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Written by: Inga Nelson, CPHR
When I look at the topic of workplace culture evolving, I can’t help making the analogy of listening to music culture evolving. They both elicit the feeling of tripping down memory lane. At the risk of showing my age, I would like to share that trip in this article by looking at some decades progressively - starting with the 1970’s.
The early 70’s culture of flower power and burn the bra definitely pushed the envelope for change. However on the business front, limitations and boundaries were well defined – the boss ruled. The only way a woman was allowed to wear pants to work was if it was an actual matching pant suit, otherwise it was strictly a skirt and blouse, or dress. Personal telephone calls were strictly forbidden during work hours: you had to wait for coffee break or lunch break. Telephones and the post office were the primary instruments of communication. Data entry was stored on punched cards (about 18 cm x 39 cm). The cards were stacked in boxes. In order to sort the cards, you removed the entire stack from the box and placed it in one of the vertical columns of a large card sorting machine. Once sorted, the stack of cards were moved to the “computer” that was programmed by wiring a large board (about 40cm x 40cm) – oh such speed – not!
The late 70’s to 80’s culture of disco flamboyance produced an avant-garde and futuristic way of looking at things. Although limitations and boundaries were still defined in business, some amount of flexibility was experimented with – the boss still ruled. Dress slacks with presentable blouses became acceptable in the workplace. Telex machines, which were essentially tele-printers, were prominent for long distance communication: you typed your message on the machine and when the message arrived at the destination, the receiving telex would print out the message for the user. It could take the message several hours to arrive depending on where in the world it was destined for. Data entry was stored on large reel to reel tape, and large multi layered disk storage units in large computer rooms. Any computer production jobs that used large amounts of computer memory were scheduled for night runs, so as not to impede data queries needed throughout the regular day of business.
The groovy 90’s flare brought forth more flexible dress codes, as long as it was “respectable” for the office. There seemed to be more “casual Fridays” in play. Team building became more prominent than just the boss. Fax machines replaced telex machines, and email and cell phones appeared more prevalently as means of business communications. These new means of communications began pumping up the speed in which business took place. Data entry was stored on small square disks (about 11cm x 8cm) on personal computers.
The Y2K 2000’s mash-up fused fashions from global, ethnic and past styles. A more casual dress code of whiskers and destroyed jeans appeared in business, as long as it was not too extreme. 360 degree performance reviews looked for everyone’s perspective, not just the boss’. It became more difficult to do business without email and cell phones in order to keep ahead of the competition, and made it difficult to get away from work. The automated phone attendant reared its head, and began confusing end users. Data entry job positions began to disappear as software applications became intuitive enough to permit the user to enter their own data and requests. Companies had to invest in larger servers to store data.
The 2010’s ‘cloud’ held on to the fused fashion of neon colours, unisex, grunge, indie pop, and alternative fashion. Dress code became more difficult to enforce due to discrimination being highlighted in human rights. Open office concepts emerged as an alternative to cubicles. How about inviting your well behaved pet to work? The advent of I-phones and Androids created the element of working 24/7, and degrading the work-life balance. Social media addiction makes it hard to control in the workplace – so much for personal calls only being made on your coffee or lunch breaks. The automated phone attendant rules and frustrates many end users. Data becomes ethereal in a ‘cloud!’