Like a reflection of their style, baby boomers witness the changing workplace

Baby boomers can take credit for many changes in business and culture, from a boomer creating Starbucks to a couple of boomers creating Apple. What’s in common among many of these sea changes in life and work? Well, perhaps a relaxation of the more strident ways we experienced growing up. BoomerCafé Co-Founder and Executive Editor Greg Dobbs reflects on work, ties, and coffee.

Have you noticed? Within the working life of our baby boomer generation, the nature of the office workplace has completely changed.

On the air and without a tie, Greg Dobbs anchors coverage of a Shuttle launch.

When I first started in a coat-and-tie job, well, that’s exactly what it was: a coat-and-tie job. In my first years as a correspondent for ABC News, in the early ‘70s, I even had to wear a coat-and-tie when I stepped into a pig sty on some farm story I’d be doing in Iowa!

And back at the office, there was virtually no communication between one worker and another. If someone had his or her own office, there was that barrier called a wall. If someone didn’t, he or she sat in a gymnasium of desks where every extra-curricular conversation could be seen, and stopped, by a supervisor.

And the coffee room was the only place to get coffee.

That was then. This is now.

First, the coat-and-tie atmosphere every day of the work-week gave way to “Casual Friday,” which meant that while your shoes still had to be polished, if you were a man you could leave your necktie at home in the closet. On Fridays.

Mind you, “casual” really only meant “for men.” For a long time after the tie came off on Fridays, the skirt and dress were still required wardrobe for women. Pants? “Not if you want to work here, honey!”

Greg (left) in the old days at ABC News, a necktie…even outside a prison in Afghanistan.

Eventually, Fridays weren’t enough, and offices that once even dictated not just what items you’d wear to work but also what colors they had to be, started allowing for Casual Friday, Thursday, Wednesday, Tuesday, and Monday. Nowadays, I find that when I try to guess what I should wear before going to see people in their offices, half the time I guess wrong and walk into a room where I’m the only guy with a tie around his neck.

And I can tell even before I get to the conference room because of another stage in the evolution of the office workplace: everyone’s in open-plan cubicles, so I can see virtually the whole workforce in one sweep of the eyes.

Another stage in this evolution: lots of offices now allow dogs. Last week my son and daughter-in-law drove to visit from out-of-town, and when they left for a few days on their own, I inherited Kota, their Black Lab. I had a few casual meetings on my schedule, so I called ahead to see if it was okay to bring the dog. In every case, it was. Try that in 1960!

Greg today … no tie, even next to the Kremlin in Moscow.

Of course these days, lots of our meetings don’t take place in anyone’s office. No, we meet at a Starbucks, or the local equivalent. It might cost a little more to have your meeting over a $4 Caramel Macchiato, but it sure tastes a far sight better than the stuff that had been deteriorating in the pot since early morning that they used to bring you from the coffee room.

And sometimes, at least in my life, I don’t even have to spend the four bucks, because I do it all by smartphone. This week, I was on a 40-mile bike ride with a group I meet every Wednesday. The phone rang, I got off the bike and answered, it was a business contact, we had our discussion, and my caller never knew I was straddling my road bike in the middle of a hill that climbs toward Boulder, Colorado.

Can we boomers claim credit for these changes, every one of which is an improvement on conditions when we started in the working world? Probably not. But who cares? I love ‘em all!

Greg is online at GregDobbs.net.

2 Comments

  1. Good observations. I think boomers should take credit for a more relaxed workplace, why not? Now if we could just get away from the 24/7 smartphone tether. They do allow us more freedom, but they also operate as a constraint.

  2. My first job out of law school was with a big firm. They had a very strict dress code: dark suit, white shirt, not too wild tie. One extremely hot summer day the A/C in the building was not working and it was unbearably HOT & stuffy. I had no court appearances that day and no clients to see. So, over the lunch hour I went home & changed into shorts & a polo shirt, figuring I could just barricade myself in my office with the door closed and no one would really see me or care if I did my work in more comfortable attire. I mean, it was seriously hot in that place. But when one of the partners spotted me I received a real dressing down (pun intended) for not wearing a suit.

    But for most of the last 20 years, I have managed my own firm. I often come to the office in jeans or shorts & Aloha shirt. Hey, this IS Southern California after all. I find I’m far more productive when dressed comfortably. I do keep a suit & tie on a hanger on my office door, however, in case an unexpected client shows up or I get an emergency call to court. As the Boy Scouts say: Always be prepared.

    BTW, a buddy who is a local judge also often wears shorts & Hawaiian shirts under his robe. So, yes, it DOES look like things have loosened up a bit over the last couple decades. Now … if only my building would allow me to bring my dog to the office … Gotta work on that.

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