If recent reports are correct,American workers are spent, worn out and on the verge of nervous breakdowns. They are suffering from job stress.
But what's a worker to do -- quit? Name a good-paying job that doesn't involve some stress.
Well, The Jobs Rated Almanac (World Almanac; $14.95) has done just that. Not only have the book's editors ranked 250 jobs from most to least stressful (firefighter and musical instrument repairer, respectively), they also ranked eight of the highest-paying/least-stressful jobs.
The average salaries for these occupations are:
Actuary -- $45,780;
Piano tuner -- $43,600;
Petroleum engineer -- $43,450;
Historian -- $41,093;
Chemist -- $40,984;
Lithographer -- $39,426;
Physiologist -- $38,695, and
Biologist -- $38,695.
Great. All the legwork is done. But don't hand in that resignation just yet. These so-called high-pay, low-stress jobs, with the exception of lithographer and piano tuner, require a college education and, in some cases, advanced degrees and lots of experience.
In rating the jobs for stress, almanac editors measured 22 factors. "Every job requires some coping with stress," said Les Krantz, editor and publisher of the almanac. "But it's safe to say a job that involves a lot of overtime and great risk to life exposes the worker to more stress than a job that doesn't."
The book's stress-ranking system, not taking salary into account, listed 22 job demands, giving a high score if a particular demand was a major part of a job and fewer points if the demand was a small part of the job.
Categories included: physical demands, environmental conditions, speed required, hazards encountered, life of worker at risk, life of another at risk, precision required, initiative required, stamina required, outdoor work, confinement, detail, meeting in public, quotas, deadlines and competitiveness. The data were assembled from a variety of sources, including studies by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
But even the occupations rated the most tranquil are not entirely without stress, the editors noted. Consider, for instance, the seemingly unhurried life of a piano tuner. Matt Miehl, 68, of North Hollywood, Calif., got his start tuning pianos nine years ago when he took a class at California State University, Northridge.
A retired telephone company transmission engineer, Miehl thought tuning pianos would be a fun hobby to pursue during retirement and a handy way to make a little money.
Becoming an accomplished piano tuner and repairer takes time -- up to two to three years and about 600 to 900 hours of class work to do the job correctly, say teachers at the American Institute of Piano Technology in Los Angeles.
Getting work seems to be the hardest part. "That's where the stress comes in," Miehl said. "It could take five years to build a clientele."
The type of job also can influence the level of stress, he said. Tuning a piano for, say, Van Cliburn, is considerably more stressful than replacing a few strings in a homeowner's upright.
"Concert tuning pays better, but the demands are greater, and it involves a lot more time," said Miehl, who prefers working in the harmonious setting of a living room.
The pay scale? That all depends on the amount of business a piano tuner can generate. Successful tuners have enough work to keep them busy six days a week, earning more than $200 a day, said Miehl, who has a clientele of 100. Newcomers have it rougher.
Sherman Oaks, Calif., chemist Larry Marantz agrees with the book's description of chemist as a low-stress job. A research chemist must produce, but the deadlines are few and far between, a factor in minimizing stress, he said. The same can't be said of a chemist working with toxic materials. The pay for doctoral-level chemists is high, ranging from $75 to $100 an hour on consulting projects, Marantz said.
Stress corresponds with responsibility, he said, noting that management-level chemists seem to be exposed to more stress than research chemists.
"It's management who must deal with deadlines and products that don't work," he said.
Actuaries are ranked as the highest-paying and least-stressful profession. Briefly, an actuary estimates the amount of money insurance companies and corporations set aside for medical claims and liabilities, among other duties.
These professionals, usually college math majors, are self-effacing by nature, said Pat Shapiro, an Encino, Calif., actuary who has been in the business for 19 years.
"An actuary is an accountant with no personality," she joked.
Told of the book's ranking, Shapiro did not dispute the survey's findings. Actuaries work regular hours and the pay is excellent.
A "fellow," an actuary who has completed 10 required exams administered by the Society of Actuaries, can earn more than $50,000 annually.
Completion of the requirements takes five to nine years, she said. Starting salaries for those just out of college range from $20,000 to $30,000.
Shapiro did admit that there is some stress associated with the job. For instance, she said, actuaries deal with millions of dollars, and one wrong calculation could cost a client a fortune.
"I think stress is internally created," Shapiro said. "President Reagan has a difficult job, but he appears relaxed. Then you have a key-punch operator. That job doesn't appear stressful on the surface, but a person in that job can look like a nervous wreck."