Whether you watch Mad Men or not, the Emmy-winning show is a fascinating time capsule of life half a century ago. If you're not familiar the series, which is now in its fourth season, it revolves around the inner workings of a Madison Avenue advertising agency in the 1960s and the people who work there.
The majority of today's workers wouldn't recognize the world of Sterling Cooper (which changed to Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce in the current season). Thanks to the Lucky Strike account, there is a supply closet filled with cartons of the famous cigarettes, and employees smoke them – at their desks, in the hallways and even in the elevators. Executives have liquor cabinets in their offices, cocktails are served during meetings and the three-martini lunch is the norm. And Casual Friday? No such thing.
In the 50 years since, many things about the workplace have changed dramatically. Today's workplace is a healthier, more sober one. Employers offer on-site fitness centers and wellness benefits, smoking laws are sweeping the nation, and caffeine is the crutch of choice. Dress codes that outline rules for jeans, flip-flops and visible tattoos are fairly typical.
For better or worse, let's take a look at the three biggest differences between the Mad Men workplace and ours.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average U.S. worker took home $740 a week ($38, 480 a year) in the second quarter of 2010. Let's look at what the team at Sterling Cooper took in during its first three seasons:
- Don Draper, Mad Men's central character and the head of creative at Sterling Cooper, demands and receives $45,000 a year, after turning down a then-generous salary offer of $35,000.
- Peggy Olson earned $35 a week as Don's secretary. After getting her second assignment writing copy, she receives a $5 a week raise.
- Peter Campbell, a junior account executive, makes $75 a week, or $3,500 a year.
- Harry Crane was making $200 a week when he discovers that account executive Ken Cosgrove makes $100 more than him. As a result, Harry asks for and receives a promotion to head of (and only member of) the television department. While he asks for $310 a week (obviously so he can earn more than Ken), he ends up with $225.
2. Attitudes Toward Feminism
In the 1960's there was still a division between what was considered a "man's job" and a "woman's job." At Sterling Cooper, it's just that black and white: women are secretaries and men are the executives. While helping out Harry, office manager Joan Harris shows a knack for reviewing television scripts but is never considered for the full-time job. After all, she's a secretary, right?
Peggy is the one woman who actually breaks out of the secretarial pool when she is promoted to copywriter, yet she struggles to be seen as an equal ... or get paid as one. Consider the following exchange between Peggy and Don:
"I'm paid very little. My secretary doesn't respect me because I make $71 more a week than she does."
"Maybe we need to get you a cheaper secretary."
"Paul Kinsey does the same work as I do and not as well sometimes. And I don't know if you read it in the paper but they passed a law where women who do the same job as men will get paid the same thing. Equal pay."
In the end, Peggy didn't get her raise due to budgeting.
Unfortunately, there is still an inequity in pay between sexes. The BLS reports that in the second quarter of 2010, women who usually worked full-time had median weekly earnings of $672, or 83 percent of the $810 median for men.
And what about sexual harassment and political correctness?
The majority of the women who work at Sterling Cooper are secretaries who are subject daily to leering looks, inappropriate touching and off-color remarks. At an office party, for example, Ken Cosgrove tackles a secretary, tugs up her skirt and asks the color of her undergarments. While knocking back a high-ball in his office, Peter Campbell remarks to his secretary, "I love watching you walk." That kind of behavior today would have most workers running for the HR department and have lawsuit written all over it.
50 years ago, television was the emerging technology. Workers relied on typewriters and mimeographs for "hard copies" ... come to think of it, "soft copies" didn't even exist. If you wanted to call someone, it often had to go through a switchboard. Secretaries made your appointments. Communication was done by memo, telephone or face-to-face. If you were out of the office, you were often unreachable.
What a change from the e-leash that most workers are tied to today. Think about the last time your internet went down for a few minutes or the copier got jammed. How would today's worker function in a world without laptops, smartphones and e-mail? Probably not very well ... but they might be less stressed, too.