Mad Men: Careers and Policies, Then and Now

The final season of “Mad Men” has just wrapped up, leaving long-term fans aching for the show’s view into the good old fashioned, scandalous world of advertising and marketing in the 1960s and beyond.

A lot that has changed between the 1960s and now. There are more opportunities for women in the workforce, and the government has stepped in to encourage and enforce equal employment opportunities for those with a disability or minority status.  What follows are more changes between “Then & Now” as represented by the cast of characters in “Mad Men.”

Job Mobility and Longevity Then

Job mobility refers to the process of moving vertically and horizontally within your field. That is, how you go about getting raises and promotions as well as how often you change jobs to pursue a raise or promotion.

Throughout “Mad Men,” there was pressure on women to sleep with someone to get ahead at work. And the threat of sexual harassment in the workplace was fairly nonexistent. If Peggy had given up every time she received a rude comment or someone made a pass at her, she never would have made it from secretary to copy chief.

The show also provides insight into the volatile agency workplace of that era. Several of the characters rise through the ranks, leadership roles downshift and others are fired. The show paints a different picture than the stereotypes we’ve come to embrace about long-term employment in the 1960s and 1970s.

Job Mobility and Longevity Now

Job mobility in 2015 is a different story. We have access to a large supply of free and low-cost professional development tools, including certificates, courses and self-help blogs and websites. Anyone in any field can take initiative to develop ancillary skills that can help them secure a promotion or even start their own business with little to no traditional funding sources.

Job longevity has also changed, with the push and pull between Millennials who embrace job-hopping and those who want to stay put and develop their careers. While workers in the “Mad Men” era were predominantly focused on getting a paycheck and achieving greatness on the job, Millennials and those that follow focus more on engagement, meaning and pursuing their passions on the job.



HR Then

This is the first time I’ve noticed that in all of the business scenes and corporate goings-on, there was never once a reference to a human resources manager on “Mad Men.” Which, considering all of the racism, sexism, sexual harassment and bribery going on, makes sense. Any HR team would have had its work cut out for it in the SCD&P building trying to control the rampant Equal Opportunity problems going on behind closed doors.

HR Now

While we have a long way to go until we can consider the American workplace “perfect,” we have definitely made improvement towards our goals of promoting equal opportunities and monitoring and controlling the behavior we accept on the job. We have also made small but significant changes towards health in the workplace, such as banning smoking from the workplace and making drinking on the job a lot less acceptable (outside the occasional holiday office party, of course).



PTO Then

There were several times throughout “Mad Men” Seasons One through Seven where you started to wonder if anyone was watching the clock. Don Draper disappears for days at a time and is hard to reach, often meeting up with various women around the city, doing drugs at parties or pursuing expositional plot points about his past in California. And then there’s Peggy’s “bout with tuberculosis.” (Spoiler alert: she had Pete’s lovechild.) She disappeared for a few weeks and returned with no questions asked. Coupled with the odd hours and erratic schedule of the rest of the creative team, this begs the question of whether or not anyone was tracking time outside of the secretary pool.


Here’s one case in which the “Mad Men” era may have had it right. In 2015, an estimated one to three percent of US companies are trying out an unlimited PTO policy as a benefit for employees as they gain seniority. These companies aren’t your hip marketing agencies and Silicon Valley companies. They’re typical companies seeking new ways to attract top talent and possibly limit expensive, quantified benefits that must be paid out when an employee leaves a company.



Graphic Design Then

To hear the cast of “Mad Men” tell the story, graphic design in the 1960s and 1970s made use of the camera, the drafting board and a selection of colored pencils, markers and ink. In fact, many companies advertised for graphic designers and illustrators by placing “Can you draw this?” ads in local newspaper and recruiting talented artists. Art Directors – the leadership position for graphic designers – also helped companies put images and concepts together with ad copy to develop the distinctive style and feel of 1960s that involved only as much technology as we had back then.

Graphic Design Now

Many talented graphic designers still start with pen and paper to brainstorm ideas, but in 2015 it rarely ever stops there. Technology has taken over the graphic design industry and requires new graphic designers to take courses in Adobe Creative Suite, including Illustrator, Photoshop, InDesign and more. This new approach results in ad campaigns in a variety of styles from heavily modified photography and stop-motion to full computer graphic illustrations.

Search for graphic designer jobs and art director jobs on Simply Hired.

Business Management Then

Business management in the “Mad Men” era required a strong and healthy liver and a high tolerance for working late. These habits often led to chronic health problems, on-the-job romance and broken marriages – and very lucrative marketing contracts. The biggest factor related to success in “Mad Men” business management positions? Building and guarding your personal relationships and hoping you wouldn’t get stabbed in the back by a business partner.



Business Management Now

Business management today still includes a lot of networking, but it takes a very different form. Business managers now need to keep up with their networks with digital tools like LinkedIn, email marketing and company blogs. Companies today increasingly embrace the use of telecommuting and technology in the marketplace (something not readily available to “Mad Men” characters unless it was to use a landline at a party in San Francisco to call the office in New York). Strategy and relationship-building are less about volatile individual relationships and more about wide scale strategic partnerships and company-wide campaigns.

Find a position in business management or telecommuting on Simply Hired.

If this list made you a little homesick for SCD&P’s view of the world, there’s nothing stopping you from power-streaming the show. And while you do so, be on the lookout for more “Then & Now” moments you could add to this list!