The Pursuit of Promotion: Myths, Realities and Personal Reflections

In the employment world, the allure of climbing the ladder is undeniable. The promise of higher status, increased salary and greater recognition often drives us to relentlessly pursue promotions. Yet, amidst this pursuit, we often overlook the profound impact it can have on our well-being, our relationships and even somewhat ironically, the quality of our work. For many, the pursuit of promotion is just like chasing a mirage in the desert. We believe that achieving the next fancy title or level will bring us lasting satisfaction and fulfilment. We believe that once we have it, we will have “made it”. However, research indicates otherwise. According to a study by Gallup, only 33% of employees in the UK feel engaged at work, suggesting that the pursuit of promotions does not necessarily lead to increased happiness or fulfilment. What fuels this fixation for many of us? Is it the glamourised portrayals in movies? Perhaps the achievements we witness in friends and family? Or could it be an intrinsic trait ingrained in our species? The truth is, the obsession with chasing promotion can be influenced by all of these factors and more, including societal norms, personal experiences and innate human tendencies. Movies, television shows and other forms of media often depict success as synonymous with climbing the ladder. Characters who achieve high status and wealth through promotions are frequently portrayed as role models, reinforcing the idea that upward mobility is the ultimate measure of success. Fictional I know, but in the sitcom “The Office,” created by Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant, characters like Tim Canterbury (played by Martin Freeman) and Gareth Keenan (portrayed by Mackenzie Crook) are in a constant competition for promotion and better positions within the fictional Wernham Hogg Paper Company. Their ambitions and interactions with each other and colleagues highlight the common theme of career advancement as a measure of success in the workplace. Even Gervais’ character, David Brent, the boss, is deeply entrenched in this obsession with stature, titles and climbing the ladder. Every action and interaction he takes, seems geared toward looking good and being the best. In his own mind, he believes he’s achieving exactly that, but to those observing from the outside, he falls well short of his own self-perception. Reflecting on this, it’s worth asking ourselves if we’ve ever exhibited “Brent-like” behaviours. Have we ever been so consumed by the pursuit of promotions and status that we lose sight of how we’re perceived by others? It’s a question that prompts introspection and reminds us of the importance of staying grounded and authentic in our professional pursuits. Cultural values and societal expectations undeniably shape our perceptions of career advancement. In cultures that prioritise individual achievement and status, pursuing promotions is often seen as crucial for personal fulfilment and social validation. Many organisations are structured to facilitate a progressive ascent into more senior positions over time. However, there are individuals who defy this conventional trajectory, they have no interest in chasing the proverbial carrot – they break the traditional mould and defy the system! So, how do we motivate these individuals who aren’t driven by the allure of promotion? For me, the answer lies in treating them with respect, making them feel valued, and encouraging their contributions wherever possible. By recognising their unique skills and strengths, and providing opportunities for growth and development that align with their interests and values, we can foster a sense of belonging and purpose within the organisation. Ultimately, by creating an inclusive and supportive environment, we can inspire all employees to excel and contribute to the collective success of the team. We naturally learn by observing the behaviour of those around us, particularly friends, family members and colleagues. If we see others being rewarded for their career advancement, we may internalise the belief that promotion is necessary for happiness and success. Additionally, witnessing the struggles and sacrifices that others make in their pursuit of promotion can create a sense of peer pressure or societal expectations to follow a similar path. From an evolutionary perspective, humans are wired to seek out opportunities for status and social dominance. In ancestral environments, individuals who held higher social status often had greater access to resources, mating opportunities and protection from threats. This drive for status and recognition may be hardwired into our brains, leading us to pursue promotions as a means of elevating our social standing and securing our place within the group. You could perhaps argue that this is still the same now, just those resources look different, but are still the same in context. Ultimately, our desire for promotion may also stem from individual aspirations and goals. For some, the pursuit of advancement may be driven by a genuine passion for their work, a desire for greater influence or impact, or a sense of personal achievement. Additionally, promotion often comes with tangible rewards such as higher salaries, better benefits and increased job security, which can provide a powerful incentive for individuals seeking to improve their financial and professional well-being. Constantly striving for promotion can take a toll on our mental and physical health too. The pressure to perform, the fear of failure, and the relentless pursuit of success can lead to stress, burnout and even serious health issues. In fact, a study published in the Journal of Applied Psychology found that individuals who prioritise promotion over other aspects of their lives experience higher levels of stress and lower job satisfaction. Initially, I found this statistic surprising, however as I digested it over (another) hot, velvety, cinnamon latte, I found myself at the other end of the spectrum, thinking that actually I am not surprised at all! I recall many times over the years feeling completely fried as a result of leading the charge for that next step. As I mentioned before, the obsession with climbing the ladder can negatively impact the quality of our work. According to a survey conducted by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD), 37% of employees reported

