Acceptability / legality of workplace cultures

In another Forum devoted to my particular locality, we have been discussing life one of its past principal employers - now gone the way of most traditional industry, but in its day a world-respected centre of excellence and generally a very very happy and remunerative place in which to work.

But the 'traditional' workplace culture of 30 or 40 years ago seems  light years away from that of today. For example, a discussion of a particular senior manager there was provoked by an old newspaper photographs. I was a  very junior 'Personnel' bod then, but this particular fellow stands out as by far one of the most uncouth people I have ever encountered in my  whole life and career. Nowadays, he and his management style just wouldn't be tolerated or possible, but then it was a fact of working life - here is the recollection of someone who was once even closer to this:-

"Where X lost my respect was that every single morning that I can remember he stood on the shop floor close to where I was working and bollocked (Lawrence Y - one of his foremen)  for something!

Every single morning without fail!

If he'd done something to deserve it then fair enough, but not on the shop floor in front of the people that Lawrence was supposed to be in charge of!

He had an office where it could be done in private IF it was necessary!

As good a manager as he may have been I found the man to be an ignorant, arrogant boor, and nothing, in my years in the machine shop ever altered that opinion!"

The pendulum has swung a very long way in the other direction since then - too far, maybe?

We're a lot more civilised these days and that's obviously 'a good thing' and progress and all that.

But what might we have lost as a result?

My wife is always taking me to task about my tendency to ramble on about the past, but I do nonetheless think it shapes our futures and in 'HR'  it's important for some present colleagues to keep such things in proportion / proper perspective and to try and avoid getting unduly 'precious' about them, bad as they in themselves undoubtedly  were.

  • Why 30 or 40 years, David? Why not 60? 100? 400? Surely things were so much better when you could recruit half a dozen pre-teen apprentices on no pay beyond subsistence, make them do all the worst and most tiring jobs for 18 hours a day and beat them when they talked back to you?

    The best thing about studying the past is that it reminds you how much better it is in the present.
  • In reply to Robey:

    The best bit was that apprentices used to pay you to allow them to train! :-)
  • Not even 30 or 40 years ago, David.

    I moved into my first substantive "personnel" role 20 years ago, following a year as a graduate trainee.

    Having moved from a very professional environment, everything there was a complete eye-opener, but has stood me in good stead since!

    On my first day, the Regional Director told me he thought personnel was a role for a man, and would have preferred a male candidate, as he didn't think a woman was capable of negotiating or managing the relationship with the local trade union official! He was also a bully and sounds very like the senior manager in your own story. I'd like to think that they would now only feature in the history books, as there was nothing pleasant about him whatsoever!

    I was then told by the warehouse manager that he would only recruit candidates with blue eyes .... (I'd like to say he was joking, but he was deadly serious). Green eyes signified you supported the football team from the wrong side of the city ... and as for women working in the warehouse, let's not even start on that ;)
  • In reply to Robey:

    Which gives rise to the thought that as Universities charge more and more for people to earn a degree at what point ( :-) ) might it become acceptable again to charge for the training and skills provided via an apprenticeship?

    The logic is clearly the same. The state feels an individual should contribute to the life benefits they get from a University education and isn't willing to fund the whole amount. So perhaps employers who offer "good" apprenticeships could use the same arguments....it would certainly see pressure on employers to up the quality of many apprenticeships.

    Perhaps the Apprentice levy is the wrong way round this challenge?
  • In reply to Keith:

    Ooh, I like a bit of controversy.

    But, given the topic of this thread, isn't that part of the point of studying history (and the evolution of the workplace)? We can look at a proposal like that, see its merits, but look at the historical experience of paid-for apprenticeships and see how they were abused. That doesn't mean we throw them out on principle, but at the very least if someone wanted to go down this line they would be informed of some possible bear-traps along the way and see to avoid them.
  • In reply to Robey:

    Perhaps we will look back in 30 years time and see the lunacy of charging £10K+ a year for University places but that's the world we are moving to...

    And whilst (to continue the thought) paid for apprentices might have led to some abuse they were still in many ways the golden age of apprentice driven education. Both sides had a stake in the game so to speak.
  • Gosh, that's a good thought provoking thread David.

