Is it getting more stressful to work in IT?

How could it?

Feeling stressed at work? Could be a good thing, especially if you're in IT.

Anxiety levels for all Americans have been rising steadily for decades, to the point that 28 percent of Americans will suffer some level of diagnosable anxiety disorder during their lives, most more than once.

"We are getting more anxious every decade," wrote psychologist Robert L. Leahy, a specialist in cognitive therapy and professor at Weill-Cornell Medical School.

" The average high school kid today has the same level of anxiety as the average psychiatric patient in the early 1950’s," he wrote in 2008.

Stress levels don't rise evenly, though. People in some jobs get it in the neck more thoroughly than others, but IT jobs always seem to show up on lists of both the best ad the most stressful jobs.

IT has always been near the top of the stress list – No. 8 on CareerBuilder's list of 8 most stressful gigs and No. 1 on a similar list from U.K. training company SkilSoft.

A third of IT people said at least one manager made it harder to get a job done; 80 percent responding to the survey said the anxiety starts building before they even get in, as they prepare for their day.

The good news, if there is any, is that jobs in which people experience high stress are often the ones they work hardest to get, and the ones that make the biggest difference to both the employee and the company.

In a survey published last month, Canadian researchers found 18 percent of more than 2,700 workers reported their jobs were "highly stressful." The odds were higher if they were managers or if they though their job performance could affect that of others.

The characteristics associated with workers reporting high stress were the same as those who reported being committed to their jobs and feeling that their job performance could affect that of others.

The more key to the operation you are, the more stressed you're likely to be.

That doesn't mean the weird guy in the corner who's been wired too tight from Day 1 is the most important guy in the building. Just that, on average, if you care about your job and work on projects that make it easier for other people to their jobs, you're going to feel stressed about how well it's going to turn out.

The best way to find a low stress job that could keep you from quitting in frustration and going somewhere else is to have a job that's mildly rewarding and probably doesn't matter much to you or anyone else, according to an admittedly slanted interpretation of the work of career-development expert (and IS developer) Laurence Shatkin.

I'm sure there's happiness and satisfaction somewhere down that path.

Somehow, though I can't believe I'm coming out in favor of stress, I can't really see the value of spending that much time and effort on a job you care so little about that it doesn't make you anxious not to fail.

Kevin Fogarty writes about enterprise IT for ITworld. Follow him on Twitter @KevinFogarty.

ITWorld DealPost: The best in tech deals and discounts.
Shop Tech Products at Amazon