Military Rated Most “Stressful” Job?


Usually the career and joblisting website posts enlisted military among the worst jobs in the country. But they also have a list of the most “stressful” jobs in the country.

The military general (like there are a zillion of those) rolled in at number two. Firefighters, airline pilots and events coordinators round out the top five.

CareerCast determined their rankings based on job demands that seemed likely to provoke stress, including travel, growth potential, competitiveness, physical demands, hazards, environmental conditions and risk to one’s own life or to others’.

While I can see where they are coming from — long deployments, absence from family, physical danger, and responsibility for other people’s lives are all pretty darn stressful — I think these guys have it wrong.

I think the whole “risk to one’s life” thing, combined with low income and a lack of exposure to the 1 percent who actually serve in the military, clouds the issue.

Because there are worse things than stress at work.

Work related stress can be created by many factors — from poor pay to tyrannical supervisors to monotonous, uninteresting, repetitive work that bores the life out of you.

Sociologists have found that work that brings on feelings of powerlessness, meaninglessness and isolation are the worst kinds of stressors.

When it comes to the military, I’m sure that in the first enlistment, there are plenty of opportunities to contemplate powerlessness, meaningless and isolation.

If that is your work life in the military, then your work life is just a job, just a paycheck. The military doesn’t pay well enough to keep you grinding away like that. So you get out.

I think what is a lot more interesting is what happens in that second or third enlistment period. Sometime in there servicemembers start connecting to other things at work.

The work starts meaning something. People start looking at their work and thinking of it as a career–a source of challenge, reward and status.

They might even start thinking of it as a calling — a meaningful, socially valuable part of the servicemember’s identity that also provides financial gain and career advancement.

In my research on long married active duty military couples, the majority identified their work as a calling. Some thought of it as a career. Very, very few thought of it as a job.

For most of these servicemembers, their work in the military meant something to them. For many, it was an inseparable part of who they are.

Sure, there was stress, But for couples in which the servicemember identified his work as a calling, there was also increased job satisfaction and increased marital satisfaction.

That counts for something. If you haven’t been in the military yourself (I haven’t) or you haven’t lived with a military member for long (I have) you probably can’t see why anyone would want a job like that—and you would be quick to put military jobs right at the top of the list of “worst” or “most stressful” jobs in the country.

But when you have witnessed someone’s work going from bill paying job to life filling calling you have to look at work in the military a little bit differently.

About the Author

Jacey Eckhart
Jacey Eckhart is the former Director of Spouse and Family Programs for Since 1996, Eckhart’s take on military families has been featured in her syndicated column, her book The Homefront Club, and her award winning CDs These Boots and I Married a Spartan?? Most recently she has been featured as a military family subject matter expert on NBC Dateline, CBS morning news, CNN, NPR and the New York Times. Eckhart is an Air Force brat, a Navy wife and an Army mom. Find her at

18 Comments on "Military Rated Most “Stressful” Job?"

  1. Some of the most stressful things a person can experience are death of someone they care about, moving, and loss of job or community.
    Guess what, all of those things can and do happen on a regular basis, and that is what makes the military such a stressful job and being in a military family a stressful life experience.
    What you are talking about in your post is the ways in which people cope with extreme stress (e.g. resiliency) and that is different from the stressors themselves.
    To underplay the stress of military life does a significant disservice to service members and their families, because it clouds the very real issues of suicide, depression, and PTSD. And it furthur isolates and alienates people in the community who are struggling.

    • jacey_eckhart | January 9, 2014 at 11:48 am |

      I am in full agreement with you that the military is a stressful job and I certainly DO NOT mean to have downplayed that aspect. What I meant to emphasize is that there is meaning in this kind of work even though it is very stressful. And I think that in a list like this, the meaning gets washed out until all that is left is the idea that this is a job no one would want. I'm sorry I didn't make that clearer in the post.

      • You have set the record straight. Please contact that commission on pay and benefits that is being done now and tell them the truth about military service and the stress we go through. I wish Congress would read your article. Thanks for your thoughts on the military life.

  2. sabrinacking | January 9, 2014 at 11:58 am |

    I am never going to keep this resolution…I need to unsubscribe to Jacey's posts…sigh.
    You know what, on this I am going to agree with you. And like the first poster said, we actually have dealt with all their points that could= too much stress to stay in. But never did. Because as you clearly defined, somewhere along the way you begin to define this life as a calling. And THAT gives meaning to all the aforementioned and gives you a rock to cling to. The problems come when the meaning of that calling is challenged: retirement pay getting screwed with, having to fight for PTSD treatment, reading over and over again on these stupid message boards you're "just a spouse" and the last 20 years of your life devotedly volunteering for an organization…mean nothing. All of THAT is very stressful. Rip your soul out and stomp on it, stressful. But you know what fixes it? Going back to the core of "it's a calling". I'm glad, some people have it in them to fight the good fight with Congress, we just don't have it in us any more to fight against the definition of our entire lives, so we just sigh, and go to mass and keep on, keeping on.

  3. WOW, I thought it would have been the burger flipper at MacDonald's…..

  4. I think thiscommentary is linked to the wrong article. Good commentary talking about why people stay in the military is written in response to a site it’s a “most stressful” job? Yes, it is a most stressful job. This sounds like a senior officer wife who has reached the unrelatable to younger spouses phase. Good points about satisfaction and purpose beating stress, but that doesnt disqualify it as a most stressful job. Darn well better be at the top of the list!

  5. the first mel | January 9, 2014 at 4:54 pm |

    From my perspective as a spouse to a Marine for 24 years, as one moves up the ranks the stress level continues to increase. Even when there is an understanding of purpose and sense of meaning, being in the military is one tough @ss career. Between having to suck it up, being pulled in multiple directions, dealing with coworkers on a professional level along with an involvement in personal lives, having to represent 24/7, navigating the fluctuating changes in standards and rules, doing what the "powers that be" tell you to do regardless of any chaos that might be already occurring, butt chewings, extended training, deployments, and war, there appears to be a constant state of stress. Then add to it the stresses that accompany trying to be a spouse and parent while you are serving in the military. The military isn't a career that begins at 9am and ends at 5pm every day. There isn't a period of decompression that can lessen that stress level to any semblance of calm. It's like a beach that is continually battered by waves. There may be days of small waves and days of huge waves, but regardless of size, the waves are constant. Those who find all that stress still worth it, stay in.

  6. I agree with you that unlike many jobs, the military is a calling/identity for many–a sense of working for something meaningful, greater than one's self. Why else would people put up with the "stress" and other hardships?

  7. John Sakowich | January 9, 2014 at 5:53 pm |

    I can totally understand this. The reason just might be that fact that they are working for a muslim extremist president. How can anyone do their job when this muslim extremist president stops them from fighting back. When he makes the rules of engagement so they are not even allowed to return fire it is hard to defend yourself when you know this commander and chief joker is going to make sure you go to prison if you do it. Our military should defend themselves no matter what the muslim president says

    • Things haven’t changed much since Vietnam except you believing we have a Muslim President. Too much false news in your reading

  8. Saenz,Ernest H | January 10, 2014 at 4:17 am |

    Now now.. I recall (getting back to the subject) my 0311 mos was stressful under Clinton and Bush era as well.. Religion or origin should not play a factor. If hypocritically speaking then Dumb and Dumberer Era was just as stressful

  9. the most stressful job in the military is the Army Recruiter hands down!!

  10. You should post the 100 most stressful military job titles

  11. …and the toughest job in the military is the Infantry, hands down!!

  12. Jeffrey Escude | January 15, 2014 at 12:25 am |

    Most stressful is when supriors have no concept of COMSEC.

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