Work is no longer like it was in the 1970’s…phew!


Fotolia_82951513_XSRecently I watched a programme about television in the 1970’s and along with a few reminiscences of children’s programmes (yes, I was a child of the 70’s – the Wombles were a favourite), I was struck by the tone of some of the programmes which made me think ‘we just don’t accept that anymore!’ Whether it be rather seedy interactions between male actors and actresses posing as young girls, or the condescending nature by which chat show hosts interviewed successful women about their ‘physical accoutrements’ getting in the way of a serious career. Nevertheless it got me thinking about the way people management in the workplace has moved on too.

These are my most noticeable top six changes to people management since the 1970’s and 80’s:

  • Women have a place on the Board ~ Ok so it’s still not entirely commonplace but it’s getting there isn’t it? I was the first female Director of an organisation I worked for a few years ago, which now has six (over 50%) on the Executive Board – good for them.  Whilst a way to go, around a quarter of FTSE 100 businesses have women on their Boards, and even football has opened its doors to female Board representation.
  • A job for life – not likely! ~ successful employers cope with an ever increasing pace of change, and they want their staffing to flex with that.  Equally people want more than one career in a lifetime and they want the flexibility to take time out when they want to.  People aren’t tied into ‘responsibilities’ like mortgages and family so soon (if at all) and benefits like pensions no longer tie people into single employers as they once did.
  • We have values ~ increasingly businesses recognise that not only is what they do important but the way they do it; and they can’t successfully give the impression that their customers are important to them if this is counter to how they treat their employees.  Just look at examples such as the John Lewis brand to identify the successful link between the consumer brand and employer brand.
  • You matter to us ~ whilst legislation has done much to shape how employers treat their staff this doesn’t alter a mind-set; but increasingly businesses are willingly adopting practices that demonstrate that their people are more than a ‘resource’ merely to be deployed to do the employers bidding.  The concept of employee engagement and all it involves is more commonplace, and yes whilst of course there is an underlying business case for being more engaging, no employer has to be a ‘good’ employer.  Widespread introduction of flexible working before legislation broadened its application, introduction of well-being programmes, widespread use of employee feedback mechanisms and greater levels of collaboration and empowerment are increasingly commonplace.
  • I don’t mind who you are ~ a big one this.  The UK of today is much different to that of the 70’s and 80’s. It would be rare now for any workplace of any size to employ just white British employees.  It might even be more noticeable if that were so. LGBT, different nationalities and faiths, perceived different social classes all mingle and work together.  Like women in the Boardroom, it’s not perfect but no one should now feel that they have to hide who they are or what they believe in.
  • A more settled workplace…perhaps ~ declining since the 1970’s and early 80’s are the incidences of industrial unrest, strike action and official disputes.  Few about at the time will forget the impact of the public sector strikes during the ‘winter of discontent’ in 1979, the Miners strikes of 1984 or even the Fleet Street/Wapping newspapers disputes of 1986.  Whilst even today some people are still embittered by the memories of those ‘clashes’ between employer, unions and employees, industrial unrest is not a term used to commonly describe the workplaces of today.

Will we be looking back in 30-40 years’ time at the working practices of today, and sadly be shaking our heads? Well maybe, but hopefully some practices will stand the test of time – I just wonder what they’ll be…?