Monday, 14 January 2013

Thinking about work and stress

I recently read an article about’s annual ranking of the most and the least stressful jobs. The lists were compiled by assigning points to a job for the following 11 different job demands: amount of travel required, growth potential (income), 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. Making the top 10 list of most stressful jobs for 2013 is:

1. Enlisted military personnel
2. Military general
3. Firefighter
4. Commercial airline pilot
5. Public relations executive
6. Senior corporate executive
7. Photojournalist
8. Newspaper reporter
9. Taxi driver
10. Police officer

And here’s the top 10 list of least stressful jobs for 2013:

1. University professor
2. Seamstress/tailor
3. Medical records technician
4. Jeweler
5. Medical lab technician
6. Audiologist
7. Dietician
8. Hairstylist
9. Librarian
10. Drill press operator

Unfortunately, there is no information provided on about how they determined the number of points they assigned a particular job for each job demand. For example, did they actually survey workers? In the brief article they provide about their methodology they give only the following example: photojournalist was given full points for the job demand ‘deadlines’ while seamstress/tailor was given no points for ‘deadlines’ because that demand is ‘not normally required’ of seamstresses/tailors. Hmmmm…tell that to a seamstress or tailor who makes wedding dresses or graduation gowns! (If you read the articles, be sure to take a look at the comments, many of which are from people who do the jobs on the lists. They provide somewhat of a different perspective as do the posts from people in jobs who didn't make the most stressful jobs list.)

I did a quick Google search using the terms ‘stressful jobs Canada’ to see if I could come up with more scholarly research on the topic. One I looked at was done by the University of Montreal in 2007 using Statistics Canada data (specifically the Community Health Survey of 2003). It found that manufacturing and labouring workers, who don’t appear on’s list of most stressful jobs, were more likely to report poor mental health than were police and firefighters, who are on the list. As a matter of fact, police officers and firefighters, along with managers in natural resources and manufacturing and human resources professions, were among the occupations less likely to report poor mental health according to the study.

The definition of workplace stress used by Statistics Canada comes from the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety: ‘the harmful physical and emotional responses that can happen when there is conflict between job demands on the employee and the amount of control an employee has over meeting these demands.’ I took a look at a report Statistics Canada wrote on their General Social Survey done in 2000 with a sample of about 25,000 people. An important point the author notes is that causes of stress can be varied. That being said, a heavy workload and working long hours were the most commonly cited sources of work-related stress. Other prominent causes included fear of accident or injury, poor interpersonal relationships at work and the threat of layoff or job loss. One thing this study shows is that it isn’t just the job (what one does) but also the workplace (where one does it) that can be a source of stress.

Another important point to consider when thinking about workplace stress is what is stressful for one person may not be so for another. One’s tolerance for stress can be influence by a number of factors including one’s temperament. So when thinking about your own career, understanding what causes you stress, as well as what strategies work for you to mitigate and minimize stress and its harmful impacts, is important and will help you in making decisions about work and workplaces that are best for you.

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