Bring up the word stress in a conversation and you’d better clear your schedule for the next hour.
A whopping 40 percent of American workers say their jobs are very or extremely stressful, according to the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health.
Of course, some jobs are more stressful than others. Job-search portal CareerCast has once again crunched the statistics and come up with its list of the 10 most stressful jobs in America.
“Not all jobs are created equal when it comes to stress levels,” said Tony Lee, publisher of CareerCast.com and JobsRated.com. “Probably the one thing that’s overriding is the amount of control you have. People who have the least amount of control have the most amount of stress — they’re reacting to whatever is happening around them.”
Many of the most stressful jobs involved peril and significant hazard, whether it’s coming into contact with hazardous materials or having other people’s lives in your hands. In all, CareerCast used 11 criteria to come up with its list: travel, income outlook/growth potential, deadlines, working in the public eye, competitiveness, physical demands, environmental conditions, hazards encountered, own life at risk, life of another at risk, and meeting the public.
Think your job is on the list?
Average annual income: $22,440
You might think being a taxi driver is a sweet gig — you can set your own hours and, unlike the annoying co-worker in the cubicle next to you, when you get an annoying person in your cab, it’s for a limited time. But taxi drivers are repeat customers on the most stressful list for three key reasons: low pay, long hours — and they’re often victims of crime.
Average annual income: $40,000
Photojournalists are another group that, at first glance, appear to have it all — they get to travel the world taking photographs of beautiful places, historic events and famous people. But they also make the list of most stressful jobs primarily because they’re always on deadline. Photojournalists are not just out for a stroll taking photos like a tourist. They get called on a moment’s notice to go where the fire is burning, where war is waging, or where the car accident is being cleaned up.
“Talk about control — they have no control,” Lee said.
The competitiveness of the job is also highly stressful — they’re always under pressure to get the shot before their rivals. Often — for example, with the paparazzi — their subjects aren’t willing to be photographed and can become downright hostile.
Senior Corporate Executive
Average annual income: $165,830
The corner office might sound like a cushy job — after all, the pay is great and you have a lot of control, unlike taxi drivers and photojournalists. But the main reason senior corporate executives make the list is because they are directly accountable for the actions of a large group of people and have to answer to shareholders or owners. Plus, they make decisions such as whom to hire and fire and whether to keep a division open or to close it. In good times, the job is not quite as stressful, but after an economic recession like we’ve seen recently, it can be gut-wrenching.
“They have other people’s lives in their hands and that can be very stressful,” Lee said.
Public Relations Executive
Average annual income: $91,810
Public relations executives, while well compensated, have one of the most thankless jobs — they’re constantly under pressure from clients to get more press and justify their pay. “Great! You got the front page of The New York Times. How about The Wall Street Journal? The ‘Today’ show?” And the people they’re pitching their clients to on a daily basis — journalists and booking agents — aren’t always happy to hear from them.
PR execs are constantly trying to keep all the plates spinning. Then, just when they’re all whirring, a fire starts and they have to put it out. Again — very little control. You’re at the beck and call of your clients and called at a moment’s notice when a client emergency erupts.
“You’re the one on the front line trying to make everything OK,” Lee said.
Average annual income: $45,260
This job sounds like a blast — you’re constantly picking out cocktail napkins and sampling cake, right? Your “office” is often some of the most beautiful venues — the places that brides choose to have their most special day. But while you were fantasizing about ice sculptures, you forgot about one teensy little thing: Bridezillas. Whether you’re planning a wedding or a big corporate event, this is a very special day — if not THE MOST special one — for your clients, and it had better be perfect.
“There’s pressure on you to make sure it goes off without a flaw,” Lee said. “Because when it doesn’t, it can be very public and stressful. You might even lose your job. Talk about being out of control.”
Average annual income: $53,540
You don’t need to have watched many episodes of a crime show to know that being a police officer is stressful. There’s a reason why “Law and Order” has been on the air for 20 years and there are 571 varieties of “CSI.” There’s a lot of drama.
Law enforcement officers are constantly dealing with situations out of their control — they arrive at harrowing scenes every day where they need to figure out what’s going on, and they’re up against criminals who are often armed and ready to shoot. Police officers have to save the good guys, while fending off the bad guys — and not get shot or injured in the process. They also have to make split-second decisions that involve life or death — one accidental shooting of an innocent man and their careers are on the line and on the front page of every local newspaper.
“It couldn’t be much more stressful,” Lee said. “That’s why they have shorter careers and bigger pensions.”
Average annual income: $196,300
Military generals are the highest paid of all 10 most stressful jobs — more so than even senior corporate executives. While you might think that since they’re off the front lines they would move off the list of the most stressful jobs, but not so fast — they have a lot of stress because, like corporate executives, people’s lives are in their hands. Only we’re not talking layoffs. Generals choose to put people on the front lines of war, some of whom may be injured or killed.
“When they decide to move a group of people, they’re putting their lives in danger,” Lee said. “They’re making life and death decisions. That’s pretty stressful.”
Average annual income: $103,210
While many a little boy and girl may dream of being a pilot, it’s more than just the feeling of soaring through the air. Pilots work long hours and have to navigate in any weather condition. Their risks include everything from mechanical failure to terrorism, and it’s not just their safety at risk — it’s the safety of every passenger and crew member on board.
“The bottom line is that they are ultimately responsible for all the passengers,” Lee said. “It puts a high level of stress on them.”
Average annual income: $45,250
Firefighters don’t just have the occasional dangerous work situation, just about every call they get is dangerous. Firefighters run toward buildings that are filled with fire, smoke, and hazardous materials that the rest of us would run away from. For the people trapped inside burning structures, it’s probably the most dangerous day of their lives. For firefighters, it’s just another day on the job.
“They’re the first one into a burning building and the last one out carrying the baby,” Lee said. “It’s life or death every day. It takes a very special person to be a firefighter.”
Enlisted Military Soldier
Average annual income: $35,580
It should come as no surprise that soldiers have the most stressful job. These are the men and women out on the front lines of war every day.
“They’re walking on roads with (improvised explosive devices) buried all around them,” Lee said, not to mention the hostile conditions of locals who don’t always want foreign soldiers on their soil. “In a war zone, it doesn’t get much more stressful than that,” he said.
Plus, unlike most of the other professions on the list, these men and women don’t get to go home every night to their families. Their shifts never end. “When you’re a soldier, you’re always on, even when you’re off,” Lee said.