The 10 Most Stressful Jobs

by Kevin Mercadante


You might feel that you have one of the most stressful jobs out there and that it’s time to change your career. At the very least, you probably feel that your job or business is pretty stressful. I am sure that you could easily come up with a long and highly credible list of reasons why. But there are jobs that are stressful by more objective measures, which is to say that it’s fairly easy to see the sources of their stress even by an outsider.

Some of those objective stress sources include:

  • Long hours
  • Irregular schedules
  • Low- or uncertain pay
  • Industry-wide stress
  • Specific job stresses
  • Degree of danger
  • What hangs in the balance if the job isn’t done correctly

I’ve compiled a list of the 10 most stressful jobs below. Now I’ll admit this list isn’t scientific—it’s culled from several lists in popular sources, plus one I added myself. The ones from other lists are those that popped-up on several lists. The order is all mine, so feel free to disagree.

1) Enlisted soldier in combat

I can think of no more stressful “job” than one in which you are 1) being shot at, 2) being asked to shoot at others, 3) in a foreign country, and 4) you cannot leave—at 5:00, on weekends, or even for months at a time. Yet another stress is the fact that you don’t always have a clear idea as to who the enemy is. That’s what a soldier on the front lines deals with every day. Even if you love working outdoors, you could easily find less threatening alternatives.

2) Underground miner

Digging in itself may not be particularly stressful, but doing it in man-made caverns and tunnels hundreds of feet underground and, if you’re a coal miner, being engulfed by air filled with coal dust, is more than most people can stand. As we come to understand with the occasional news reports of mining disasters, this is also one of the most dangerous jobs possible. Most of us have stress at work, but we don’t face danger, nor do we have to work in unnatural environments.

Neal’s note – I know that being a financial advisor doesn’t carry with it the risks of having a ton of coal crash down on my head, but when the market is misbehaving, sometimes it feels similar. Do you ever feel like a coal miner?

3) Emergency room surgeon

When you work in a hospital emergency room you never know what will come in the door, or even when. You have to quite literally be prepared for anything! This is very much a life-and-death situation, and while there are various occupations involved in the process, choosing treatment and responsibility for the outcome falls squarely on the shoulders of the emergency room surgeon. Add to this the realization that not all admissions will have a happy outcome. Long and irregular hours are a part of the job.

4) Firefighter

In addition to the obvious dangers of trying to put out fires and putting their life on the line to save others, firefighters work long and irregular hours and can never know how many calls they’ll have to go on during a given shift. Dealing with emergencies is what they do and spot decisions have to be made without hesitation. A firefighter may also have to deal with life saving procedures much like an emergency medical technician would.

5) Police officer

Police have to be first on the scene in dangerous situations, often arriving as the event is playing out. They have to make series of quick decisions including 1) how to neutralize the dangerous parties, 2) how to protect the innocent, 3) how to minimize collateral damage, and 4) to do so within established regulations. Police have to operate within rules in dealing with people who have no rules. In addition to working long and irregular hours, they’re also not always the most loved employees in the community. That’s a lot to juggle.

6) Emergency Medical Technician (EMT’s)

Much like emergency room personnel, firefighters and police, EMT’s never know what they’ll be facing when they arrive on a call. Life and death are often determined by what is done by the EMT’s and the job is complicated by the fact that they face critical medical situations out of the back of a truck, rather than a fully equipped hospital facility. Irregular hours are also a factor.

7) Emergency room nurse

This is a similar situation with emergency room surgeons, except that a nurse generally doesn’t have primary decision making responsibility on treatments. Long hours and irregular schedules are part of the job, and the pay doesn’t always justify the degree of responsibility that a nurse has.

8) Commercial airline pilot

When everything goes smoothly, this might be one of the easier professions to have. But in dangerous situations it’s the job no one else wants. An airline pilot has hundreds of lives in his hands and in the event of an emergency will have to make a series of decisions to save the day. Hours are irregular, and the pilot is always subject to airport and weather delays, as well has re-routing to other airports. We get upset about such things when they happen to us—how would it be if it were part of your job and it happened on a regular basis?

9) Real estate agent

Real estate agents generally don’t face danger on the job, nor do the lives of others hang in the balance of what they do. But among the non-dangerous jobs, this is the most stressful. Real estate agents are on call 24/7, even though they are paid entirely by commission. They ferry people around in their cars, most of whom never buy a home through them. Many of the deals they work on, never close—which also means they’re never paid for their efforts. And because buying a home is such an emotional undertaking, the agent has to be a part-time psychologist. Think you’d like a job like that?

10) Mortgage loan originator

This is the one I added to the list because I did this job for many years in a previous life. It’s not that it was so bad when I did it, but more that it’s gotten so much worse in the past five years. The originator has the problem of having to get an optimistic homebuyer into a mortgage loan and that has complications of its own.

Originations have always been about fitting square pegs (borrowers) into round holes (standard loan programs). The problem today is that the pegs are squarer than they’ve ever been. With so many people having experienced extended job losses, foreclosures and bankruptcies in the past few years, it’s harder than ever to get them into home loans. You spend a lot of time trying to qualify people for loans, but few of them ever close. And remember—you’re 100% commissioned.

Are you starting to feel the stress?

What do you think are the most stressful jobs? If you agree with this list, would you change the rank on any of the above?

Neal’s note – Thanks Kevin. What I like about this is that it gives me a shot of reality. Left alone in our offices, shops and factories, we think we’ve got it very tough. Then when we read about these folks, it helps us remember how good we have it. Having said that, a common thread I notice that adds to the stress is uncertainty. I personally believe that being in business for yourself is the best way to reduce uncertainty as much as possible. At the very least, you can’t get fired!


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{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

chuck June 28, 2012 at 5:22 PM

True that self-employment can mean you don’t get fired, but it also can mean you work for the most tyrannical boss on earth.


Neal Frankle June 28, 2012 at 9:24 PM



Jerry June 25, 2012 at 2:14 AM

Thank you for putting things into perspective. While I do think that my job is stressful for some of the reasons listed above (and no insurance or benefits!) but at least I have one and I’m not physically in danger each day. It leads one to think a little harder about how bad you might have it.


Kevin@OutOfYourRut June 25, 2012 at 5:09 AM

Hi Jerry–That’s true for a lot of us. I think that if you have regular hours–the basic “9 to 5” with weekends off, plus a steady paycheck–your job is probably less stressfull than any of the above.

That said, I do believe that most jobs are more stressful today than they were 20-30 years ago. It’s not just the economy either, though that has an affect as well. We’re having to embrace ever newer technologies, new regulations and foreign competition, and all of that is making it tougher for employers to operate profitably. And if your employer is under stress, than you as an employee will also be under stress.


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