The past decade has noted a great deal of writing and discussion on the importance of culture in the workplace. Just what is corporate culture? It is has been described as the values, beliefs, principles, and norms of a business organization. Others have broken down business culture into the areas of retention; work flow processes; and customer satisfaction.
It has been my experience that in an organization or business culture is complex entity. It is also my observation that cultural is not particularly well understood and that changes to it often take time.
Having said that a recent meeting with a business associate during which we discussed work culture from the 70’s to the present time brought several noticeable changes to light. Following are the highlights we noted.
- Behaviour in Business Customer Service
Working in customer service in the 70’sand 80’s for a telecommunications companies for example was largely a manual process. Bills were generated by mainframe computers and sent to a customer. Service representatives spent time addressing customer who called in with concerns over bills. Typically each desk was equipped with an ashtray and smoking was permitted at your desk.
Cigarette breaks were common. Extended lunches were okay. An alcoholic beverage over lunch was not uncommon. Work spaces were often open with little if any privacy.
Fast forward to 2017 and most workplaces monitor employees time quite stringently. Extended or extra breaks for smoking are not permitted. The days of smoking in an office or any building for that matter are long gone. Consumption of alcoholic beverages during lunch breaks is no longer an acceptable practice.
Work spaces in some businesses remain open. Others have cubicles allowing for a modicum of privacy. For many private offices for managers and executives are no longer found. Instead meeting rooms are utilized and booked for group meetings and private discussions.
Mainframe systems and punch cards dominated larger corporations in the 70’s. Smaller businesses relied on manual records. The introduction of personal computers in the 80’s made a huge difference to workplace efficiency and streamlining of every area from administration to customer service to the supply chain areas.
Today most employees have a computer of some description, and often a smart phone for their use. Technology dominates the workplace and automation is everywhere from robots to voice recognition software. Connection to mobile devices is 24/7 and many people live their lives quite openly in an online world.
- Business Dress
In the 70’s and 80’s the standard dress for the men was a dress shirt, tie, sports jacket, dress slacks, dress shoes, or a full suit. Women were typically dressed in dresses or suits, hose, and heels even if they worked in the steno pool.
With the explosion of technology in the 90’s the dress standards for men and women became casual. Individuals working for tech companies showed up in jeans, tee shirts, and sneakers.
Today some corporate businesses still maintain a more rigid dress standard. However, it is typical for even bank employees to have casual Friday’s where so called dressier blue jeans may be worn. There are certainly dress standards in place for most businesses. They are greatly relaxed from bygone decades with men not required to wear a suit and tie on most days. Women are free to go to the office without the mandatory hose and heels.
- Hours of Work
Hours of business operation in the 70’s and 80’s were typically 9 – 5. Banks were not open before 9 AM and in some cases 10. Retail hours of operation did not usually include evening or Sunday shopping. Most employees were expected to be at work at 9 AM and stay until 5 PM.
Somewhere along the way (I first recall this being prevalent in the late 80’s) the hours of work were extended with employees expected to start at 8 AM and work until 5 PM. Managers were expected to work as required and if that meant no breaks for lunch or coffee so be it.
Today with emphasis on 24/7 connectivity workers and managers alike seem to be expected to respond to queries from the workplace at any given time. The emphasis on connection at all times has not necessarily resulted in an increase in productivity. Employees today are highly monitored and workplaces are not as relaxed as they once were.
- Gender Specific Roles
In the 70’s and 80’s women were breaking into areas that were once the purview of men. Women working in prisons as guards, as fire fighters, and as police officers are just some examples of areas where women were becoming more visible. Men as nurses rather than orderlies were becoming more common place. Women in executive roles other than HR were also more prevalent.
Fast forward to 2017 and the area that continues to be a common issue is one of pay equity for men and women. It is a values dilemma that businesses have yet to conquer. Women remain under represented at the executive level within business. They are also under represented in the political arena.
Each of the areas mentioned has undergone tremendous culture change over the past 40 years. Most of the changes have been welcome and have enhanced business operations. The thorny issues of productivity and gender equity pay remain outstanding. I wonder if it will take another 40 years for these to change for the better.
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