Office culture has drastically changed in the last few decades. For example, it’s more common to see open-space offices because this type of set-up encourages collaboration rather than depressing cubicles which isolated employees from each other.

But we’re not here to talk about office architecture. We’re more interested in developments in the workplace that gave way for more diversity, openness, and employee rights. Let’s dial back a few decades and see the trends then and how it’s changed over the years.

  • Work culture in the 1960s wasn’t as strict as it is now. Employees, especially those in higher positions, enjoyed more flexible schedules. For example, it was normal for ad men to have drinks during their extended lunch. Smoking and drinking in the office was also allowed. This privilege was largely enjoyed by the supervisors.
  • Few women started working in the office by the 1950s but it was frowned upon. If you had a career, you were thought of as shortchanging your family. Despite that, more females, including those with husbands and children entered the workforce taking on clerical and service roles. This trend would continue and became the norm in the 80s.
  • Even with organizations opening their doors to women, both genders were hesitant to work for female superiors. This was the opinion from the 40s up until the 70s.
  • The term “sexual harassment” was coined in 1975. However, such rules in the workplace weren’t seriously discussed up until the second half of the 20th century.
  • In an effort to put more workers in the office, the cubicle became popular in the 1970s. This would thrive up until the 2000s.
  • Between the 80s and 90s, companies were focused on company culture and how it affects employee productivity. They theorized that a company’s success largely relied on office culture. If employees weren’t happy, an organization couldn’t thrive.
  • As mentioned earlier, sexual harassment in the workplace wasn’t taken as seriously up until the late 2000s. The push for strict implementation only became stronger during the #MeToo movement which highlighted how certain individuals of power could take advantage of those in the lower ranks.
  • In first world countries like the United States, safe workplace conditions was paramount. There was already a worker’s compensation legislation in place in as early as 1871 via the Employer’s Liability Law but it wasn’t until the 1950s was this law successfully utilized. Most workers would not report injuries for fear that they might get fired from their job. However, there is now an abundant number of lawyers ready to represent aggrieved employees.
  • Worker’s compensation rights was not meant to antagonize employers. Instead, it helped them to improve their working conditions and possibly increase revenue. One such leader who was successful in doing this was Paul O’Neill, then CEO of Alcoa for more than a decade. Workers having more protection because of workers compensation protecting workers from work-related injuries has increased morale and has also lowered the risk of injury because of more safety precautions. It becomes a win-win situation for both the employer and employee.


Stock value of the company was plummeting when he took the position. His first plan of action was to improve worker safety. Any injury had to be reported within 24 hours. They’d look at the problem right away and make changes to the process. He also made a system where employees could communicate with each other and listened to their opinions.

This allowed the company to prevent worker injuries and enhanced their process even more. By the time he left, the company’s profits had increased by five times compared to when he first started.

  • Today, we don’t have as strict of an office hierarchy as back then. For example, you couldn’t talk back to your superior unless you were asked to do so. If you did, you’d be considered rude or “too assertive”.

These days however, it is encouraged for employees share their own opinion, especially if it’s for the better of the company. Every employee insight is welcomed and it helps them to engage with their work more effectively.

Which of these developments helped improve your organization the most? Share your thoughts in the comments. 


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It’s powerful to know what your employees think. You can identify problems like poor leadership, communication breakdown, and mounting plans to leave your company before expensive turnover affects your business. Use this checklist for a quick read on your employee engagement.

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