The wellness movement started in the 1980s when companies began to recognize that employee health is an important part of their overall business strategy. They started implementing workplace wellness programs and introducing fitness centers for their employees.
The wellness industry has grown to be a trillion dollar business (yes, with nine zeroes) with millenials leading the charge. But, there are also some concerns that the industry has been whitewashing itself.
Ancient Greeks & Romans
During antiquity people were more likely to get sick from bad air, water, swamps, sewage and poor personal hygiene than from the disease they contracted. The Romans recognised this and resolved to clean up the environment around them.
Aqueducts were constructed to supply water and sewers to remove the majority of sewage. Public toilets were developed and baths were built to encourage personal cleanliness.
To keep in good health the Romans believed that they should exercise, eat well, drink enough water and sleep enough. They also thought that the humours in the body needed to be in the right balance to stay healthy.
To care for cuts, a technique called fibulae was often used – copper-alloy skewers were passed through the wound and loops of thread were then tied to hold it in place. Honey dressings were often used to heal traumatic wounds. Looking after the soul – the psyche – was also seen as important.
1950s & 1960s
In the 1950s and 1960s, the wellness movement began to gain traction. This was a time of great optimism about a return to health through diet and exercise, and the rise of new philosophies based on an individual’s spirituality and emotional well-being.
Unlike medical medicine, which focused on treating specific diseases and symptoms, the wellness movement sought to address all areas of an individual’s life including physical health, social well-being, mental and emotional growth, vocational and intellectual potential, environmental sensitivity, and spirituality.
The concept of wellness was rooted in a sense of striving for the highest possible individual potential. This idea is still prevalent today.
1980s & 1990s
The wellness movement started in the 1980s and 1990s as a response to rising health care costs. Companies realized that their employees’ health risk factors — such as smoking and obesity — were linked to higher healthcare costs, says Steven Noeldner, partner and senior consultant at Mercer.
The 1980s and 1990s also saw the start of corporate fitness centers and health promotion programs. These initiatives were designed to reduce absenteeism and improve worker performance.
These strategies focused primarily on physical fitness and nutrition, though mental and financial wellbeing are now important components of a holistic workplace wellness strategy. This is because stressors in these areas can be a long-term contributor to poor physical and mental health.
This hyperfocus on the self can also lead to messages that promote fatphobia and exacting beauty standards, as well as a lack of empathy for workers who may have personal issues that influence their work productivity. However, the holistic approach that focuses on the entire person — body, mind and spirit — ultimately leads to healthier employees who are happier, more productive and more successful at work.
2000s & 2010s
The wellness movement took off in the 2000s and 2010s, shedding its fringe, hippie-dippy connotations and exploding into mainstream consciousness. It was a decade that saw the rise of workplace wellness programs, the fitness and spa industries and celebrity wellness and self-help experts.
Workplace wellness is often defined as a series of health-related initiatives offered by companies to improve the well-being of employees. It typically includes fitness challenges, mental and workplace healthcare, nutrition guides, apps and other resources to encourage healthy lifestyles.