How to find a low-stress job
With a little self-reflection, you can figure out what your ideal job looks like.
Among the best oxymorons out there, "low-stress jobs" ranks toward the top. After all, chronic job stress is real. In fact, in Monster's 2020 State of the Candidate survey, one in three workers said that their jobs are having a negative impact on their mental health.
We’re not talking about the occasional aggravation of losing a computer file or the annoyance of having to listen to a co-worker talk on speakerphone. Serious workplace stress can be mentally draining and leave you feeling depleted and defeated. It can even lead to insomnia, mood swings, anxiety, depression, and an overall lower quality of life. If you’re feeling any of that, you probably also dread going into work each day.
But what if you could seek out a low-stress job?
In a healthy job market, it’s an especially great time to dig down and figure out what type of work stresses you out. That way, you can explore roles without those attributes. Here’s how to get started.
Figure out your stress triggers
Determining if a job is stressful will vary from person to person. “It’s important to identify the areas you personally will require from a company that will make even your most stressful days a little lighter,” says Candace Bracher, recruiting manager at the national staffing firm Addison Group.
Your stress might stem from your schedule to the work environment to the nature of the work itself. “While one person may find an accounting career to be tedious and high-pressure, another may love the rush of tax season,” says Bracher. Likewise, one person may be fine with a flex schedule that changes from week to week to avoid rush hour commutes, while another may prefer a standard 9 to 5.
“Draw up a list to determine what makes you happy about heading to work on Monday morning, and what gives you Sunday night blues,” says Laurie Hollister, director of career services at New York Institute of Technology. Note that stress triggers may change as you mature through your career, she adds.
Some common sources of stress may include having more responsibility than you can handle, working under tight deadlines, number- and data-crunching, and having to meet quotas. Others might have to do with if you prefer working in teams or autonomously, how comfortable you are with public speaking, and whether or not you are comfortable with traveling.
Find a job that matches your preferences
Once you figure out the most common causes of your work-related stress, you can start to narrow things down. Before you get to specific offers from various companies, think about your industry and the different opportunities therein. Are there roles that are better suited for you than others?
Perhaps you were pulled in a direction that you didn’t entirely love and that caused you stress. In that case, you might figure out how to return to work you’re more passionate about. For example, in a field like health care, maybe you took on a more administrative position, but you really miss working with patients.
You have to think practically, as well. “If your stress trigger is an erratic schedule, you should avoid jobs with on-call requirements,” says Hollister.
If you’re exploring a new career direction, informational interviews with peers in your network are a great way to get honest and thorough feedback on a certain job’s stress levels, says Bracher. “If it’s not possible to set up an interview, try exploring personal blogs or searching for articles written by those who work in similar roles,” she suggests. Oftentimes, you can get a snapshot of daily tasks and challenges, as well as what they enjoy most (and least) about their jobs.
Another idea: “Consider reaching out to fellow alumni that have jobs or are working at companies of interest,” says Hollister.
Sometimes stress is more a product of who you work for rather than the type of job.
If you do get the opportunity to go on site during informational or traditional interviews, pay close attention. “Closely observe how you are greeted by all employees and how employees treat each other,” says Hollister. That includes observing body language and trying to pick up on if there is camaraderie or tension among employees. “If style and comfort put you at ease, consider how well the company is resourced by looking at general cleanliness, art, and furnishings,” she adds.
You could also do some sleuthing online and on social media to read employee reviews and to get a sense of employee turnover. Some employers also feature videos about the workplace culture. While these tools may not tell the full story, they can help you get a feel for what a company expects from its workforce and whether or not it provides a supportive environment.
Ask the right questions
Once you enter the job search phase, it’s important to interview prospective employers as much as they are interviewing you. “Candidates may start by inquiring about the day-to-day tasks and responsibilities of others in the same role. Depending on the industry, it’s also appropriate to ask about the number of hours the job requires, as well,” says Bracher.
Even more telling is inquiring about the company’s culture. Bracher says to consider things like: Do hiring managers mention valuing work-life balance? Does the company have a flexible “work from home” policy or are employees always required to be in the office? Does the paid time off policy fit your needs? Is travel required?
“By asking questions early in the hiring process, candidates can determine if a job’s requirements are a good fit for them personally,” says Bracher.
Some other questions that Hollister recommends asking include:
- Describe a typical day on the job.
- Describe your busy season.
- Why do you enjoy working here?
- How would you describe your supervisory style?
Trust your gut
Oftentimes, if you have a gut feeling, it’s wise to follow it. Is there something about a job posting’s tone or list of responsibilities that makes you feel uneasy? Perhaps the job application process itself was unnecessarily tedious and stressful. Or, when scheduling an interview, the hiring manager appeared to be highly stressed and overworked themselves. Any of those can be red flags that you may be entering a stressful job situation.
Low-stress jobs do, in fact, exist. It's up to you to research workplaces and recognize the signs before you decide to join the team. The more job offers you have, the easier it is to make comparisons. Could you use some help with that? Join Monster for free today. As a member, you can upload up to five versions of your resume—each tailored to the types of jobs that interest you. Recruiters search Monster every day looking to fill top jobs with qualified candidates, just like you. Additionally, you can get job alerts sent directly to your inbox to cut down on time spent looking through ads. Let Monster help you find a job where you'll be able to do your best work.