Liz Hoggard: Actually, your promotion is probably killing you

I was never in the right room when the deals were being made
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The Independent Online

I have a confession. In 20 years at the office, I have never been promoted. I've watched as the great and good of my generation have slithered up that greasy pole – while embarrassingly, I have never even had a pay rise.

But guess what? It turns out promotion at work is not a cause for celebration. Those masters of the universe are slowly killing themselves. A new survey by economics and psychology researchers at the University of Warwick has found that the mental health of managers typically deteriorates after a job promotion.

Forget the corner office, bump in salary and company Blackberry, according to Warwick's Chris Boyce and Professor Andrew Oswald, promotion produces 10 times more mental strain and gives up to 20 per cent less time to visit the doctor. What a relief. At last I can "come out" about my own career failings.

Growing up in the 1970s, we were Generation Depression with complicated parents, rubbish television and worse skin. Nihilism was cool. We moped in our bedrooms assuming no one would ever give us a job. Looking back I could weep at how much time I wasted.

When I started work I was incompetent. I'd never used a phone in mixed company. I didn't know what to wear. I was constantly terrified of being sacked. Eternally the new girl, I drank too much "to relax" and ended up revealing all my secrets at the office party. I might as well have posted them on the notice-board.

At first we got away with incompetence. Surrounded, as we were, by the cool, slacker 1990s kids, so amusingly documented in Ethan Watters' book, Urban Tribes, who had no interest in promotion. They were too busy deferring marriage and responsibility for a proper grown-up career.

But then it all changed. Graduate Diva came flooding through the door. Born after 1982, university educated, techno-savvy, today's shiny new graduates walk in with a supreme sense of entitlement. Brought up by liberal parents, they are clever and gorgeous. You won't catch them weeping in the stationery cupboard. And unlike my inept generation, they have social skills.

They know looking good at work is not selling out. They actually possess suits and they have facialists and personal trainers. God knows where they get the money (we're not paying them much) but even the work-experience kids spend their nights at Boujis. It would be easy to hate Generation Y, but actually they're extremely nice.

The only snag is that if you don't promote them after six months, they think they're doing something wrong. Spare me one more 23-year-old telling me piteously: "I'm so worried about where my career is going." What do they think we've all been slogging away at for the past 20 years?

I can see they're puzzled by my own slow trajectory, bless. Like many of my generation, I've been merged, made redundant, short-contracted. Once my brand-new job on a glossy was given to a passing aristocrat. And can I tell you how not taking drugs has held back my career? I was never in the right room in the Groucho Club, when the deals were being made.

But in our new post-industrialised workplace of day rates and hot des-king, ambition and pots of money hardly matters. At 40 I love my job, which is a rare privilege. Plus I've seen some high-status talent burn out before my very eyes. Bored of late nights and stress, they've resigned to travel the world at 28.

I don't envy the new golden boys and girls of management their lives – the competition for advancement, the interpersonal rivalries which transcend any mission statement, the colleagues you can't count on. We spend most of our lives working – considerably more time than we spend with our partners. No wonder The Apprentice has gripped us and won't let go.

And work can be as abusive as any love affair. True the rewards are faster – feedback, applause, promotion. But no manager is ever truly on holiday. Freed from physical office space by laptops and mobile communications, work consumes you over weekends, hijacks you at the airport and drives your friends to distraction. And, as every spurned lover knows, it can all come crashing down in an instant.

Today, in a global recession, just hanging onto your job itself is a promotion. Especially if you're surrounded by eager beaver work experience people all about to nick your title. Soon everyone will have a 19-year-old boss.

But if we sad sacks can just hold our nerve, it might all work out. If promotion really is such a poisoned chalice, Generation X are bound to quit eventually to start that lavender farm or run an eco village in Spain. Either that or they'll just run plain mad.