Firefighting ranked in top 3 most stressful jobs

The study examined factors like deadlines, hazards, competitiveness, etc.

By Allison Ward
The Columbus Dispatch

COLUMBUS, Ohio — So you think your job is stressful?

If you work as a commercial pilot, a firefighter or (especially) an enlisted military officer, go ahead and complain.

But if you're a librarian, an audiologist or (especially) a college professor, you might want to lower the volume on those gripes., an online database company that has studied job trends for more than 20 years, recently ranked the most and least stressful occupations based on 11 job demands.

The job of an enlisted military officer topped the list of high-stress occupations, followed at No. 2 by a military general.

The least stressful, on the other hand, can be found in halls of higher education.

"Are university professors in charge of someone's life? No," said Publisher Tony Lee. "Are their lives in danger? Not really.

"Military and (No. 3) firefighters are on the opposite end of the spectrum."

In light of the company's findings, The Dispatch recently interviewed one military officer and one college professor.

Here's what each had to say about why his or her work might have fared as it did:

Call of duty

Every morning at 6:30, Sgt. 1st Class Clay Boyles runs wind sprints, does push-ups or plays basketball.

The Army requires an hour of physical training five times a week, and the workouts keep Boyles, 45, prepared for the physical-fitness test he must take every six months.

At his age, he must do at least 30 push-ups in two minutes and 32 sit-ups in two minutes, and run 2 miles in no longer than 18 minutes and 42 seconds.

"You don't want to fail that," he said. "Then you're on the Army's 'blacklist.' "

Although Boyles serves as station commander at the Army recruiting office in Columbus, physical demands -- a stress factor in the study -- still play a large role in his work.

Dealing with pressure has become the norm for Boyles, a 22-year Army veteran -- so he doesn't view his job as overly stressful. But the younger and less experienced a soldier is, he said, the more stressful the job can seem.

In his role, he faces strict military deadlines, moves to a different state every three to five years and is responsible for recruits.

In earlier years with the Army, while protecting contentious borders in Macedonia, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Kuwait, Boyles felt the burden of responsibility for the lives of soldiers around him.

"That weighs on you," he said. "You're not only responsible for yourself but also the battle buddy to your left, right, forward and backward. You're also responsible for all the civilians."

He felt his life threatened a few times while abroad, and being away from his family for months was difficult, even though he knew that the Army was taking care of the family.

"Just the common, everyday stuff you miss as a parent -- maybe the first day of school, the first step," said Boyles, whose two children were young during his various tours abroad from 1996 to 2000.

At the recruiting station, he sends status reports to superiors at 9 a.m. and 1 p.m., and has weekly and monthly deadlines.

"If we don't make our deadline here, the functional Army doesn't have the personnel it needs," Boyles said. "We supply the force."

Ivory-tower image

Andrea Thomas likes the autonomy of being a college professor.

"That kind of freedom is rare," said Thomas, an associate professor of business in the School of Management and Leadership at Capital University in Bexley.

She can choose the classes she wants to teach and offer opinions about what classes are taught.

"We know a large cause of stress at work is not having control," she said. "We have a lot of flexibility in classes. We can grade papers anywhere. We don't have a lot of externally imposed stress."

Although the ranking initially stunned Thomas, it made more sense as she reflected further on her job.

Besides freedom, she feels safe at work and faces few physical demands. She has eager students and job security with tenure.

Most of the stress that professors feel is internal: the pressure to produce high-quality research and high-achieving students.

"Professors are people who naturally push themselves," said Thomas, 45. "A lot of my colleagues put the stress on themselves; it's not coming from a supervisor."

Still, professors must meet deadlines, travel and work with the public.

Thomas considers each class a deadline. She is teaching three business classes this semester -- Capital doesn't allow professors to teach more than 24 credit hours a year -- and spends about 12 hours in the classroom each week.

She needs to be "on her game," she said, every time she steps in front of her students.

"I think that's the most stressful aspect of it: You can never 'phone it in.' You're 'on' when you're in front of the class. You not only have to be present, but you have to keep them engaged."

The spectrum

To determine its rankings, CareerCast considered 11 work demands -- including deadlines, hazards, travel and competitiveness.

A score was assigned to each stressor based on how large or small a role it plays in a job. To determine the scores, researchers used data from sources such as the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, and trade organizations.

The assigning of points to more-subjective criteria, such as travel, isn't easily accomplished, acknowledged Tony Lee, publisher of the website.

Here's what CareerCast found (with the median salary noted):

Most stressful

1. Enlisted military ($41,998)
2. Military general ($196,000)
3. Firefighter ($45,250)
4. Commercial airline pilot ($92,060)
5. Public-relations executive ($57,550)
6. Senior corporate executive ($101,250)
7. Photojournalist ($29,130)
8. Newspaper reporter ($36,000)
9. Taxi driver ($22,440)
10. Police officer ($55,010)

Least stressful

1. University/college professor ($62,050)
2. Seamstress/tailor ($25,850)
3. Medical-records technician ($32,350)
4. Jeweler ($35,170)
5. Medical lab technician ($46,680)
6. Audiologist ($66,600)
7. Dietitian ($53,250)
8. Hairstylist ($22,500)
9. Librarian ($54,500)
10. Drill-press operator ($31,910)

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