What You Don’t Know About Your Job Could Stress You Out

Unpredictability and deadlines are top workplace stressors

By Dana Wilkie Feb 12, 2016
When a worker can’t predict what her job will throw at her each morning, does that invigorate her? Or does it stress her out?

Chances are, it does the latter. Unpredictability in a job was the highest contributor to employee stress, according to a CareerCast survey of 834 employees.

The thing that contributes the least to stress? That would be job-related travel, CareerCast.com found in its online poll, conducted in January. The poll results were released Feb. 10.

One in 4 of all respondents said unpredictability was the aspect of their jobs that stressed them out the most. One in 5 said workplace environment was the top source of stress, and the same percentage said deadlines were.

“Unpredictability for the purpose of this survey refers to constantly changing workflow, based on factors beyond the worker’s control,” said Kyle Kensing, online content editor with CareerCast, which offers a job search portal.

The survey queried respondents about unpredictability, required travel, potential for promotion, workplace environment, deadlines, safety of others, personal safety, and length of the workday or workweek. Responses varied among industries.

Unpredictability was the top stressor in these industries:

*Academia (cited by 40 percent of respondents).
*Engineering (33 percent).
*Customer service (30 percent).
*Transportation (15 percent).

“In the case of educators, unpredictability can stem from dealing with so many different personalities on a daily basis and, in the bigger picture, issues like curriculum changes,” Kensing said.

On the other hand, Kensing said, tenure-track university professorships tend to be among the least stressful jobs, according to an earlier CareerCast survey. Even though competition for these jobs is fierce, he said, such positions offer a favorable work atmosphere, typically in quiet office settings and with reasonable work hours and frequent one-on-one interaction with colleagues.

Ensuring the safety of others was the biggest stressor for transportation (41 percent) and health care workers (50 percent).

Deadlines were the highest-rated stress factor in the entertainment field (33 percent). adlines were the highest-rated stress factor in the entertainment field (33 percent).

Professional/business services workers also rated deadlines as the most stressful part of their job (31 percent). Included in the professional/business services industry are workers in the public relations and events coordination fields, Kensing said.

“Public relations executives and event coordinators face a difficult workplace environment and considerable demands from their bosses and clients,” he explained. “Several different factors were weighed, among them working in the public eye and deadlines.”

Enlisted military, firefighters and police officers are among those least likely to be able to predict what their job will require of them each day, Kensing said. In addition, he noted, they face personal danger, are responsible for the safety of others and have a perilous working environment. The poll didn’t have separate “top stressor” percentages for these workers, he said, because they were bunched into a broad industry category labeled “other.”

Few people felt that the length of the workday or workweek (7 percent), their personal safety (5 percent), their potential for promotion (3 percent) or their work-related travel (1 percent) were major job stressors.

Based on all the stress factors that the survey evaluated, an information security analyst’s work falls on the less stressful end of the job spectrum—even though a data breach in the always-changing cyber landscape can damage an IT security provider’s credibility.

And although growth in the health care industry means a heavier workload for medical records technicians and medical laboratory technicians, these workers also consider their jobs relatively lacking in stress, Kensing said.

Same goes for hairstylists, dieticians and jewelers.

Dana Wilkie is an online editor/manager for SHRM.

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