10 Stressful Jobs That Don’t Pay Nearly Enough

High-stress jobs should come with high salaries, but that's not always the case.
Updated May 20, 2024
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So many jobs today are filled with stress, and all of its negative consequences, and many come without the benefits of a high salary. Finding the right career, though, can help your mental health while getting ahead financially

Working in a high-stress position might make sense if it comes with a high salary. But these high-stress jobs come with salaries below $60,000, even when they require a college degree. 

If you're considering a new career, avoid these 10 stressful professions that don't pay as well as they should.

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Buzzer Beaters/Adobe middle aged news reporter in suit holding mic in street

Reporters and journalists usually work for television, newspapers, or magazines. Some also report news for online publications. 

People in this profession often face tight deadlines and must work whenever news breaks. They have unpredictable schedules, and some must pitch stories themselves.

Reporting news at all hours is even less appealing when you consider the pay. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports the median annual income for reporters at $57,500. 

Retail salesperson

megaflopp/Adobe tired young man leaning over shelf with clothes

Retail salespeople help customers with various needs, such as answering questions and processing orders. Assisting the public can lead to a lot of stress, especially when customers are frustrated or angry.

The median annual salary for retail salespeople is only $33,900. Workers aren’t required to have special education, but this job's stress and low pay may send workers back to school for a degree in a better-paying career.

Restaurant server

baranq/Adobe stressful young woman in cafe

Waiters working in restaurants take orders and bring food to tables. Not only do servers often deal with unhappy customers, but they also work odd hours. 

It’s not uncommon for servers to work late nights, weekends, and even holidays. Schedules can also change from week to week, making it hard to plan activities outside the workplace.

This high-stress job only pays a median income of $31,940 per year, and restaurant servers often depend on customers for tips to make ends meet. 

This profession might serve better as a side job if you’re looking for ways to make extra money now.

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911 operator

nimito/Adobe african american man wearing headset working in office

911 and other emergency phone operators answer emergency calls and send help. They sometimes guide callers through impossible situations until emergency services arrive. 

Stress runs high managing these literal life-or-death situations, especially when callers are panicked or unresponsive. Emergency operators do a great service to the public, but the pay doesn't reflect their responsibilities. 

The median annual salary for public safety telecommunicators is only $48,890. You won’t need a college degree for this job, but you can expect many nerve-wracking shifts.

Call center representative

Anela Ramba/peopleimages.com/Adobe stressful african american employee in workplace

Talking on the phone all day to customers and assisting them with their complaints can become very stressful very quickly. 

Many might blame you for issues outside of your control. And if you can't solve their problems, you might receive poor ratings that impact your job.

Call center representatives are not paid well for their troubles. The median annual income is only $39,680. This is another job where you may be expected to work nights, weekends, and holidays.

Correctional officer

bibiphoto/Adobe man inserting keys in prison cell door

A job as a correctional officer comes with potentially dangerous conditions and high levels of stress. Supervising prisoners can sometimes lead to physical altercations with inmates. 

Because prisoners need watching over 24/7, correctional officers can expect to work nights, weekends, and holidays.

The median annual pay for correctional officers is only $53,300.

Nursing assistant

Barabas Attila/Adobe doctor in blue scrubs wearing stethoscope holding hand of senior person

Nursing assistants often face physically stressful situations at work. Transporting and lifting patients can also cause physical strain. 

If you work in this profession, you can expect to spend a lot of time on your feet. Many nursing assistants also work long and odd hours and might even work double shifts.

While becoming a nursing assistant doesn’t require a college degree, you will still need to graduate from a certified program to qualify for many jobs. The median annual wage for nursing assistants is only $38,200.


Rawpixel.com/Adobe paramedics team trying to rescue man on  stretcher

Paramedics and EMTs sometimes encounter stressful life-or-death situations. Even when this isn’t the case, they can face mentally and physically stressful conditions. Lifting and transporting sick and injured patients to the hospital can take a toll.

Emergencies happen during the day, at night, and on weekends and holidays. This makes the median annual pay of only $53,180 appear very small.


Gorodenkoff/Adobe fireman rescuing girl from fire

Firefighting is a dangerous career. Running into burning buildings can lead to serious injury or death. The inability to save every structure or person from a fire can also lead to extreme stress.

Firefighters face physically demanding conditions and must complete training before actively fighting fires. The median annual salary for this highly dangerous and stressful career is only $57,120.

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Social worker

Valerii Honcharuk/Adobe woman wearing glasses writing on notepad with pen

Working as a social worker can bring a lot of stress. Helping others through difficult situations can provide personal fulfillment, but outcomes aren’t always positive. 

Facing unsuccessful outcomes isn’t always easy, and some social workers might struggle with this aspect of the job.

You’ll need a bachelor’s degree to become a social worker, but the median annual wage is only $58,380. This salary is low considering the education required and the stress associated with the field.

Bottom line

Diego Cervo/Adobe stress ball in hand

If you're OK with working in high-stress conditions, you might as well get paid a higher salary. While sometimes fulfilling, the jobs on this list can leave you feeling burnt out and struggling to pay bills.

It’s easier to make smart money moves if you make more money than you need to survive each month. And you can enjoy your job if you aren’t constantly battling stress in the workplace.  

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Author Details

Katelyn Washington Katelyn Washington is a writer with a passion for finance and business. She put herself through business school as a single mother of three and has had pieces commissioned by national magazines. When she’s not writing, she enjoys spending time with her family and editing manuscripts for indie authors.

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