There are times when we pull out the photo album to remember times past — the trips taken, the clothes worn, the phases of childhood, the cherished moments. But how do you recognize your milestones at work? Did you take pictures or write in a journal?
We pondered that question recently at Your Workplace as we were planning our 20th-anniversary celebrations. In March of 1998, the inaugural issue of what was then known as TakeTwo was released. It did not take long for the seeds of the vision for happier, healthier and more productive workplaces to germinate.
Those first few years saw the release of Wikipedia, iTunes and the iPod. Writing on someone’s wall was an act of vandalism, and tweeting was still just for birds. The first Harry Potter movie and the first Shrek were in theatres, and Life of Pi was in its first printing.
The more things change
It’s remarkable to note how much has changed in 20 short years. Remember employees smoking on their breaks in the break room? In June of 2001 YW ran a story about University of Toronto researchers sounding the call for an end to smoking in the workplace.
In March, 2001, YW ran an article on “Email Eavesdropping” — that is, the company’s ability to access email sent through your professional account. YW advised readers not to put anything in email that you wouldn’t shout across the street, in order to keep private matters private. In September of that year we looked at the possible harmful effects of cellphone radiation. That same month, 64% of drivers cited cellphones as a distraction in cars. Today we’re still talking about radiation, but now the use of handheld cellphones and/or text messaging while driving is outlawed.
The more they stay the same
Workplace issues certainly come in waves and trends. Twenty years back we were debating issues of attire, advising employees they should dress according to how they want to be perceived, with “a good dose of neat and tidy.” Kym Funnel urged employers not to be closed-minded when getting clothed-minded, citing studies that show casual dress can increase productivity: “comfortable, relaxed employees work harder and longer at their jobs.” (Compare that with our recent November 2018 story on wearing pyjamas to work!)
Decades ago Dr. Linda Duxbury pointed out that the type of boss she most worries about is one who pays lip service to humanizing the workforce but doesn’t do anything about it. We also couldn’t help but notice how exhausted Canadians were, with a Jan/Feb 2001 poll reporting that a staggering 78% of women and 44% of men said they’d trade a good night’s sleep over other bedroom activities. Canadians were feeling that their work-life balance was out of whack, with more than half saying they had less spare time than they did five years before. We’re still struggling for enough time, and we recently declared work-life balance obsolete.
We called it
In a January 2001 article, Dr. Sandy Cotton welcomed us to a new trend: temp work and the contingent world, before the gig economy was coined. He suggested younger workers had less of a problem with temporary work and pointed out that, although they are temporary, these workers deserve respect and support of workplaces too. Certainly this was foreshadowing today’s gig economy. And we pointed out the importance of succession planning. Transitions between generations of management have become increasingly relevant as boomers retire and pass the torch to the next generation, taking years of company knowledge with them.
What’s still on the plate
One issue surely to stay on our minds in years to come is the challenge of integrating four generations with different motivations, strengths, communication styles and needs. Generation X and Ys continue to be called self-centred, plugged in, tuned out and hooked on change. But for them mobility is obvious. They’ve never worked with a phone that was attached to a wall, nor a desktop computer, and they find it inefficient and weird that we ask them to sit at a desk and be visible for eight hours a day.
And what of mental health? Studies continue to show that mental health problems place an especially heavy burden on the workplace. A 1998 Perez and Wilkerson study found that 7% of all Canadian workers had absentee days they attributed to mental and emotional problems. Today 40% of Canadians say their mental health disrupted their lives in the past year, according to 2017 Ipsos findings.
Technology changes. Generational values may change and where work occurs is absolutely changing. But with the changes we witnessed in the last 20 years, it seems the smartest workplaces remain dynamic and ever-evolving. Thriving workplaces navigate the change to help employees stay engaged while living positive lives at work and at play. And we plan on being right there with them.