A Primer On The History of Worksite Wellness Programs

Just as the history of man can be categorized into phases (commonly referred to as ages), so too can the history of worksite wellness. This article examines four phases in the history of worksite wellness programs.The history presented here only applies if, like me, you believe that wellness consists of integrated multiple dimensions. If however, you believe that worksite wellness is only about physical health, then you will see the historical timeline presented here as being much shorter.Phase 1: The Recreation PhaseThe earliest reported incidence of wellness being practiced in the workplace dates back to 1897 at the Pullman Company near Chicago, Illinois. In an effort to accommodate their labor needs and the needs of rural individuals coming to the city in search of work, many companies during this period created company towns, or communities/neighborhoods within larger municipalities. As part of their company town, The Pullman Company created an employee athletic association to complement their company provided housing, stores and schools. Other companies at the time, including National Cash Register, Sears, Roebuck & Company, and Hershey Foods also created employee recreational initiatives. This phase culminated with the 1941 creation of the National Employee Services and Recreation Association (NERSA). NERSA spearheaded efforts to create employee recreation programs from that point on. Texas Instruments launched its employee recreation program in 1953.Phase 2: The Fitness PhaseIn the late 1950′s, the focus of the worksite wellness began to shift from recreation to fitness. PepsiCo began their renowned employee fitness program in the late 1950′s. PepsiCo was followed in the 1960′s by Sentry Insurance, Rockwell International, Xerox Corporation, American Can and NASA launching employee fitness programs.The 1970′s saw a continued emphasis on fitness related programs with the creation of employee fitness programs by Kimberly-Clark and Mesa Petroleum. Also impacting the field was the passage, by Congress, in 1970 of the Occupational Safety and Health Act and the continued expansion of Employee Assistance Programs beyond its original focus on alcoholism into a more broad brush approach. The term wellness was also introduced into the lexicon and mainstream. Building on the work of Dr. Halbert Dunn in the 1960′s, an informal network of physicians and psychologists in the 1970′s began creating comprehensive, multi-dimensional models of wellness, wellness assessment tools, and actively wrote and spoke about their concept of wellness.The 1970′s also saw increased attention being paid to cardiovascular health and the prevention of cardiovascular disease. Increasing attention was also being paid to other chronic diseases and the potential for their prevention. This led to the next phase of worksite wellness evolution.Phase 3: The Medical PhaseWith the emphasis on cardiovascular disease, executive health emerged as a program focus. The combination of increased attention to cardiovascular disease and other chronic diseases, along with escalating employer related healthcare costs resulted in the 1980″s worksite wellness programs becoming more focused on and aligned with the pathogenesis model of medicine. This resulted in increased attention being given to employee health promotion, along with an emphasis on health risk reduction and individual responsibility for health. As a result, health education, health risk assessments, biometric screenings and individual behavior change initiatives became the core programming found within worksite wellness programs. In order to substantiate their impact on employer healthcare costs, ROI (return-on-investment) measurement became the most common way of evaluating worksite wellness program success.The late 1990′s saw an expanded role for the workplace health clinic at large employers. What has traditionally been an occupational role began to expand into acute care services, pharmacy services, preventive care, chronic disease management, case management, specialty services, as well as wellness. Worksite based health centers are seen as having the ability to both reduce costs and improve the quality of care employees receive, thereby offering value to both the employer and the employees.Phase 4: The Fusion PhaseAs the 21st century loomed on the horizon, population health management entered the workplace and available monies became increasingly tighter. Researchers have also been able to establish that individual health is the result of a combination of determinants and not just individual lifestyle. This has resulted in an increasing recognition that there needs to be better integration across the various silos of employee benefits delivery and with core business strategies and practices as well.Early in the 21st century, the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health launched an initiative integrating employee wellness and safety which is now known as Total Worker Health. Increasing attention is also being paid today to the role an organization’s environment, climate and culture play when it comes to employee health. Organization health is seen as being just as important as individual employee health. Some are beginning to see the future as being a fusion of employee health with organization development.In today’s healthy organization, workers are seen as being a vital asset for the organization and not just employees doing a job. Healthy organizations create the conditions that allow employees and the organization to thrive.

