These careers can be compelling and offer important services, but they are far from easy.
What makes a job awful? Lousy growth potential? A micromanaging boss? Unsupportive, lazy colleagues? One website surveyed workers in a variety of industries and discovered that it’s not high stress or low pay that determines career misery — it’s both. The combination of being stressed out and broke trumps all other career-related gripes.
Certainly there are higher-stress jobs out there, but if the pay is good, workers seem willing to bear the anxiety. Likewise, for the totally stress-averse, there are plenty of jobs that won’t ruffle feathers, but also likely won’t pay well.
Unfortunately, as with chemical-dependency counselors or parole officers, many of the workers dealing with high stress and low pay provide essential social services. “We can’t have a society with no probation officers, no social workers,” says Al Lee, director of quantitative analysis at PayScale.com. “We should maybe talk about where we want to spend our money as a society.”
The following is a list of jobs and their annual salaries from PayScale.com that have the double-whammy of high stress and low pay:
1. Supportive Residential Counselor – Median Annual Salary: $26,900
It’s not hard to imagine that running a residential home for the mentally ill or physically disabled would be demanding and stressful at times. But when you add the challenge of maneuvering through the tangled bureaucracies that often accompany any public-service infrastructure, you have all the makings of a stressful job.
Just ask Paula S. Gilbert, a licensed mental health counselor who held a full-time supervisory position in a residential home for mentally ill young adults. The home is overseen by the New York State Office of Mental Health. At the time, Gilbert had more than four years of work experience, and earned around $38,000 per year. She quit after about a year, but not because of the salary.
“The staff was very difficult to manage, and no one was really helping me,” she says. “There was an overall lack of support and training. I pieced things together day by day. It was very high-stress.”
2. Import / Export Agent – Median Annual Salary: $36,700
Import/export agents are typically found at the center of deals where goods are bought and sold internationally. They act as mediators and sometimes facilitators between the buyer and seller. Agents must abide by a strict set of rules and guidelines on international trade. The job is highly stressful, in part, because it’s commission-based. If you’re not able to get all parties to come to an agreement, your paycheck disappears with their deal.
3. Chemical-Dependency Counselor – Median Annual Salary: $38,900
These counselors deal with addicted individuals who are often in the throes of a calamitous life event. And rather than accepting the help of a counselor voluntarily, many of these people are legally required to take it. While the work can be compelling, substance-abuse counseling ranks as one of the most difficult social work jobs due to its emotional challenges. Watching clients relapse and sometimes become ill or die can take its toll.
4. Probation Officer – Median Annual Salary: $39,900
Probation officers spend the majority of their time working in prisons, courthouses and detention centers. They supervise and follow up with sentenced offenders, often working with social workers and other care providers to ensure that offenders are attempting to live lawfully.
“I don’t remember many happy days of my job,” says Charles Merwin, a retired probation officer in Suffolk County, New York. “The system is challenged. The people are troubled. You had to be a little bit good at everything. You had to remind yourself you were doing good work.”
5. News Reporter – Median Annual Salary: $40,900
Digging up details on the latest news story is hard work. The financial struggles that have plagued the newspaper industry in recent years make this role even more stressful. Still, many news reporters might not want to change to a lower-stress career because the work wouldn’t feel as important.