19 Workplace Norms That Wouldn’t Be Accepted Today

If you’ve binge-watched Mad Men on Netflix while working from home, you’ll notice some massive differences between working in the 1950s and 1960s and today. Here are 19 bygone office norms we wouldn’t tolerate today.

Lack of Diversity

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It used to be normal to go to an office with just one type of employee, generally white men. Today’s offices offer diversity, which brings a wider range of perspectives and ideas. It’s a legal requirement in many countries to not discriminate based on race, gender, religion, or sexual orientation.

Mandatory Retirement

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Age discrimination is a thing of the past. With most boomers working well past the standard retirement age of 65, companies benefit from the valuable experience and knowledge they would have lost with mandatory retirement. “According to a survey conducted by the Transamerica Center for Retirement Studies, approximately 49% of baby boomers are currently working, expect to work past the age of 70, or do not plan to retire.”

Lack of Work-Life Balance

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In the days of “traditional gender roles,” men would work long hours and women would stay home and take care of the household. Weekends were often the only time spent at home with family. Today’s workers push to make sure they aren’t living to work but instead working to live, and living is a key part of that.

Mandatory Fun

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The dreaded company picnic or whatever other activity the big boss thought was fun is no longer considered mandatory at most companies. More modern work environments encourage their employees to have fun in a way that suits them, whether that’s engaging with the team or taking a day to themselves and sharing about it later. Peter Drucker already said it a century ago: ‘Culture eats strategy for breakfast.’ When the culture stinks, you won’t be able to execute your company’s strategy.

Smoking in the Office

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Lighting up a cigarette in public used to be commonplace, and the office was no exception. Now, we know that secondhand smoke is just as dangerous as smoking; it’s frowned upon and, most of the time, illegal to smoke in public spaces.

Hierarchical Structures

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Collaboration is king in millennial office spaces. It’s been found that flat structures offer more adaptability and idea-sharing than outdated hierarchical systems. “In a company with a hierarchical structure, collaboration remains compartmentalized within the teams. There is little or no cross-functional communication, i.e., between the different departments.”

Conformity

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The lack of diversity in the workplace also encouraged conformity. Companies would hire people who thought like bosses and everyone worked as one mind. Today’s workplaces thrive on people stepping out of the mold and expressing individuality as a person and employee.

Women as Homemakers

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Women in the workplace used to be rare. Often, if a woman was in the workplace, it was as a secretary or other assistive position until she found a husband and could stop working. The 1960s second wave of feminism pushed for women to be equals outside of the home and in the workplace.

Lack of Accessibility for Disabled Employees

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It wasn’t expected or required to make workplaces accessible for people with disabilities, but today, accessibility is not only the law but a smart business move. “Employers everywhere are learning that businesses inclusive of people with disabilities, including veterans with disabilities, benefit from a wider pool of talent, skills, and creative business solutions. They’re also recognizing disability diversity as an important way to tap into a growing market, since people with disabilities represent the third largest market segment in the United States.”

The Expectation of Lifelong Employment with One Company

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Putting in 30 years at one employer is not something you hear about anymore, except for 20 years in the military or people with their own companies. Today’s workforce is always on the lookout for the next better opportunity—better benefits, work-life balance, or salary. The gig economy has also come in as just as mainstream as one place of employment.

Lack of Remote Work Options

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Going to the office used to be the only option. Before the internet, there were no work-from-home jobs, and cell phones made working on the go possible. Since the pandemic, more and more people are choosing to work remotely, sometimes even in different countries than their “office.” Who doesn’t want to work from a balcony overlooking the ocean? Or, more realistically, our couches.

Lack of Mental Health Support

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Mental health awareness has skyrocketed in recent years, removing the stigma of having mental health issues such as burnout, depression, anxiety, and other brain health issues. With this awareness, there have been major changes in the way mental health is treated in the workplace. Employers now know that giving people mental health days creates more productive employees than “suck it up, buttercup.”

Tolerance of Sexual Harassment

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Thank you, feminism and the #metoo movement; women no longer have to tolerate being sexually harassed in the workplace. Before, with fewer women in the office, men often took liberties with their words and actions toward women. Now, it is not only looked down on but could land you in legal trouble.

No Casual Fridays

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Now, many of us work in whatever clothes we want because we work from home. Even going into the office often has fewer dress restrictions than in decades past, or at the very least on a casual Friday. Mad Menesque suits and pencil skirts are now just something we watch on Netflix under “period dramas.”

No Employee Benefits

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Employees today will sometimes choose a lower salary if it comes with better benefits. We would be shocked to go back in time to a place where employers didn’t offer benefit packages. Health insurance, retirement plans, vacation days, etc. are not only mainstream but legally required to some extent.

No Flexible Hours

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“Workin’ 9-5, what a way to make a livin,’” sang Dolly Parton. But we don’t live in the days of strict 9 a.m.–5 p.m. or later office hours. Standard hours gave way to flexibility as women entered the workforce and families had two working parents. Now, flexibility to work based on any variety of reasons is the norm.

No Paid Leave

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Paid leave is not only a great benefit to the worker but beneficial to the employer as well. When people aren’t punished monetarily for taking a sick day, personal day, or vacation, they’re more productive when they’re at work. Also, co-workers coming in to work sick because they can’t afford to take off is how the whole office gets sick.

No Employee Training and Development

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Companies used to believe learning should be done on your own time, even when it was work-related. Training, development, and education are now incentives that drive in new employees and keep existing ones alike. Investing in employee training and development is vital for a business’s lasting success. Studies, like LinkedIn’s 2019 Workplace Learning Report, reveal that 94% of employees are likely to stay longer with a company that supports their career growth.

No Open Office Layouts

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Corner offices were the dream. Cubicles were the norm. Today, offices are leaning toward open floor plans—much like our homes. Open layouts encourage more collaboration and the sharing of ideas between teammates. And in many millennial-run offices, there are also areas for entertainment and relaxation because we know they’re great for inspiring new ideas.

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