“I AM so stressed at work,” said every person who has ever had a job.
It’s rare to have a conversation about work where the topic doesn’t come up.
But why do people intentionally choose jobs that stress them out? And does it pay off in the end?
If we’re talking about pay-off in terms of money, there are plenty of workers who have very stressful jobs that come with a big pay cheque: stockbrokers, surgeons, company executives.
At the same time there are high pressure jobs that don’t pay well: nursing, aged care, social work.
But stress means different things to different people. Most stockbrokers and surgeons don’t wake up every day dreading going to work because they’re not stressed. They thrive on the pressure and the adrenalin.
Career coach Brad Shaw says it’s important to draw a distinction between stress and the emotion you feel when you’re invigorated and excited about what you’re doing.
“Some people can thrive on that and love it and for other people stress is really an indicator that you’re in a role you’re not suited to, said Mr Shaw, from Elite Leadership.
“Stockmarket cowboys – they need to be stressed. That’s why they’re seen to be cocky, the cockiness just comes from their confidence to deal with anything.
“That’s where you need to differentiate between stress and adrenalin – top level surgeon and money makers aren’t working from stress they’re working from adrenalin.”
The point at which stress becomes negative varies from person to person. Some personalities are uncomfortable in high pressure environments, and they haven’t chosen it but the pressure is created or exacerbated by their boss.
Being asked to do challenging things is part of working life, but for some people the demands are too much.
“There are some times when you’re pushed to the limit but you need someone to nurture you to where you need to go. But if bosses that do not want to invest any nurturing time and just want to see results, they then become bullies. The only way of getting their result from you is by pushing you harder,” Mr Shaw said.
One worker in the telecommunications industry, who wishes to remain nameless, started severely grinding her teeth and experiencing anxiety for the first time in her life at the age of 39.
The financial controller for a business that was taken over, her job changed so that she was required to 110-125 hour weeks and was under immense pressure from her new bosses.
After sticking it out for 13 months she finally decided to leave.
“I earned good money don’t get me wrong but I said to my husband, you know what, if we’ve got to sell our house I don’t care I can’t keep doing this,” she told news.com.au.
“Now I’m working 40 hour weeks and I don’t know myself. It’s the first time in 15 years.”
Career coach Kate James said long hours were a major cause of work stress.
“There’s just not the time to recharge. Not the item to unwind. Even those roles like stockbrokers, I would argue it’s fine if you can handle that level of adrenalin but your body needs to return to the state that doesn’t have that high level of adrenalin and cortisol,” Ms James, from Total Balance, said.
So how do you work out if the stress you’re feeling is negative?
The simple answer is that the stress doesn’t end when you leave the office and it starts to affect your personal life in a tangible way.
“If you find that you’re not sleeping or you’re suffering from symptoms of anxiety,” Ms James said. “A really important question is are you energised by it or are you depleted by it?”
If you are depleted by the stress it’s not worth staying in your job, no matter how much money you’re earning.
“If stress is creating a negative impact on your life it’s absolute not worth it,” Mr Shaw said.
“I know a lot of very unrich people who are much happier than the people who are very rich.”
Ms James said if you are being paid well for a demanding job you must spend the money wisely.
“It’s really important that people utilise that position and that income to set themselves up well,” she said. “Don’t use the bulk of it to go out drinking and shopping and spend it on things that numb you from a stressful life because then you’ve completely defeated the purpose.”