The picture of today’s ideal corporate wellness program looks like this:
An energetic, dynamic program with a well-defined set of expectations and options. Employees are excited about it. Data abounds. There are gym memberships, mental health days, biometric readings, team events like mud runs and boot camps.
There’s camaraderie and an overall sense that your boss didn’t put the program together just because it helps the company’s bottom line. Oh, and also, it helps the company’s bottom line.
It’s hard to imagine a corporate world that doesn’t embrace the importance of having a thriving wellness program. But we didn’t get here overnight. We didn’t enter the industrial age with a full-blown health and wellness program for every worker. (To be honest, we’re still working on that.)
So how did we get to where we are – where most workers in the smallest of companies can expect some kind of nod to their health and wellness needs?
Let’s take a trip back a few decades and see where it all started.
Corporate Wellness History
The Corporate Exec's Private Gym
In the years following World War II, company executives became interested in ways to lead a healthy lifestyle – including time spent on the job.
By installing personal gyms and using the services of massage therapists and personal trainers, company leaders addressed their own health needs throughout the early 1970s, while not letting much of these perks trickle down to their employees.
Step One: Put Down That Cigarette
The first major workplace health intervention to impact employees were smoking cessation programs in the late 1970s. <-- TWEET THIS
These initiatives were spurred, in large part, to studies that indicated that cigarettes weren’t exactly healthy. Additionally, at this same time in 1976, Congress created the Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, which brought the importance of healthy lifestyles to the awareness of the national population.
Crunching Numbers to Spell P-R-O-F-I-T
Johnson & Johnson was the first company to release reports with solid data regarding the effect wellness programs had on their productivity and profitability. After tracking their stats throughout the late 70s and early 1980s, Johnson & Johnson had clear indications that their wellness program was saving their company money. This provided the encouragement needed for other top companies to follow suit.
We can’t forget an iconic moment in American health history: the video release of Jane Fonda’s Workout in 1982.
Spandex never had it so good.
Jane Fonda made home health and exercise available to the masses, and it spurred on a national fitness craze that had already been brewing. It was at this point that employers expanded their health programs to include gym memberships and on-site fitness centers for their workforce. Now it wasn’t only the top executives who were encouraged to lift weights at work.
The 1990s Bottom Out
Unfortunately, the upswing of the corporate health industry in the 1980s was plummeting in the 1990s. By this time, eager to capture as much ROI as possible, corporate executives focused their wellness programs on employees who were the biggest health risks.
They threw the lion’s share of resources on the unhealthiest workers, which left the healthy workers forgotten. Without the benefit of the wellness resources and attention, those once-healthy workers began to slip into the unhealthy category.
Eventually, this focus was realigned so that the distribution of resources was evened out among the workforce, while still giving the specialized care each group required.
The Future is Now: Our Phones Keep Us Healthy
It should be no surprise that today experts say our challenges and opportunities lie in our use of gadgets. From step trackers, to virtual trainers, to any and all kinds of apps, the next phase of workplace wellness will be found in the cloud and on our phones.
What started with corporate executives’ private gyms has blossomed into a daily practice of wellness that has spread across the workforce.