The concept has a much longer history than you might think…
At the height of the industrial revolution, with all its attendant horrors of child labour and appalling working conditions, Welsh textile manufacturer and social reformer Robert Owen (1771-1858) was one of the first people to take a genuine interest in the welfare of his employees. Owen reduced their working hours to a bearable level and is known for coining the slogan ‘Eight hours labour. Eight hours recreation. Eight hours rest.’ As well as providing schooling for the children of factory workers, he also introduced lectures and concerts for their parents, something that was regarded as both extravagant and pointless by most of his contemporaries. A prime example of a man ahead of his time, Owen’s ideas would take almost a century to catch on, but he is quite rightly regarded as a visionary. It is also worth mentioning, if only in passing, the industrialist Henry Ford. Although not generally regarded as a pleasant character, Ford at least had the decency to introduce the forty hour working week, which represented a significant improvement on the working hours most industrial workers had to endure.
But employers started to realise that as well as reducing working hours it was also vital to start paying attention to the physical health of their employees. Starting in the 1950’s, EAPs (Employee Assistance Programmes) were initially created in order to help employees with alcohol problems. Over time they have developed to provide services to employees experiencing a wide range of personal or work-related issues. At around the same time, companies such as Rockwell and Xerox began to open employee fitness centres, although this was still fairly uncommon.
The company with perhaps the best claim to having started a recognizably modern wellness programme is Johnson and Johnson, who introduced their ‘Live for Life’ programme in 1979. This focused on nutrition education, weight management, exercise and smoking cessation. The latter was an ambitious goal when at that time around 40% of adults in the US described themselves as regular smokers. Another company that was at the forefront of protecting employees’ health was Boeing, who in 1984 became the largest US corporation to ban smoking in the workplace. If this doesn’t seem particularly forward thinking to you, it should be borne in mind that a complete smoking ban wasn’t introduced in American hospitals until 1993!
Protecting your employees’ physical health is of course a laudable aim, but it wasn’t until recently that companies started to pay attention to mental health issues such as stress and depression. When you consider that 70 million workdays are lost each year in the UK due to mental health problems, to describe this is a blind spot would be something of an understatement. Of course, it would be fatuous to claim that this crisis could be solved by wellness programmes alone, but given that the average person spends 90000 hours of their life working, creating an environment that fosters the mental wellbeing of your employees is one important part of the solution.
OMG Welltech can help navigate your business through the highs and lows of wellness technology in the workplace. For an informal discussion about how OMG Welltech can help, book an appointment here.
Orange Monkey Group supply products for the wellbeing of the body and the mind to numerous channels including retail, health and education. We have made it our goal to improve people’s physical, mental and emotional health, an aim which is even more important to us than the previous heights towards which we have strived. For all too many, feeling good and sleeping well have become something of a luxury. Here at OMG however, we are happy to be able to help our customers enjoy that luxury to the full.
We’re proud to be partnered with the Blink Mental health campaign and we will work hard to support the charity in various ways. It’s an exciting time for us as we get to help those who have been affected by issues that, sadly, any one of us could have the misfortune to experience in our ever more complicated lives.
Written by Clive Norris
OMG Welltech – Manager for Social Happiness
Photo courtesy of https://www.historic-uk.com/