In recent years, there’s been a rapid increase in workplace wellbeing programmes, and there’s a widely held belief that investment in employee wellbeing can boost productivity to an extent that’s highly profitable for the company.
The provision of resources such as free meals, gym facilities, and fresh drinking water on tap can have a huge impact on staff wellbeing – not only in terms of nutrition, exercise, and hydration, but also because the employer is demonstrating appreciation and care. Architects and specifiers are drawing on their expert knowledge to create healthy environments for workers, incorporating innovative ideas around free movement, biophilia, and accessibility.
However, personal data-gathering technology as part of a workplace wellbeing scheme has been received with mixed feelings.
In 1914, American industrialist Henry Ford (1863-1947) introduced a scheme that rewarded workers for leading their private lives in a way that he approved of.
The year before, the Ford Motor Company had experienced very high staff turnover. During 1913, 52,000 men were hired to maintain a 14,000-strong workforce, and this proved expensive for the company in terms of recruitment and training. Periodically, production ground to a halt, adding downtime to the company’s costs.
Henry Ford’s response to the problem was to increase workers’ wages by more than 100%. Staff retention improved, downtime was slashed, and productivity rocketed. But there was a caveat: the cash bonus was given in exchange for towing the line outside of working hours.
Ford Motor Company’s Social Department organised a team of 50 investigators to visit employees’ homes and to check up on the way they conducted their lives. Those who gambled and drank alcohol were not eligible for the huge bonus.
Henry Ford collected health data and used it as a measure of an individual’s worth. Good health was rewarded by a higher rate of pay. The definition of ‘good’ was at the discretion of Mr Ford.
Wearable biosensor technology has become a common feature of corporate wellbeing programmes, and 21st-century employees are being rewarded for healthy lifestyles.
Data collected from fitness-tracking devices is used to reward individual employees with reduced health insurance premiums, points that win prizes, and even the right to take part in the company’s well-being programme.
One day, might the reward be a promotion or a pay rise? Or simply to keep your job?
Biosensor technology is being developed rapidly and will very likely play an important role in the office of the future. Sensor technology incorporated into chairs, computer screens, and keyboards will register a person’s temperature, heart rate, breathing pattern, pupil dilation, blood sugar levels, and blood pressure. Based on these biometrics, employees will be prompted to take a break, perhaps, or a walk, or a drink.
Physical activity will be facilitated and encouraged through sit-stand chairs and cycle chairs, inviting stairways, and attractive garden areas.
Each year, millions of working days are lost due to illness. The most common reason is mental ill health (anxiety, stress, and depression). Stress management, therefore, is an important factor in the wellbeing of staff.
Offices of the future will probably incorporate simulated circadian lighting, enabling employees to maintain a healthy sleep cycle. And perhaps refuges for relaxation and calming virtual-reality experiences.
Health maintenance is becoming an important part of the corporate world, and it’s having a positive effect on the bottom line.