Numerous studies show that job stress is far and away the major source of stress for American adults and that it has escalated progressively over the past few decades. Increased levels of job stress as assessed by the perception of having little control but lots of demands have been demonstrated to be associated with increased rates of heart attack, hypertension and other disorders. In New York, Los Angels and other municipalities, the relationship between job stress and heart attacks is so well acknowledged, that any police officer who suffers a coronary event on or off the job is assumed to have a work related injury and is compensated accordingly (including heart attack sustained while fishing on vacation or gambling in Las Vegas).
Although the Institute is often asked to construct lists of the “most” and “least” stressful occupations, such rankings have little importance for several reasons. It is not the job but the person-environment fit that matters. Some individuals thrive in the time urgent pressure cooker of life in the fast lane, having to perform several duties at the same time and a list of things to do that would overwhelm most of us — provided they perceive that they are in control. They would be severely stressed by dull, dead-end assembly-line work enjoyed by others who shun responsibility and simply want to perform a task that is well within their capabilities. The stresses that a policeman or high school teacher working in an inner city ghetto are subjected to are quite different than those experienced by their counterparts in rural Iowa. It is necessary to keep this in mind when sweeping statements are made about the degree of stress in teachers, police personnel, physicians and other occupations. Stress levels can vary widely even in identical situations for different reasons.