Stress. No matter what job you have, at some point, it’s going to be stressful. But jobs with chronic stress can destroy your health and happiness at all hours of the day. I’ve attempted to break out the different types of work stress below, to discuss which kinds of stress is ok (short-term) and which kind of stress should be avoided or engineered out of your life.
- Work Quantity Stress — you may like your job, your compensation, your boss, and your peers, but you just have too much to do. Perhaps you’re being scheduled for too many hours, or being handed too many clients than it’s reasonably possible to manage in a week’s work. If you can negotiate a lesser project load or convince your boss that additional resources need to be added, then this stress is manageable. However, if you are working in a situation where this is unlikely to change, it’s best to start exploring new employers within the same field. You should determine if the workload is common across all employers in the field, or unique to your employer. If unique, start planning your exit. If not, determine if your career is truly sustainable.
- Job Success Stress — some jobs are second nature to employees. There may be specific projects that require learning new skills or developing existing ones, but no matter what there’s a core set of things that you do well, probably better than anyone else in your company. You take pride in these things and know they are adding value to your employer. If you do not have a core set of skills that add value to your employer, it’s time to look at your career and scope your potential for success. If you’re constantly unable to live up to expectations, and are unable to learn certain portions of the role (i.e. you have to be extroverted but you’re really shy) it’s time to look for a new job or career.
- Management Stress (Boss) — your boss likes you give you one direction and then change it the next minute. Goals are never consistent and somehow a contribution you made once that received great praise is, despite being nearly identical a few days later, somehow not considered a win. You are fighting an uphill battle that you can’t win. You should maybe start to look for a new boss. If you can move to another department in your company, this is worth a first step if you still like the overall company and culture.
- Management Stress (Direct Reports) — no matter what, you just cannot get the best work out of your team. Maybe you are understaffed (see #1) or you made poor hiring choices. Even if you hired the world’s best team, you still may not be helping them succeed due to your own poor managerial skills. Not everyone should be a manager. It’s ok to take a step back and accept if you are not management material, as they say. You can still lead a very successful career without being in middle or senior management. Take stock of your stressors and see how many of these would go away if you could focus entirely on execution and not on leadership. If the answer is “most of them,” consider a career change into a field where individual contributions are rewarded. Consultants can earn as much or more than middle managers. Don’t be a slave to corporate hierarchies if you don’t fit them well.
- Financial Stress (Underpaid) — your life is more expensive than your compensation. Maybe you have a lot of debt, or have to support a growing family, and your work isn’t paying enough to enable you to live the life you want. Just leaving your job and jumping to another role will unlikely solve this, unless you can manage a major pay increase. Examine your career and realistically address your likely compensation over the next 10 years within your role and field. If this won’t help you achieve your financial goals, start to look for a career that pays better.
- Financial Stress (Overpaid) — this one may seem odd, but there is a stress that comes along with negotiating well for yourself and making comparatively more than others at your level in the company. You and your own boss may place a great deal of stress on your successes that are in reality much bigger than the cost to the business for the extra couple hundred dollars you make each month after taxes. Determine if you’d be happier making less with less unreasonable pressure. It maybe be better to add a second job or some freelancing work to make up for the difference, versus being expected to give up your entire life for work.
- Culture Stress — no matter what, you haven’t been able to find your peer group in your organization. It’s like you joined some super cliquey sorority and you were invited as a joke. Perhaps everyone at the office goes on and on about sports everyday and you haven’t watched a game since you were forced to by your parents in second grade. Or the entire company is made out of male engineers who seem to have a touch of Aspergers, and won’t listen to anything you have to say. It’s ok to admit that the culture isn’t right, and it’s time to start looking elsewhere. If the company culture is causing you so much stress it’s distracting you from getting your job done or enjoying your home life… it’s ok to move on.
- Individual Person Stress — is there one employee in your organization who just drives you absolutely batshit? If this employee isn’t your boss, you probably can learn to deal with them, but it won’t be easy. Every company is going to have its fair share of people who don’t jive with your personality, and in most cases you have to learn how to deal with them and be a mature adult about the situation. If the person is related to the company’s founder and is given special treatment, you’re probably not the only one who notices. Remind yourself the job is not forever, and do your best now so you can be better suited for other companies – without this person as an employee – in the future.
- Travel Stress — you joined the job thinking you’d be traveling a few times a year, but suddenly you’re called on to travel every day of the week, and some weekends. You feel like you never see your family, significant other, pet or bed. Maybe the travel was fun and exciting for a while, but you’ve gotten to the point where you know the security gate attendant better than your partner. If the travel is creating more stress than reward, consider looking for a position in the same field that doesn’t require constant time on the road.
- Office Stress — getting out of the office every once in a while can do wonders to help you improve your work. If your employer doesn’t support your attending industry conferences, sitting in on client meetings, or ever leaving your cubical, you may be stuck in a rut that won’t be de-rutted until you make a move. This type of stress is manageable over the short term. Start to look for other positions which your skills can apply towards which offer more opportunities for travel or being put in front of users/clients. Or, talk to your boss and see if there are opportunities to improve this in your company today.
Jobs naturally are stressful – if they weren’t, we wouldn’t get paid to do them! But there are some stressors that are worse than others. Take stock of what is causing your stress today, and determine if this is something you can manage for a few months or years, or if it’s time to start looking at a company or career change. This post was inspired by a friend of mine who is an occupational therapist, who, despite stresses over resources, really loves her actual job. She explained that it feels good to be really good at what she does. I returned to thinking about my own stresses today in work, and how most of these are due to my lack of confidence in being able to do any of my core job tasks well. By understanding this, I’m able to focus on looking for a new career where I can obtain a role where I can feel competent. Personally, I don’t see this ever being possible in my current role/field for a number of reasons, so I am more convinced then ever that I must shake things up in order to lead a happy life over the long term.