It is always interesting to reflect on how the American workplace has changed over the decades. Trend analysis can reveal insights about where we’ve been, where we’re heading, and how we can better position ourselves to identify future trends. For example, smoking.
When I first entered the workplace many decades ago, smoking was an acceptable, common habit that many workers practiced. Obviously, today we are intentional about restricting smoking in and near the workplace. That policy stems from many concerns:
- Corporate liability.
- Governmental regulation.
Interestingly, it all started with a little bit of knowledge. Once we as a society became aware of the scientific evidence identifying smoking and secondhand smoke as health risks, that was the beginning of the end for smoking in the workplace. (Yes, I realize that localized and regional deviations exist, but I am speaking on the broader trend-evolution level.) In some cases and depending on how you look at the history, it has taken a long time to make the changes that we wanted to make. However, the point is that the trend has clearly been to eliminate smoking in the workplace or otherwise make a reasonable accommodation for smokers while protecting nonsmokers and customers. That is where we have arrived.
As those in the legal and PR professions are wont to say, “what did you know and when did you know it?” Culpability is based on knowledge. We as a society have chosen to act on the scientific evidence about smoking. Our collective conscience (thankfully) required we could do nothing less.
In the early 1980s, a worker I know at a Fortune 500 company confronted his HR department with some of the earliest data identifying the escalating costs to companies associated with smoking in the workplace. This involved such tangible outcomes as increased wear and tear on the heating, AC, and ventilation system, increased worker sick time, and decreased worker productivity. He suggested that his company ban smoking in the workplace. Rather than even consider evaluating the research, his HR representative simply fell back on the Dilbertesian line of “that is our policy.”
What I like about truth is that it eventually prevails. Decades later, that worker’s suggestion has been implemented not only in that particular company, but throughout the American workplace. Today, we take it for granted that smoking in the workplace is not acceptable.
What did we know and when did we know it? If you want to get an idea of future trends, look at what we know and when we knew it. That will very likely spell out what the next workplace trend will be.