High Stress and Low Pay: Would You Do Any of These Jobs?

iStock_000002766388SmallNot too long ago, I was reading an article on CNN Money on some of the most stressful jobs that come with low pay. When we think of some high-stress jobs, like air traffic controller, the assumption is that there is some sort of monetary compensation for dealing with the stress.

However, this isn’t always the case. The article points out some of the stressful and low-paying jobs that many people find themselves doing:

  • Restaurant kitchen manager: Work 60 hours a week, stressing out about food and managing workers, for less than $40,000 a year.
  • Emergency services dispatcher: Give advice to panic-stricken callers, while sending emergency responders to the right address. That can be pretty stressful, and these workers only make a little more than $38,000 a year.
  • Mental health counselor: For less than $33,000 a year, you work with people who have serious problems and stresses — and it’s easy to bring that work home with you, adding stress to your life and putting strain on your relationships.
  • Deputy sheriff: Work odd shifts and long hours, as well as put your life on the line. You deal with difficult people, and have to worry that you are making the right split-second decision. The median pay is less than $46,000.
  • Veterinary technician: You sometimes work odd hours (especially if there is an emergency), and you have to deal with situations, such as putting animals to sleep. There are time demands and stress demands, and you are likely to make less than $34,000 a year.


Of course, these are median annual salaries. Some people will make more money and some make less. However, the reality is that these are jobs that come with stress — and the compensation received in exchange might not be worth it.

Doing Your Job for Other Reasons

The real question, even win a high-stress job, is whether or not you can do the job for other reasons and still be happy, even if you aren’t getting paid. Your pay is only part of the equation.

There are those who choose to work in law enforcement or in mental health fields because they want to help people and make the world a better place. Being able to work for a cause is one of the reasons that some people stick with low-paying and stressful jobs. In the end, they feel that they are making a difference, and that matters more than the money they receive for doing the job — even if the job can be stressful at times.

On the other hand, though, this state of affairs can also be somewhat disappointing. You know that you are doing good work, and you are stressed and sacrificing, but you aren’t gaining recognition that the rest of the world values what you do. This can be difficult to deal with. It’s a conundrum: You know that what you are doing is important, and that it’s more important than money, but at the same time you also know that you aren’t getting paid for it, and your worth is often judged by your paycheck.

You may not do your job entirely for the money, but it’s still nice to get that validation, in a way that says society values you — or at least that society values you enough to provide you with something a little more than a subsistence wage.

When Does It Become Too Much?

Another side problem that can come with a high-stress, low-paying job is that you might face burnout. When you make a lot of money, you can convince yourself that it’s worth it to keep with the job, since you make a good salary.

But what happens if there is too much stress and not enough money? If you are struggling to support your family and make ends meet, that adds stress on top of what you do — no matter how much good you think you are doing. When it becomes too much, you might start thinking about changing jobs, or finding some other way to earn extra money on the side. Even a job you feel good about can become a burden if you are too stressed, and it gets to the point that the stress outweighs the amount of money you get.

What do you think? Are there some jobs that just don’t pay enough to be worth it?


High Stress and Low Pay: Would You Do Any of These Jobs? — 9 Comments

  1. For sure. Yes, you spend most of your time working, but LIFE costs money and if your job does not allow you to live the lifestyle you want, it’s not really a dream job then.

    • That’s so true. A “dream job” should allow you to enjoy your lifestyle as well as at least tolerate your work 🙂

  2. I’m with NZ Muse. Especially on the restaurant manager front. Or really most jobs at the retail store management level.

    • Yeah. Retail/restaurant management are far more stressful than many people give credit for. Poor pay, and a lot of hassle with employees and with customers. And not a lot of power to do a whole lot.

    • Yeah. Retail/restaurant management are far more stressful than many people give credit for. Poor pay, and a lot of hassle with employees and with customers. And not a lot of power to do a whole lot.

  3. I’ve been a restaurant kitchen manager before. It’s high-stress and lots of work, but it can be fun with a good crew. I probably wouldn’t go back to it, but it really wasn’t too bad.

  4. I would add teacher to this list. There are several teachers in my family and many of my friends are teachers and they are just not paid enough! Their service to kids and the community is not appropriately recognized or financially valued, in my opinion. I agree with you that it’s more of a calling and a desire to give back that motivates employment in these fields. And I’m grateful that teachers, and others, do serve in these positions. Thank you for sharing this!

  5. Miranda, yes, I think there are some jobs that are simply not worth the hastle. At the same time, as we say in Bulgaria, every train has its passengers. I, for instance, am academic. My latest calculation shows that junior colleagues work for below minimum wage in academia and full professors make more than the minimum wage but not that much. This of course is normalised by the hours we have to put in. Add to this having to deal with increasing bureaucracy, students that see themselves as customers that have gone to a restaurant to order their meal, and pressures to publish in particular journals and this can easily become one of the jobs that is high stress and low return; well, will return for most normal academics anyway.

    I still do it and love it most of the time. So what I’m saying here is that I can imagine that people in.patience you listed probably feel very similar.

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