that is challenging, you're going to have stress, you're going to be at risk for anxiety about whether or not the thing you're doing is the thing that's going to work."

That doesn't mean you should be tearing your hair out on a daily basis. Steib acknowledged that too much stress at work can hinder productivity.

Steib said it's been proven that "if you have a lot of stress, at the extreme end of the range, you become a poorer decision maker, you have a very hard time performing tasks, and you underperform other people in cognitive and physical feats when you're highly stressed out," Steib said. For instance, a 2012 study published in Current Directions of Psychological Science suggests that it's best to avoid making important choices when you're feeling stressed, because you tend to overemphasize the potential positive outcomes of your decision while underemphasizing the negative

Steib has turned his experience - including but not limited to the effect of stress at work - into a blog called The Career Manifesto, as well as into a workshop he hosts at XO Group, which includes a Personal Development Program and Lunch & Learn series, where he shares tips and advice on organization, management, productivity, and any other issues employees would like to explore.

He encourages people to allow some stress in their lives, but not to get overly anxious about what will happen in the future. "You can't control outcomes," he said. "You can only control input - whether you worked as hard as you could on it, given the information available."