It’s no secret that many of us get stressed out by our jobs. Office politics, bureaucracy and the 9-5 grind can all make getting through the day a serious drag. That being said, the normal stressors of office or retail work are a world apart from withstanding emotional distress or physical danger on a daily basis. To spend even a day in such a position is to gain an entirely new perspective on what it means to be stressed in the workplace. Today, Billshrink examines 12 of the most truly stressful jobs in America (and the diciest aspects of each job description.)
Inner City Police Officer
Police officers in general have one of the most demanding job descriptions of all. Investigating suspicious activity, breaking up domestic violence and arresting criminals all regularly place officers in harm’s way. The life of an inner city cop, however, produces an entirely different class of stress. While an officer in a peaceful suburb might manage to sidestep a great deal of trouble, the typical New York or Los Angeles police officer is constantly pressed into risky situations involving some of the most dangerous people on the street. Shootouts, stabbings and brutal assault are not cause for alarm and quickly become routine parts of the workweek.
Plenty of attorneys have anxiety-prone jobs (defense lawyers and federal prosecutors come to mind), but few are made to withstand the day in, day out pummeling that divorce attorneys can encounter. Imagine for a moment trying to be the calm, rational mediator between a heated ex-couple fighting bitterly over child custody, bank accounts, business interests or real estate. In addition to verbal abuse and adult temper tantrums, divorce attorneys have actually been attacked by enraged ex-husbands and wives harmed by the outcomes of the separation.
Coach or GM of a Professional Team
A surprising number of people (including sports fans) underestimate the stress and pressure involved in coaching or running a professional sports team. A team’s GM, for instance, lays out a plan for the entire organization, including which types of players will be acquired, how much they will be paid, and whether to compete now or “rebuild” for success further down the road. In cities with rabid fans (like New York), GMs are routinely scapegoated, insulted and second-guessed. If the team deteriorates badly enough, fans flood the talk radio waves and blogosphere demanding that the GM be fired. Similar pressures are felt by coaches, who make the important in-game decisions.
Certain occupations by their very nature require dealing with dangerous, suspicious or untrustworthy classes of people. The working life of a bail bondsman is a classic example of this. Earning a living in this field involves putting up bail money for suspected criminals and collecting payment from them thereafter. Unsurprisingly, though, a great many of these people turn around and flee the area before their court date, stiffing the bail bonds company in the process. When that happens, the company is not only in the hole for the money they put up, but must also now apprehend the runaway fugitive.
It is relatively uncommon for police departments in small towns to issue arrest warrants. In big cities, the situation is the opposite: arrest warrants are issued on a constant, daily basis for a wide range of crimes. Given the higher number of warrants, simply hoping that police officers passively encounter the criminals is an untenable strategy. Instead, police departments in major cities have warrant units whose officers are responsible for actively pursuing and apprehending the criminals being sought. Of course, criminals for whom warrants have been issued are usually taking great pains not to be found.
Bomb Squad Officer
Another stressful and unique subset of city police departments is the bomb squad. When suspicious packages appear or bomb threats get called in, bomb squad officers are dispatched to evaluate the situation. While the scares often turn out to be harmless, these officers are relied upon to defuse explosives and advise the rest of the force about any evacuation plans or precautions that become necessary. With not only their lives at stake but also those of everyone nearby, working for the bomb squad is something only the truly strong-willed should even consider.
Few situations are as pressure-filled and anxiety-ridden as intense hostage negotiations. When armed fugitives hide behind human shields and make obscene demands for their release, professional hostage negotiators are called in. Only the coolest of heads can prevail amidst such nerve-wracking and emotionally charged circumstances. A successful negotiation means the safe release of the hostages. A failed negotiation means the hostages (and potentially the negotiator himself) get killed.
Alaskan Crab Fisherman
As the hit Discovery Channel show Deadliest Catch routinely demonstrates, Alaskan crab fishing involves more sheer physical danger than virtually any other job. Sent out to sea in teams, crab fishermen navigate some of the most turbulent and frigid waters on earth in search of crabs to resell. Their boats are frequently tossed about by icy waves and can even capsize during storms. Worst yet, crab fishermen are typically paid by the crab, rather than by the hour. Therefore, a thoroughly miserable yet unsuccessful crab fishing expedition could lead to little or no pay whatsoever.
Like a bail bondsman, a repo man routinely finds himself rubbing shoulders with the shady underbelly of society. When others dread the stack of paperwork waiting to be filled out on their desks, repo men lie awake wondering how they’re going to take a truck from a 6’5 biker who’s been skipping payments. Naturally, such people rarely surrender their property peacefully. A repo man, therefore, must not only possess great bravery in the face of resistance, but also the physical strength to overcome it.
Darkness, tight spaces and sparse oxygen all represent stressors for most of the population. Unfortunately, each of these things fits the standard, daily job description of a coal miner. Once a mine is ready for exploration, teams of miners venture deep inside with oxygen masks and head lamps. Whether they come back out is another story. Coal miners can easily become trapped if the mine collapses, and to skillfully extract coal while being constantly aware of that threat is no easy task.
Point Man (Army)
A point man has arguably the most stressful job in the entire U.S. Army. As Wikipedia explains, point men assume “the first and most exposed position in a combat military formation.” In the same way that a group of penguins pushes one unlucky bird off the cliff to test the waters, an Army unit sends the point man into enemy territory to feel out the threats that await. By assuming this role, a point man has a higher probability of being hurt or killed than almost any other Army position.
Air Traffic Controller
One of the only things preventing horrific airplane crashes are skilled, precise air traffic controllers. Several planes at a time are usually taking off or landing at any given airport, and it is the job of the air traffic controller to instruct each pilot as to when they can do so. Giving a land or take off signal too soon or too late can (and has) result in a crash that is solely the fault of the air traffic controller. Most people would undoubtedly find it stressful to know that each direction they gave at work killed or saved hundreds of people.
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