Overworked, undersexed and in the office

FOR twentysomething office workers the good times have definitely rolled, according to new research into Britain's 21st century working masses.

The depressing fact is, young people in the workplace are overstressed, undersexed and - unlike their laidback counterparts from two decades ago - spend all day with their noses to the grindstone.

A research project which questioned groups of employees in three age brackets - 21 to 30, between 31 and 44 and those over 45 - on their attitude and conduct at work will make thought provoking reading, especially for those caught up in the prevalent, competitive British work culture of "presenteeism".

The study found that the 45-plus group were the most irreverent at work in their 20s and enjoyed the most fun of the three groups when they were younger.

More than half confessed they had in the past either staggered back to work or failed to make it at all after long, boozy lunches; one in four owned up to an office affair and nearly all said their job left them plenty of time to socialise after hours.

Compare that with today's twentysomethings and the differences are stark - although it is arguable the changes are also positive given the healthier state of Britain's economy compared with 20 years ago.

Just 29 per cent of those questioned said they would ever drink alcohol over lunch during their working week and, more censoriously, 21 per cent said they had begun a relationship with someone at work.

When it comes to time-keeping, today young workers stick rigidly to the expected office hours with 76 per cent saying they are rarely late for work.

This compares to 65 per cent of people now aged 31 to 44 and only 43 per cent of the over-45s.

Nearly one in two (49 per cent) of today's young workers said they receive work calls on their mobile up till 8pm, often three hours after they have actually finished work, while 27 per cent said they regularly stayed late, on average 45 minutes a day.

While most 45-year-olds did not own mobile phones during their 20s and therefore could not always receive out of hours phone calls, 49 per cent admitted they worked an average of an hour extra every day.

Not surprisingly then, when asked how they enjoyed their work during their twenties, the over-45s confessed to having a great time - 54 per cent had a good work/life balance, compared with 41 per cent for 21 to 30-year-olds and 52 per cent of people aged 31 to 44.

Bill Phillips, 42, a PR consultant based in Aberdeen, said: "While my own workplace is actually quite good in this respect because we do strive to strike the right work-life balance, more generally I can definitely detect a change in the working environment.

"People have to work ever harder to retain that balance in an increasingly competitive working culture and compared with 20 years ago, I can see the difference that has made to everyday life."

Professor Linda McKie, of Glasgow Caledonian University's department of psychology, specialises in examining the effect of stress on work-life balance. She said: "

It is true to say the workplace is a much more stressful place for young people today, than it was 20 years ago. This atmosphere is causing people to delay making some very significant decisions, including when to settle down with a partner and when to start a family.

"Many young people start their first jobs already in debt thanks to their student loan - a problem unheard of 20 years ago - and then they face a lack of job security unheard of by their colleagues in their forties when they started work."

Nigel Bruce, who oversaw the research for cider brand Savanna, said: "It would seem the younger working age generation needs to 'chill' a bit more."

OFFICE SNAKES AND LADDERS

LADDERS

1 GET YOURSELF NOTICED

Style still counts. How you present yourself to others - your external faade - can make a big difference in how you are perceived, according to John McKee, Founder and President of BusinessSuccessCoach.net and the author of 21 Ways That Women in Management Shoot Themselves in the Foot. Mr McKee recommends that no-one should be tempted to take part in a "dress down Friday" because the only message you are sending is: "I don't care". Of course, if fashion is not your thing then get noticed by volunteering . The important thing to remember here is that once you've secured the credit for volunteering, get away from the project fast before the hard work starts.

2 BE NICE TO THE SECRETARY

She (and just occasionally he) is the person who makes your boss look good and without them your life would fall apart. The truth is, if you put all the country's executives in a room together they'd come up with some useless corporate waffle and one might remember how to change a lightbulb. Give them one good secretary and they'd get some profitable work done. For every executive struggling to find his way to his corporate parking space, there's a secretary who's booked his flight ticket and made sure he's got the low-GI meal he wanted.

