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Century of the Office: 1970s

Century of the Office: 1970s

It was the decade when politics had a dramatic impact on the working week, the first email was sent and office workers wore flares. Yes, this week our Century of the Office series heads back to the 1970s.

Welcome to the office ΓÇô 1970s-style

For the most part, the office of the 1970s looks pretty similar to that of the 1960s. The space typically remains open plan, and was generally light and bright. New office buildings continued to have the large windows which characterised the purpose-built offices of the 1960s.

One of the biggest differences between the office environment of the 1970s and today was the smoke. Cigarette smoke, that is, as it was still legal to smoke inside the office. Cigarette consumption reached its peak during this decade; around half of all adults in the UK were smokers (55% of men and 44% of women in 1970, compared with 21% and 20% in 2010), smoking an average of between seven and ten cigarettes per day. The thick, smoky atmosphere is difficult to imagine today.


The 1970s saw more women in the office than ever before ΓÇô many occupying positions of responsibility which would almost certainly have been inaccessible to them only twenty years before. Female bosses were becoming more common too.

That said, equality in the workplace was still a work in progress ΓÇô in 1971 the WomenΓÇÖs Liberation March in London highlighted the fact that female workers were typically paid only half as much as their male counterparts.

The early 1970s also saw the school leaving age raised to sixteen, but it was still possible for school leavers to find a job in an office and work their way up.


In terms of technology, throughout the 1970s the office moved ever closer to the way we work today. The development of the Telex machine allowed workers to send and receive text-based messages, while floppy disks provided a new way to store data, reducing the need for quite so many filing cabinets.

The first email was sent in 1971, although it would be another two decades before it became a mainstream communication method in the office.

Our favourite tech invention of the 1970s though has to be the “Executive Calculator” – launched in 1972 at a cost of £79.95, it offered a slimline alternative to the cumbersome comptometer which was finally to make its exit from the office during this decade.

The Three-Day Week

Probably one of the most famous events to impact the office in the 1970s, the three-day week was imposed from 1st January to 7th March 1974. It was designed to conserve the UKΓÇÖs electricity supplies (restricted due to the minersΓÇÖ strikes) and meant that commercial offices could only operate for three days each week. While this meant a four-day weekend for office workers, from most their ability to enjoy it was limited by a reduction in wages.

The Rise of Health and Safety

The passing of the Health and Safety at Work Act etc. 1974 was the first time employers and employees were consulted regarding safety and risk in the workplace. It also saw the creation of the Health & Safety Commission (HSC) which was responsible for conducting health and safety research and proposing new ways to make the workplace safer. In effect, the turning point for health and safety awareness in the workplace.

Do you remember office life in the 1970s? WeΓÇÖd love to hear about your memories and experiences ΓÇô share them in the comments below.

Image of an office in 1977 by Stockmann Group via Flickr. (Note not just the increase in technology but the variety of technology. Though rotary telephones were still in fashion.)

Catch up with our Century of the Office series:

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Author: | June 7, 2013 | 0 Comments

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