This week I got lucky. I scored a business trip to a Lockheed Martin facility where they make all kinds of warfare simulators—everything from tank mock-ups to pretend F-35 jet fighters. I got to play, but even playing was stressful.
I can’t imagine how stressful it must be in real life, being a soldier on patrol in hostile territory for hours at a time.
Well, actually, I can imagine it a little bit. It’s called “going to the office.”
My job is sooooooo stressful. You have no idea.
We Americans love talking about how stressful our work is, how tough it is to juggle all the demands put upon us, as if our ancestors wondering if they had enough food for winter were living on Easy Street.
My grandparents scraped out a living on a farm in Arkansas. My grandmother gave birth ten times. Eight babies lived. My mom was the youngest (and she hopped a train to California pretty much the day she turned 21).
The few photographs I’ve seen of my mother’s mother show a woman who looked pleasant but serious. Grandma didn’t need to “Lean In” and network with others to find a work-life balance. She didn’t need anti-anxiety meds. By all accounts, she wasn’t especially stressed. She was too tired to be stressed.
Now, in the 21st century, we are a nation filled with people who are stressed about being stressed. We brag about how exhausted we are. I do it all the time. Maybe if I had to raise eight kids and run a farm, I’d be too exhausted to talk about how exhausted I am.
A recent survey by Monster.com found that 2 out of 5 Americans have actually changed jobs because of a stressful work environment. More than half say they experience “very stressful lives.” Meanwhile, in India, the number of people changing jobs due to stress is only 19 percent. Perhaps the prospect of no job is even more stressful there.
What is the biggest cause of stress? Forty percent of respondents to the Monster survey said “professional relationships with their boss is the greatest cause of work stress.” That’s not even counting the stress related to a personal relationship with the boss.
We’re so stressed out at work it’s making us sick. Monster.com’s survey claims 80 percent of us—4 out of 5!—have experienced “somewhat severe illnesses including missing time at work and other physical ailments” due to work stress. Seven percent say the stress has even sent them to the hospital!
When one out of every dozen working Americans is being hospitalized over work stress, either this survey is out of whack or we have a serious problem on our hands.
Perhaps we need to put it all in perspective. I realize jobs are important because they pay the bills, keep us off the streets and put food on the table. But it’s all relative. Living in North Korea is “very stressful.” Trying to avoid roadside bombs in Afghanistan is “very stressful.” Sitting with a sick child in the hospital is “very stressful.”
Being passed over for promotion, dealing with a worthless manager, fighting for a better parking space … my grandmother would look at you like you were an idiot. Here’s the upside to all this: If these things stress you out, it means the important things in life must be fine.
So, yes, I will continue to complain about stressful deadlines, grueling hours and the need for “date nights.” And then I will thank God my grandparents worked so hard, so I don’t have to.
—By CNBC’s Jane Wells.