    Scarily, I've now been working for 32 years and thinking back to when I started, I don't feel that we have lost much. The main thing I remember with horror is people smoking in the office. Particularly when the office I worked for brought in a truly stupid policy of people only being able to smoke on the hour. The intention was to try and improve the atmosphere for most of the hour, but it just meant that all the smokers lit up on the hour, whether they wanted one or not and you could hardly see you hand in front of your face.

    I think I am lucky in that once I'd left school, ive never been treated differently because I'm a woman. When I was at school however, the careers guidance was very sexist (I actually wanted to be an Electrical Engineer, but was steered away on the basis that it was really for men, rather than women).

    I think the main thing we have lost from all those years ago really is the secondary education system that was in place when I was at school in the late 70's early 80's. It seemed much more tailored to individual abilities with students who were not academically gifted, being steered towards vocational City and Guilds Courses. Now it seems that everyone is treated exactly the same and the only focus is on GCSE attainment.

    There seems to be little or no life education either. My niece left school a couple of years ago and came to live with me, and had been taught nothing about the basics of nutrition, economics, politics or even how to look after herself . She would constantly go to the Doctor if she felt even a little under the weather and no wonder the NHS is struggling if people have no idea how to care for themselves and head to the GP or A & E at the drop of a hat.

    With apprencticeships, the difficult thing is that years ago, they were aimed at 15 year olds. By the time they were 19/20, they were fully qualified and earning a good salary. Now, apprenticeships are aimed at 19/20 year olds and in many cases, they have partners and/or families and the salaries simply aren't realistic. I think it would be better that if someone isn't academically gifted, they are given the opportunity to start an apprenticeship whilst still at school, rather than being forced down the GCSE route.
  • In reply to Teresa:

    I had forgotten about smoking at work, and on public transport. My retired flight engineer father-in-law remembers when nicotine stains had to be scrubbed off the outsides of airliners around the vents for the air conditioning system.

    Being forced down the GCSE route is only the first step into being pushed into university (and those £10k+ fees). Is it heresy to say that some degrees are not worth having?
  • In reply to Robey:

    Hi Robey
    To answer your question ''Why 30 or 40 years, David? Why not 60? 100? 400?'' I'd say that between now and 30 or 40 years ago there has been a very fundamental change whereas until 30 or 40 years ago there was still very much a 'master:servant' relationship during employment, with the employer subject to few if any constraints on how well or badly they treated their servants. For just one example, if the employer chose unfairly or unreasonably to berate or sanction an employee at work or humiliated them or whatever, that was their absolute / accepted prerogative and this state of affairs was common even up to and including the time long ago when I first started work
  • In reply to Elizabeth Divver:

    @ Elizabeth
    try these as "socially useful" degrees ;-)

  • In reply to Elizabeth Divver:

    The idea of people smoking on planes sounds completely daft now, but I do remember being asked whether I wanted smoking or non smoking when I took my first flights 30 odd years ago........an also the huge smog in the baggage claim area when they banned it on planes, but before it was banned in buildings.

    In terms of degrees, going to University wasn't an option for me living in rural Norfolk, so I left school at 16 and went through a variety of roles including trainee Jeweller, travel agent, medical records clerk, A & E Receptionist, Civil Servant administering the state pension, pensions administrator and then manager for a large retailer's company pension scheme (in the heady days of companies taking contribution holidays!), before finally ending up in HR in my early 30's as a result of strange combination of a forces posting for my then husband and a feud between the Head of HR and Head of Finance at the NHS Trust I ended up temping in. I believe that my broad experience has helped me in my HR roles.

    All my studying for my CIPD and then Post Grad in Employment Law was done in my own time so I do get a little cross when I hear people say that kids have no chance in life unless they go to University. The old Talk Talk song, 'Life's What You Make It' has always been my 'anthem' and it has served me well.
  • Hi David
    Vey thought provoking. I can remember back to starting my career and having a boss who felt it was appropriate to swear constantly in front of me. I also had a boss a little later who sacked me when I took sick leave following an operation. We certainly did not enjoy some of the protections we now enjoy in terms of employment law. However the raft of employment legislation now in place does make it difficult, at times, to deal with some of the issues we are faced with as HR peeps. I can name a raft of issues over recent years where I have wistfully thought I wished that had happened some years ago when I could have dealt with it by having a very frank and open conversation with the employee, making it clear that such behaviour would not be tolerated any longer, without the employee threatening me with a grievance or tribunal.