The progression of office culture from the 50s to today

1950s womanTake a look back in time.George Marks / Retrofile / Getty Images

  • Office life has undergone a number of major changes since the 1950s.
  • Of course, workplaces have always varied in terms of look and culture, oftentimes based on regional, industry-wide, or organizational norms.
  • But there have also been a number of widespread changes over time.
  • These shifts include increased workforce diversity, widespread bans on smoking, and changing trends regarding popular workplace layouts.

Office culture has changed quite a bit over the years.

Some of those shifts were actually reflected in workplace design trends.

Corner offices were meant to convey hierarchical prestige and status. The cubicle was intended to improve employees’ lives, but ultimately became a symbol of corporate drudgery. And the currently-popular open office layout was introduced as a more egalitarian approach, but has received quite a backlash, as well.

In his 2014 book “The Best Place to Work: The Art and Science of Creating an Extraordinary Workplace,” Ron Friedman concludes that the jury’s still out on which style is the least terrible option.

“Cubicles are depressing. Private offices are isolating. Open spaces are distracting,” he writes.

But the big changes to US work culture haven’t just been all about appearances.

Teamwork is ostensibly in, while hierarchy is out. Typewriters got the boot with the advent of faster, user-friendly computers. Corporate jargon and ideas about job security have gone through major fluxes, as well.

Racial diversity in the workforce has increased over time — although many fields still have quite a way to go.

And workplace sexual harassment has gone from being a pervasive and widely-accepted phenomenon to a pervasive but somewhat less widely-accepted phenomenon.

Let’s take a look back in time at how office culture has changed over the years:

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