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From Stone Tablets to Mobile Devices: Corporate Culture Then and Now

How much has organizational culture in your office changed in the last 10 years? What do you suppose it will look like in 2030? If you want to look forward and see what culture changes are coming, you can start by looking back.

Organizational culture has been with us for ages, even if the study of it is relatively new.

Office parties go way back

It’s evident as far back as ancient Rome when Julius Caesar rolled up to a weeklong Saturnalia feast with 2,000 soldiers. This mid-December shindig was a favorite of the ancient Romans, and this episode might represent the earliest known example of a “work hard, play hard” business environment.

For most of history, organizational cultures weren’t actively considered or cultivated — they just organically happened. Author Charles Dickens is credited with introducing the idea of corporate benevolence to Victorian England with the publication of A Christmas Carol in 1843. The notion that businesses could embody more than just work was beginning to evolve.

Studying the culture

Moving into the 20th century, executives began openly wondering about the nature of organizational culture. One of the first scholars of this emerging field was New Jersey Bell Telephone president Chester Barnard, who is quoted in 1938 as saying, “If members internalize common values and meanings of the organization and its mission, they will intuitively pursue organizational interests.”

The truth Mr. Barnard was sniffing around was more thoroughly described by Dr. Elliot Jacques when he formally introduced the concept of company culture in 1951 through his book The Changing Culture. Organizational culture was now a serious topic of study, demonstrating that executives could be provided direction and data to help intentionally shape the environments within their companies.

Corporations get groovy

As the study of organizational cultures progressed, the growing zeitgeist of social conscience spread into America’s boardrooms with the social responsibility movement. Shifting attitudes toward consumerism, environmentalism and corporate responsibility were becoming more mainstream, and the public was beginning to expect similar values to be reflected in big business as well.

Management, culture and the public consciousness

The business-first attitude of the Reagan administration fueled aggressive growth in America off the 1980s, while also driving individualistic, goal-oriented business environments. Management techniques and culture were hot topics with great attention being paid to industry icons like Lee Iacocca or the unique business culture driving Japan’s bubble economy.

By the 1990s, corporate culture had become a commonly understood and studied concept. As we entered the 21st century, the tech boom in Silicon Valley saw a revolution in intentional, progressive corporate cultures that removed internal hierarchies and embraced comprehensive employee benefits, reflecting the attitudes of the more socially conscious workforce they employed.

Along with the culture, the perks also evolved to meet employees’ needs, with benefits like expanded maternity/paternity leave, catered meals and on-site child care.

Looking forward

This recognition of corporate culture as an objective phenomenon has helped give management the insight to shape their cultures and more effectively create a win-win situation for the employees and the organization. The future of organizational cultures will most likely be shaped by leadership that can continue to leverage these insights with the power of technology for the benefit of both parties.

You can see this playing out right now with tools like Paycom’s Employee Self-Service® and Manager on-the-Go™. Educational tools like Paycom Learning also give employers a direct method for imparting not only task-related information, but the values, history and beliefs of the business.

By leveraging the power of technology, these applications create greater efficiency for the organization while simultaneously offering more latitude and control over personal data and regular tasks to a more engaged workforce.

If you’d like to see the next evolution in corporate culture, join the company shaping the future and apply to Paycom today!