Restoring American Jobs

Today, Americans are doing everything they can to cut their spending and to save more. Considering the uncertainty of the times, no one could blame them. As a general rule, however, consumer spending accounts for approximately 70% of U.S. economic activity, and now consumers are economizing wherever they can. So this reaction causes great concern in the macroeconomic overview. Yet why should ordinary Americans assume the brunt of the current economic collapse that in essence was caused by the banking and financial institutions for which the taxpayers have already taken on a 700 billion dollar government obligation? It’s quite different when we are facing this national shock of major recession than the period following the 9/11 disasters when George Bush cheerily exhorted the public to “just go shopping.”We face the obstacles of a liquidity trap that, according to Wikipedia, means “a situation in monetary economics in which a country’s nominal interest rate has been lowered nearly or equal to zero to avoid a recession, but the liquidity in the market created by these low interest rates does not stimulate the economy.” In our monetary system, this means the Federal Reserve can stimulate the economy only by creating and injecting liquidity into the economy through banks as intermediaries. In our current circumstance, however, banks are unwilling to lend, so “the newly created liquidity is trapped behind unwilling lenders.”The problem stems from the recipients of taxpayer money using these resources for whatever they choose, with larger banks buying smaller banks outright while also tightening credit to ordinary Americans and withholding our money that was not even rightfully given them. On Feb. 6, 2009 the AP reports “the Bush administration overpaid tens of billions of dollars for stocks and other assets in its massive bailout last year of Wall Street banks and financial institutions, a new study by a government watchdog says. The Congressional Oversight Panel, in a report released today, said last year’s overpayments amounted to a taxpayer-financed $78 billion subsidy of the firms.” So even though we are facing massive layoffs with loss of health care benefits and homes due to foreclosures, the Wall Street bailout funds are not adequately and ethically reentering the economy, thereby compounding this recession.From the introduction of the financial bailout legislation, no accountability or transparency was built into the bill that Congress eventually passed. At the time, many individuals suggested employing the “Swedish model” that would reduce the “moral hazard” by requiring financial institutions that took the greatest risks to at least partially subsidize the bad debt and allow the state to recoup the money. This approach would have helped to reopen the credit markets to give the taxpayer some ownership, have some revenue returned and minimize the burden of the up to $700 billion in Wall Street bailout funds being spent. Without this accountability, Wall Street became the beneficiary of a huge corporate welfare program where the gamblers scored massive gains while millions lost their jobs and homes.Because I am a taxpayer who became partially a stakeholder in this financial bailout, I support the “Swedish model” and urge the Obama administration to halt this misuse of withholding taxpayers’ money from the general economy by the financial institutions to support the misconception of free markets and private ownership. The state must recoup this money from the bad debt that is at the core of this problem and utilize it to create jobs through socially responsible spending and minimizing the number of home foreclosures.Most of my independent enterprise focuses on career counseling to support laid off workers and assist them in making career changes consistent with the devastating impact of the economy.I have extensive activism experience extending back to the Vietnam War period. Consequently, many of my beliefs about job creation and the national economic recovery include the enormous cost of taxpayers’ money being spent on wars, national defense and the development of nuclear weapons. I am not a pacifist, but I have well-grounded opinions on the job outlook and the percentage of our tax money that goes to a select group of highly paid defense contractors and also the money-power group including business executives and the Wall Street investor class.As a progressive, I have broken my ties with the Democratic Party almost 20 years ago. Democrats simply use the progressive voting bloc to get elected, and then abruptly turn their backs on progressive democrats to fall in line with the Republicans to maintain the status quo. The primary difference between the two parties at this point is that the democrats have a smidgen of conscience while the Republicans care only about supporting the needs of capitalists. They never consider the needs of the vast majority who are the workers. We, the workers, need to be honest with ourselves and see that partial socialism including universal healthcare, decent education, the fairness doctrine in the media and preservation of the environment for the good of all people must be mandated at all levels of government.I also believe that we should end all foreign wars, cut the defense budget to a third of what we are now paying, close all the foreign bases and work for a nuclear weapons free world. We must convince Congress to resist the huge lobbying industry and establish strict guidelines for every taxpayer dollar spent to stem the current system and ensure spending that will bring us jobs, income and restored confidence.Now is the time to re-instate taxes on corporations and progressive taxation on the wealthy. Bankers appropriate substantial profits gained from the workers with little or no interest in distributing anything in return to working people as a reward for their industry. When the social benefits such as a single-payer national health plan receive absolutely no consideration in favor of serving the interests of the wealthy, we have seemingly forgotten or consented to forgo basic services that should be considered as constitutional rights. The rich don’t need that much money and are less likely to spend it as to increase their savings.Throughout the years, I have listened to the anger, frustration, hopes and fears of hard working, talented people who have also encountered layoffs, been fired or felt a strong need to resign from an unsatisfactory position. By listening to their concerns and offering suggestions for overall career direction or career change, I have come to believe that most people hold shared beliefs about equality and democracy. So instead of focusing on politics and political parties, we should proclaim our intentions as a ‘social movement’ and organize to implement a new agenda that cares about jobs, affordable energy, decent healthcare and restoring personal savings.