The Most Stressful Jobs in America

Danger, unpredictability, and high stakes can wear out even the strongest nerves. Do you have what it takes to succeed at these stressful jobs?

Feb 1, 2014 at 11:00AM

There's more to life than work, but that doesn't mean your job won't be one of the most important parts of your life. Finding a great job involves a little bit of luck and a lot of hard work and training, but for most people, a "great job" means more than just making a lot of money. Many of this year's best jobs happen to be well-compensated, but the very best jobs also burden workers with only modest levels of stress -- and when you get right down to it, it's almost always better when your job doesn't stress you out all the time.

Do you think you've got a stressful job? Well, you're hardly alone. Job network CareerCast recently put together a list of the most stressful jobs of 2014. "Unpredictable conditions, immediate dangers, and high-stakes situations" are all major features of these difficult professions, which CareerCast ranked on a scale from 1 to 100, grading each job by frequency of travel, professional growth potential, deadline intensity, physical demands, competitiveness, environmental conditions, and several other factors can might frazzle even the toughest of nerves. Let's take a look at the five most stressful jobs in America today.  

5. Public relations executive
  • Job stress score (1-100): 48.52
  • Entry-level education: Bachelor's degree
  • Median salary: $95,450
  • Number of jobs in 2012: 62,100
  • Projected job growth (2012-2022): 8,000 (13% job growth)

Maintaining a person or brand's public image can be quite stressful, particularly if you happen to work for a notorious name. Not only does a PR executive have to direct strategy for a public-facing campaign, but he or she typically hands off direct responsibility for crafting that campaign to subsidiaries -- yet when something goes wrong, it's usually the executive who's put on the firing line. A modern PR executive has to master an increasingly broad array of media venues, from print and television to social networks and email campaigns, and since many of these venues are likely to pile on a major mistake made in any of them, it's vitally important to maintain a cohesive (and viable) strategy. That often requires round-the-clock attention and real-time fine-tuning. But hey, at least they typically get paid pretty well to be the public face of someone or something notable.


4. Event coordinator

  • Job stress score (1-100): 49.93
  • Entry-level education: Bachelor's degree
  • Median salary: $45,810
  • Number of jobs in 2012: 84,200
  • Projected job growth (2012-2022): 31,300 (33% job growth)

Like PR executives, event coordinators are responsible for making a person or organization look good. However, these professionals must ensure that every element of an important meeting or event goes off without a hitch, and make sure that it's done within budget. These two oft-conflicting requirements can create headaches for all but the savviest of coordinators, especially when dealing with the million little uncertainties that can undo well-planned events.


3. Airline pilot

  • Job stress score (1-100): 60.28
  • Entry-level education: Professional credentialing and often a bachelor's degree
  • Median salary: $98,410
  • Number of jobs in 2012: 104,100
  • Projected job growth (2012-2022): -800 (1% job loss)

If you screw up an event or a PR campaign you can damage a reputation, but if you screw up landing a plane you can kill a lot of people. While modern commercial jets typically come kitted out with high-tech navigation systems, a pilot retains the ultimate responsibility for ensuring a safe flight, and the pilot must often do so in less-than-ideal conditions. This isn't a job for the nervous or faint of heart, and the highly competitive work environment (this is the only profession on the list that's expected to employ fewer people a decade from now) can make it harder for an ambitious young pilot to move up the ranks as well.


2. Firefighter

  • Job stress score (1-100): 60.45
  • Entry-level education: High school diploma and professional credentialing
  • Median salary: $45,250
  • Number of jobs in 2012: 307,000
  • Projected job growth (2012-2022): 20,300 (7% job growth)

As with airline pilots, firefighters truly take the lives of others into their own hands. They might battle a raging inferno or save people trapped in other dangerous situations, and they're often called on to render emergency medical assistance as well. A good firefighter has to have nerves of steel and typically must also possess superb stamina to see rescue missions through to the end. And while a firefighter might be paid reasonably for an ordinary profession (the median household income was $51,000 last year), it's not exactly a big paycheck for putting your life on the line.


1. Enlisted military personnel

  • Job stress score (1-100): 84.72
  • Entry-level education: High school diploma
  • Median salary: $28,840 
  • Number of jobs in 2012: 1,211,575
  • Projected job growth (2012-2022): Unknown (depends on many factors)

It's hard to think of a job more stressful than that of an enlisted man (or woman). Even if they aren't facing the ultimate stress of the battlefield, military personnel must still be ready to leap into all manner of harsh and unpleasant tasks, from a sudden deployment to a last-minute swabbing of the deck while on board a Navy ship. Military life can condition people to deal with just about anything, but that's because you often have to deal with just about anything at a moment's notice. Enlisted personnel also wound up on the list of 2013's worst jobs, thanks to the stress, the low pay, and the unmentioned but undeniably common difficulties transitioning back to civilian life afterwards.

Is your job one of the most stressful in America? Do you think this list overlooked your job, or a job you otherwise know is packed to the brim with stress? You can see the sixth through 10th most stressful jobs in Let the world on CareerCast's full list, or you can let the world know what you think about the top five most stressful jobs by leaving a comment below.

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All images sourced from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

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David Hanson owns shares of Berkshire Hathaway and American Express. The Motley Fool recommends and owns shares of Berkshire Hathaway, Google, and Coca-Cola.We Fools don't all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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