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One of the Most Stressful Jobs in the World Isn't What You'd Expect

Waitress holding food
Photo by Bimo Luki on Unsplash

What's the most stressful job in the world? You might think of surgeons, air traffic controllers, lawyers, miners, pilots, truckers, and construction workers.

Those are all perfectly acceptable answers, but research shows that waitressing might be the most stressful job out there.

Researchers from Southern Medical Center in Guangzhou, China, reviewed six previous studies to see which ones were the most stressful. Scientists categorized jobs based on how much control workers had over their tasks and how demanding the jobs were.

The four job categories were:

  • Passive jobs (low demand/low control) – Miners, janitors, and other manual labor jobs

  • High-stress jobs (high demand/low control) – Waiters, nursing aides, and other service industry jobs

  • Low-stress jobs (low demand/high control) – Scientists, architects, and others

  • Active jobs (high demand/high control) – Engineers, doctors, teachers, and others

Those in high-stress jobs were at a 22% greater risk of a stroke and 58% more likely to have an ischemic stroke than those in low-stress jobs. Women were especially vulnerable as those in high-stress jobs saw a 33% greater risk of a stroke than women in low-stress jobs.

Additionally, a study in the American Journal of Epidemiology found that women in tipped services were 61% more likely to report depression and 72% more likely to report sleep problems than those in non-tipped jobs.

What's causing these issues?

For one, tipped jobs often cause plenty of money-related stress. According to the Economic Policy Institute, tipped workers are twice as likely to live in poverty than non-tipped workers. Restaurants can pay waiters less than minimum wage as tipping is supposed to supplement such income. However, many people give small tips or don't tip at all, which leads to inconsistent pay.

Worst of all, waitresses often deal with rude behavior or sexual harassment. A study in BMC Public Health found that 2.4% of Danish employees reported harassment from clients or customers. Despite this, servers must bear through this behavior with a grin because their income depends on their customer's generosity.

Other factors include a lack of health benefits, unpredictable hours, and hazards such as carpal tunnel, burns, and slips.

Stress can lead people to fall into bad habits, such as smoking or drinking. Stress can also lead to sleep deprivation, which, in turn, further increases stress. This insidious feedback loop takes a toll on a person's mental and physical health over time.

Low wages workers often don't have the time, money, or resources to seek proper treatment. They sometimes can't afford a nice vacation away from their job or trips to the massage parlor.

If there's one takeaway, let it be this: tip your service workers. Give a few dollars (usually 15-20%) to your waiters, Uber drivers, Instacart delivery drivers, hairdressers, and bartenders.

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