The Top 4 Biggest Sources of Workplace Stress

Boss in despair

By Ilan Mochari

What's the most stressful aspect of your job?

In January,, a job search portal based in Carlsbad, Calif., asked 834 site visitors that very question. The top four answers in the survey were:

  • Unpredictability (26 percent)

  • Workplace environment (21 percent)

  • Deadlines (20 percent)

  • Safety of others (16 percent)

With results like this, you might be wondering how CareerCast defines "unpredictability." It has to do with employee routine. If an employee cannot settle into a workplace pattern--wherein she's responsible for the same deliverables on a regular basis--that constitutes unpredictability. "It refers to having a workday that's inconsistent, demands that are constantly changing up the workflow," says Kyle Kensing, CareerCast's Online Content Editor.

"Workplace environment" has to do with the stress level of an employee's personal interactions with clients, customers, bosses, or colleagues. If every conversation turns into a request or an assignment, the environment is bound to become stressful.

The CareerCast poll tracked mostly full-time employees, evenly split between men and women in three age groups (roughly speaking, millennials in the 19-35 age group, Gen Xers in the 36-50 age group, and boomers in the 51-70 age group).

Most respondents (62 percent) rated their jobs as highly stressful. Just 11 percent felt their job stress was low. Other workplace stressors included: Length of work day/week: (7 percent); personal well-being in danger (5 percent); potential for promotion (3 percent); and travel (1 percent).

As for industry, academics accounted for just a tick over 16 percent of the respondents. Healthcare professionals accounted for 16 percent on the nose, and those in professional/business services for 15 percent. These levels of participation had no small effect on the findings, says Kensing. For instance, 40 percent of those in academia rated "unpredictability" their highest stress factor, which went a long way toward making "unpredictability" the top response.

Likewise, ensuring the safety of others was the biggest stressor for healthcare professionals (50 percent)--a big reason "safety of others" came in third place. Professional/business services workers rated deadlines the most stressful part of their job (31 percent), which helps explain why deadlines came in fourth.

Respondents had to select one--and only one--of the above eight choices. If you're wondering how CareerCast came up with those eight choices, it's because they have plenty of experience conducting polls about workplace stress. Since 2009, CareerCast has annually published reports of the Jobs Rated Most Stressful and Jobs Rated Least Stressful.

The January poll was designed to provide "a snapshot of readers' impressions of their own fields," says Kensing. "We get a lot of discussion from readers after releasing the Most Stressful Jobs Report, and this survey let people sound off on their own experiences."