Driving up to a construction zone one day, I watched a worker listen to music and drink some Gatorade.
After a couple cars passed, he casually turned the sign from “Stop” to “Slow,” so I could proceed. “Now there’s an easy, low-stress job,” I thought.
I needed an occasional job, so I spent two hours getting certified as a flagger and went to work. This was 25 years ago.
But I didn’t get the quiet, six-cars-per-hour highway I’d hoped for. I was assigned to the busiest intersection in the county, directing non-stop lines of traffic through chaotic road work.
Correction: Trying to direct traffic.
My lack of experience made it difficult, but the unexplainable (and inexcusable) lack of two-way radios made it nearly impossible.
The other flaggers were a mile away in three directions, so they couldn’t tell me which car they let through last. So I never knew for sure when to let traffic flow the other way.
I spent eight hours watching near-accidents and tolerating obscenities and honking horns directed at me. That was my first loooong day as a highway flagger. It was also my last.
How Stressful is Your Job?
You can’t always predict how stressful a job will be. It depends on the particular assignment, and also on your employer’s decisions (seriously, no radios?!).
But some jobs are more predictable, and we can rate them according to how stressful they are.
CareerCast.com uses various “stress factors” for their ratings. The site says work demands like deadlines, competitiveness and being responsible for other people’s lives “can reasonably be expected to evoke stress.”
If these are a big part of the job, they contribute more points to the stress score. Based on this methodology, CareerCast put together a list of the most and least stressful jobs.
The 10 Most Stressful Jobs
Here are CareerCast’s 10 most stressful jobs, starting with the highest stress score, and including the median annual salary — your reward for putting up with all that stress:
- Firefighter ($45,600)
- Enlisted Military Personnel ($28,840)
- Military General ($196,300)
- Airline Pilot ($98,410)
- Police Officer ($56,980)
- Actor ($46,070)
- Broadcaster ($60,070)
- Event Coordinator ($45,810)
- Photojournalist ($42,530)
- Newspaper Reporter ($37,090)
The 10 Least Stressful Jobs
Here are CareerCast’s least stressful jobs, including the median annual salary, starting with the job that got the lowest stress score:
- Hair Stylist ($22,770)
- Audiologist ($69,720)
- Tenured University Professor ($95,000)
- Medical Records Technician ($34,160)
- Jeweler ($35,350)
- Medical Laboratory Technician ($47,820)
- Seamstress/Tailor ($25,590)
- Dietitian ($55,240)
- Librarian ($55,370)
- Forklift Operator ($31,150)
The ratings are based on reasonable assumptions, which may not be applicable in all cases.
And with so many different jobs out there (the BLS tracks more than 800 occupations), there is the question of which ones to include in the ratings.
For example, how did “event coordinator” make the most-stressful list, but not “air traffic controller?”
It seems the latter employees “coordinate events” with much more frequency, and always with potential life-and-death consequences. Now that’s stressful!
And, regardless of holding the top spot as least stressful, I would find cutting people’s hair very stressful, which brings us to…
What Makes a Job Stressful: Personal Factors
I was totally stressed out as a real estate agent.
I hated having any responsibility for the biggest financial decision of people’s lives. But some of my fellow agents were the most relaxed people I knew.
We’re all different, so it makes sense to consider your own personality when determining which jobs might be more or less stressful.
Maybe you’re at ease making decisions alone, but stressed out when making decisions as part of a group. You might love working with numbers or be completely uncomfortable with them.
The physical requirements of some jobs are refreshing exercise for some and stressful for others.
When considering a job, list all the tasks and situations that are a regular part of the workday (as far as you can tell). Then consider how each will make you feel.
And before you get tempted to take a stressful job just because it pays well, consider…
The Health Effects of Job-Related Stress
“Problems at work are more strongly associated with health complaints than are any other life stressor — more so than even financial problems or family problems,” says a National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health report on stress at work.
They list these “early warning signs” of work-related stress:
- Sleep disturbances
- Difficulty concentrating
- Short temper
- Upset stomach
- Job dissatisfaction
- Low morale
The report also says research shows stress at work may increase the risk of…
- Cardiovascular disease
- Musculoskeletal disorders
- Psychological disorders
- Workplace injuries
- Impaired immune function
The NIOSH report doesn’t mention an increased risk of divorce due to work-related stress, but it seems like a reasonable assumption. The Penny Hoarder’s previously reported on careers with the highest divorce rates, and the list includes some pretty stressful jobs.
Create Your Own Stress Ratings for Jobs
A list of stressful or less-stressful jobs is interesting, but it’s just a starting point.
When considering a job, you have to look at its working conditions, including your supervisors.
Then you have to take those personal factors into account.
Finally, you have to consider how much stress you’ll tolerate for how much pay.
I get stressed just thinking about the whole process, so I think I’ll stay home and continue to avoid jobs.
Your Turn: Which were your most and least stressful jobs?
Steve Gillman is the author of “101 Weird Ways to Make Money” and creator of EveryWayToMakeMoney.com. He’s been a repo-man, walking stick carver, search engine evaluator, house flipper, tram driver, process server, mock juror and roulette croupier, but of more than 100 ways he has made money, writing is his favorite (so far).