Fill a shaker with ice. Add one part “the owner’s friends just showed up expecting free drinks,” one part “repetitive stress injuries from all the walking, stooping, and bending,” and two parts “the barback’s taking shots with the customers and it’s barely 4 pm.” Shake until cold. Serve it to some guy you’ve never seen before who clearly wants to fight.
If you’ve ever woken to your alarm blaring at the crack of dawn and thought “not again," you’re not alone. Stress, depression, and anxiety are, unfortunately, part of the human condition—and some jobs cause all of them.
In 2018, the collaborative work management platform Wrike surveyed more than 1,600 U.S. and U.K. employees about stress in the workplace. Their findings show that some 94 percent of workers report feeling stress at work, and almost a third say their stress level is high to unsustainably high.
The World Health Organization defines job stress as “the response people may have when presented with work demands and pressures that are not matched to their knowledge and abilities and which challenge their ability to cope."
It’s worth noting that the concept of job stress is often confused with challenge, but they’re not the same. Challenge typically energizes us psychologically and physically, and in a work setting, it often motivates us to learn new skills and better manage our jobs.
When we overcome a challenge, we feel relaxed and productive. And we can leave work knowing that we’ve made a positive and worthwhile contribution to our organization and our personal development.
However, when a challenge turns into job demands that don’t match our capabilities, resources, and needs, those positive feelings can easily turn into stress—and set the stage for illness, injury, and even career failure.
Without a doubt, almost every job has its brand of stress—but let’s face it, some jobs are far more taxing than others. To find out what they are, we looked at U.S. News and World Report’s list of the Most Stressful Jobs in the U.S.
The report was formed in part from their 100 Best Jobs rankings, which analyzed data about salary, unemployment rate, and stress to select the top jobs of 2020.
Ready for a dive into some seriously stressful occupations? If at any point your reading gets the best of you, we recommend taking a moment to count backward from ten, meditate, or let out a good old-fashioned primal scream.
While some people are simply drawn to work that may seem dauntingly stressful to their peers, others may choose a profession for growth opportunities, workplace perks, or a multitude of other reasons. We’ve thought up a few here.
Paramedics are one example of a career that people may be attracted to out of a sense of duty or community, or who value projects that have a positive impact on the world.
The same is true for marriage and family therapists, clinical social workers, and mental health counselors, occupations that made it to the later half of U.S. News’ list of most stressful jobs.
In this sense, it’s easy to assume that those who are committed to making our communities safer, healthier, and more equitable aren't deterred by the fact that their work will likely come with stress. It’s likely that you’ll hear them refer to their profession as “their calling" or say that they couldn’t “imagine doing anything else."
People who thrive on the pressures inherent to high-stress jobs and are willing to put themselves in immediate danger might choose a job like a paramedic or a patrol officer. Others working as surgeons, anesthesiologists, or lawyers may love the challenge of say, a radical procedure or high-profile court case. They may perform best with a strict deadline approaching or when something is at stake.
Money might not be able to buy you love, but in the case of many careers on this list, most people would be willing to choose it over career satisfaction. The typical salaries of physicians, IT managers , and financial managers may be regarded as ones that can provide for a family or pay off student debt more quickly. Even for those who don’t have immediate financial obligations, a cushy paycheck may simply make the stress worth it.
With the assurance of job security slowly disappearing in today’s job market, careers known for offering stable employment are increasingly difficult to find. Those working in education, government, law enforcement, and healthcare typically have the highest levels of job security.
Generally speaking, the benefits of job security range from the comfort of a steady paycheck and dependable health coverage to a greater likeliness of sharing a mutual desire with your employer to work together. Professionals who benefit from job security are also more likely to feel valued within their organization and in control of their future.
No, really. A 2017 study published in the Journal of Business Ethics reports that people with primary psychopathy—those who commit antisocial acts due to a lack of empathy or fear—not only fare better under abusive management styles than non-psychopaths, they thrive in stressful contexts.
These conclusions were drawn after researchers conducted two studies with 419 working adults. In one study in which participants were asked to react to profiles of managers depicted as constructive or abusive, participants who were high in primary psychopathy reported feeling happier after imagining themselves working for an abusive manager.
In the second study, participants rated how abusive their supervisors were in terms of rudeness, the tendency to gossip, and failure to give credit, maintain privacy, and break promises. Once again, those high in primary psychopathy reported feeling more positive and engaged than compared to their non-psychopathic peers.
“Many people leave their jobs when they work for an abusive supervisor," said Lauren Simon, an Associate Professor at the University of Arkansas and one of the researchers behind the study. “If abusive leadership does not bother—and perhaps even excites—individuals high in primary psychopathy, then these individuals may be more likely to remain with the organization."
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