3 IGNORE OTHER PEOPLE'S PERSONAL CALLS

Even if you heard every word of your colleague's blazing row with his wife, you must pretend you didn't. Saying, "But she's right, you weren't working last night - I saw you leave at 6.30pm with Jackie from accounts," is not helpful and could lead to an unpleasant scene. Think of just how easy it is to upset someone at home and then triple that for the workplace. It is just as easy to upset the boss as it is to upset people just getting by at the bottom of the pile. So, although it takes the skills that could lead you to believe you should have been a career diplomat, say nothing and soldier on.

4 IT FOLLOWS THEN YOU SHOULD AVOID CONFIDENTIAL OR PERSONAL CALLS YOURSELF

Do not be fooled, that desk with its flimsy partitions your company calls your "workspace" is not your private domain. Sound travels through cubicles even faster than a stolen stapler. Never feel too ashamed to join the queue of heartbroken/hungover/gossipy colleagues huddled by windows or in corridors whispering down their mobile phone. As a side issue to this tip, remember that it is never worth answering a phone in the office. It will only be your boss or a customer and, as neither call without wanting something, answering will inevitably lead to you having to do some work.

5 BE NICE TO THE SPOTTY TEENAGER ON WORK EXPERIENCE

The hard fact is, this spotty oik will probably be your boss one day. So when he's sitting there, slumped in his chair and refusing to take his duffel coat off, resist the temptation to snarl: "Get me a coffee and get it fast." Managers are getting ever younger (along with police officers) these days and, once the hormones have settled down, this young man will probably be the person you're making excuses to about one, three and seven above.

SNAKES

1 DON'T ANNOY YOUR COLLEAGUES

A recent online survey by job-search website www.truejobs.com found that colleagues' annoying habits were the top source of stress in the workplace. You have been warned. Nearly 60 per cent of the 2,200 respondents said that such habits had negatively affected their work relationships, and 40 per cent said they have led them to seek a different job. The top complaint was talking too loudly on the phone, followed by constant whining about work. So keep your complaints to yourself and get on with the task in hand.

2 TRY NOT TO GET INVOLVED IN A RELATIONSHIP WITH A COLLEAGUE - OR WORSE, YOUR BOSS

Do you want to be the talk of the town? Or laughed about behind the watercooler? Well, don't make the office a place of passion because businesses frown on the office affair. In the United States, employers have been sued for emotional stress following the breakdown of a relationship with a co-worker. Employees in some firms must now sign a contract stating they went into their relationship "willingly". You have been warned.

3 AVOID INVOLVEMENT IN ANYTHING CALLED A "TOTAL QUALITY INITIATIVE"

These projects, beloved of human resources and the bane of employees lives, will always fail and you do not want your name will be attached to them. However often they are trotted out in management conferences and whatever results they produce, they will always end up being meetings where people talk too much. In fact, the only reason to go to a Total Quality Initiative meeting is to avoid doing the work you are being paid for.

4 DON'T EVER BE THE OFFICE MARTYR

Yes, it takes a family counsellor to reintroduce you to your children and yes, you are sure your spouse looked at least five years younger the last time you had a free evening to go out to dinner together - but nobody wants to know. We're all busy, right? And especially don't expect the boss to notice - if you want credit, try opening a high interest account at a high street bank. If you stay late or work on your day off, do it with style and do it quietly. After all, only you will ever remember that you stayed late last Tuesday.

5 BE KNOWN AS AN EMPLOYEE WITH COMMON SENSE, NOT AN UNCOMMON SCENT

Go easy on the Chanel No 5 or Armani for men. Colognes and perfumes often irritate people with allergies andannoy the heck out of everyone else. Plus, even if you are addicted to the heady scent of Thierry Mugler's Angel or even Old Spice, never forget that a distinctive scent allows the boss to track you in the office. You might as well wear a cowbell round your neck.

Making it work better

AS THE ultimate people business, it is no surprise that the UK's best workplace is a management consultancy.

Roger Siddle, a managing partner of Bain & Co, said: "We have made this a great place to work to attract and keep the best." Indeed, the company's UK and Belgian offices both made it into the top ten in Europe in the Best Place To Work Institute's awards this year.

Mr Siddle added: "If you don't make it a good place to work, people will soon find alternative career options."

The firm's office support staff have easier access than consultants to a range of services. These include annual health screens, on-site doctor and nurse, free use of a private gym in the office, hairdresser, beautician, masseuse and stress counselling.