Taming the Sunday Scaries: A Personal Encounter

As the weekend winds down and the sun sets on Sunday evening, an all too familiar feeling begins to creep in – the Sunday Scaries! It’s that sinking sensation in the pit of your stomach, the dread of another work week looming ahead. But what exactly are the Sunday Scaries, and why do they haunt many of us so persistently? The term “Sunday Scaries” refers to the anxiety and unease that many people experience as the weekend draws to a close and the prospect of returning to work or school on Monday approaches. It’s a phenomenon that transcends age, occupation and social status, affecting people from all walks of life. I can vividly recall the suffocating weight of dread that settled over me every Sunday during the late 80s and throughout the 90s, casting a shadow over what should have been a carefree period of my life. I was 7 years old, a child, your biggest worry at that age should be how you’re going to beat Dr. Robotnik (later known as Dr. Eggman – I still don’t know why they changed it?!) at the end of the “Green Hill Zone.” For me, the anticipation of returning to school on Monday was like a looming spectre, haunting every moment of my Sunday. The closing theme music to Heartbeat and then London’s Burning was like the starting gun for my trepidation to go up a notch! It was as though my weekends were reduced to a single precious day – Saturday – the only respite before the storm of Sunday! The arrival of Sunday brought with it a tidal wave of anxiety, crashing against the shores of my mind, drowning out any semblance of joy or relaxation. It felt like I was trapped in a perpetual cycle of apprehension, unable to escape the relentless march of time towards Monday morning. The mere thought of school on the horizon filled me with a sense of unease so palpable, it was as if the air itself grew thick like a jungle of anticipation. It consumed me! My weekends became a battleground, a delicate balancing act between savouring the fleeting moments of freedom on Saturday and steeling myself for the inevitable return to the rigors of school. Sundays, they became a battlefield where my anxieties waged war against my sanity, leaving me drained and defeated before the week even began. It was a relentless onslaught, a never-ending cycle of dread and despair that lasted ten years. But despite the darkness that threatened to consume me, there were glimmers of hope, moments of solace and comfort amidst the chaos. Whether it was a reassuring word from a loved one, a fleeting distraction or a pending sporting match that I was competing in that I had totally forgotten about. These offered temporary relief, guiding me through the storm. And though the memory of those dreaded Sundays still lingers, it serves as a reminder of the resilience of the human spirit, the ability to endure even the darkest of days and emerge stronger on the other side. For even in the depths of despair there is always hope. Why do the Sunday Scaries happen? According to the experts, the answer lies in the complex interplay of psychological, societal and physiological factors. From a psychological standpoint, the anticipation of upcoming responsibilities and obligations can trigger feelings of stress and apprehension. Societal pressures to be productive and successful only exacerbate these feelings, creating a sense of inadequacy or failure if one doesn’t measure up to certain standards. Furthermore, our bodies have a natural stress response that kicks in when faced with perceived threats or challenges. This response, often referred to as the “fight or flight” response, can be activated by the mere thought of returning to work or school as in my case, after a relaxing weekend. As a result, cortisol levels rise, heart rates increase and feelings of anxiety intensify. It’s our inner Neanderthals coming out, a reaction critical to life when we came across a predator, but somewhat out of context when coming across Mr Stewart in PE on a cold and wet Monday morning in Surrey! Statistical data and scientific research sheds light on the prevalence and impact of the Sunday Scaries. According to a survey conducted by the Psychological Association, 52% of employed adults experience significant stress on Sunday nights, with work-related issues being a major contributing factor. Additionally, studies have shown that chronic stress, such as that experienced during the Sunday Scaries, can have detrimental effects on both physical and mental health, increasing the risk of conditions such as anxiety disorders, depression and cardiovascular disease. Not to mention the impact we have on those around us. By now you may be wondering “do I suffer with this?”. The signs and symptoms of the Sunday Scaries can vary from person to person, but common signs can include: difficulty sleeping or insomnia, feelings of irritability or restlessness, fatigue or lack of energy, racing thoughts or difficulty concentrating and muscle tension or headaches. All symptoms that could sound very familiar in yourself or that you recognise in people around you. Throughout my career, I’ve had my fair share of encounters with the Sunday Scaries, and I’ve seen first-hand how it can affect those around me too. I’ve had situations where members of my team felt comfortable enough to confide in me about their struggles with Sunday night anxiety. Recognising the importance of empathy and support, I made it a priority to create a safe and understanding environment for them to express their concerns. “Be the leader that you’ve needed in these situations” my inner voice would scream! We sat down together, in person, over a cup of coffee, in a private space free from distractions. Phones and laptops were switched off to ensure that our focus remained on active listening and genuine connection. Through open and honest conversation, we explored strategies for managing stress and overcoming the Sunday Scaries. From setting realistic goals and boundaries to