15 Workplace Norms from the 1960s That Would Get Someone Fired Today

As the world has progressed, we cringe at some of the things that were considered acceptable in the past.

The workplace is no exception, and thankfully, certain workplace norms from the 1960s are now outdated and no longer considered appropriate behavior.

We chose these norms to highlight our progress in creating more inclusive, equitable workplaces while also recognizing the work that still needs to be done. Though some unfair practices didn’t make the cut, each item on this list serves as a reminder of how far we’ve come.

1. Gender Discrimination

Secretary typist in 1951
Image Credit: Deutsche Fotothek‎ – CC BY-SA 3.0 de/Wiki Commons.

Workplaces were often characterized by strict gender roles. Men held positions of authority and leadership, while women were limited to supporting roles such as secretaries or administrative assistants.

This gender-based discrimination was deeply ingrained in the culture of many workplaces, with little regard for equal opportunity or meritocracy. Today, such practices would be swiftly condemned and could result in termination due to the legal protections and societal norms that prioritize gender equality in the workplace.

2. Racial Discrimination

Image Credit: Russel Lee/Wiki Commons.

Racial segregation and discrimination were common practices back in the day. African Americans and other people of color often faced significant barriers to employment, with many companies openly favoring white candidates for hiring and promotion opportunities.

For example, job postings might specify that only white applicants were welcome, or promotions might be based more on race than qualifications. Discriminatory practices would not only be grounds for termination but could also lead to legal action and damage to a company’s reputation.

3. Smoking Indoors

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According to the Surgeon General’s report, secondhand smoke didn’t really become a known hazard until about 1972, but it was clear by 1986. In the 1960s, smoking in shared office spaces was a way to bring people together. At that time, it wasn’t uncommon to see colleagues puffing away at their desks or in meeting rooms.

In the next years, people gained a greater understanding of the health risks associated with smoking and secondhand smoke exposure. Smoking indoors is a serious health risk, and employees can now face serious consequences thanks to strict workplace smoking policies and health regulations.

4. Lack of Workplace Safety Regulations

Image Credit: Adolph F. Isler – Keweenaw National Historical Park Archives.

Here’s where we should pay homage to those who’ve paved the way for us — some of whom gave their lives. In previous years, workplace safety regulations and enforcement were often nonexistent or lax at best. Employees faced hazardous working conditions without proper safety measures in place, leading to countless injuries and even fatalities.

Thanks to the advocacy and sacrifices of past generations, rigid safety regulations and enforcement ensure that employees have the right to work in safe and healthy environments, with severe consequences for companies that neglect their duty to protect their workers.

5. Openly Sexist Remarks

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Workplace culture has markedly changed for the better since the 1960s. Women were often subjected to derogatory comments, inappropriate jokes, and even harassment in the workplace, with little recourse for justice.

That behavior is unacceptable by modern standards. That’s not to say that it doesn’t still happen, because it does, but such behavior can land you in legal hot water. You might even be fired as companies strive to create inclusive and respectful environments for all employees.

6. Homophobic Or Transphobic Attitudes

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Homophobic and transphobic attitudes were pervasive in workplaces in the ’60’s. LGBTQ+ individuals faced discrimination, harassment, and violence.

Employers often refused to hire or promote based on sexual orientation or gender identity. Offensive slurs and jokes targeting LGBTQ+ weren’t subject to the zero-tolerance policies in place today. Today, those remarks can mean immediate job termination.

7. Racial Slurs

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Cursing like a sailor in the workplace was routine over 60 years ago. Besides foul language, which is also inappropriate for the work setting, racial slurs created hostile environments for many.

Using that kind of language today will quickly result in unemployment. Thankfully, while this occurrence is still problematic, there are consequences in place to serve as a deterrent.

8. Unequal Pay

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Unequal pay based on race, gender, or other factors was the norm rather than the exception. A woman doing the same job as a man might earn significantly less simply because of her gender. In general, women and minorities often received lower wages than their white male counterparts, regardless of their qualifications or performance.

Currently, such discriminatory practices are illegal, with companies implementing fair pay policies and facing legal consequences for wage disparities based on protected characteristics.

9. Inappropriate Advances Toward Coworkers

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Women, in particular, often faced unwanted attention, advances, and even harassment from male colleagues or superiors. Instances of supervisors making unwelcome sexual advances towards a subordinate happened far too often, creating an uncomfortable work environment.

While that type of behavior may be covered up more now than back then, it wasn’t an unusual practice at that time.

10. Lack of Diversity

Image Credit: Quinn Dombrowski – CC BY-SA 2.0/Wiki Commons.

In the 1960s, diversity and inclusion initiatives were virtually nonexistent in the workplace. Companies typically lacked formal strategies or programs to promote diversity or foster inclusion.

Recruitment efforts often focused on hiring individuals who fit a narrow mold, such as white males, while neglecting to actively seek out diverse candidates. Now, however, diversity and inclusion are top priorities for many organizations, with dedicated initiatives aimed at recruiting, retaining, and advancing individuals from diverse backgrounds.

11. Forced Overtime

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If you ever think you work a little too hard, take a look back over 60 years ago and see what hard work people did without compensation. Then, forced overtime without compensation or proper breaks was pretty common. Employees were often expected to work long hours without additional pay or even adequate rest periods.

Workers were often required to stay late into the evening to meet deadlines without any overtime pay or opportunities for breaks. Now, labor laws mandate fair compensation for overtime work and require employers to provide adequate breaks for their employees’ health and well-being.

12. Age Discrimination

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Older workers often faced barriers to employment and advancement due to ageist attitudes and practices.

For example, a qualified candidate might be passed over for a job or promotion in favor of a younger, less experienced individual simply because of their age. This practice is prohibited by law, and if someone is physically able to complete the job and is qualified, they must be considered.

13. Bullying

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The absence of policies against workplace bullying or harassment meant that many employees had little recourse if they were subjected to mistreatment.

Bullying and harassment were often brushed off as “part of the job,” leaving victims feeling powerless and unsupported. A coworker or supervisor might engage in verbal or physical abuse without facing any consequences.

14. Limited Maternity Leave

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A new mother was once expected to return to work within weeks of having a baby, with little to no accommodations made for her needs.

Work culture now demands a growing recognition of the importance of supporting working parents. Many companies offer generous maternity and paternity leave policies and flexible work arrangements to help employees balance their professional and family responsibilities.

15. Strict Dress Codes

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Women were often required to wear dresses or skirts, while men were expected to don suits and ties. Deviating from these dress codes was seen as unprofessional and could even result in disciplinary action.

Workplaces have become more relaxed in their dress codes, embracing diversity and individuality depending on the setting.

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