Whilst open spaces, free-form design and flexible working hours are often considered standard practice in 2015, this was not always the case. You only have to go back 20 years to see how a majority of us worked in dimly lit, claustrophobic environments that segregated workers and sapped the personality out of any business. Let’s have a look at the history of employer care and how the works of one man called Titus Salt made an impact on how employees worked in the 1800s.
Employer care in the United Kingdom
Go back 200 years and workers’ rights were all but non-existent. In England, the Industrial Revolution (1815-1848) paved the way for vast swathes of mills, peppering the northern landscape. Conditions varied from bad to worse, but the work-rate was always the same – grueling.
The Victorian cotton mills in the UK hired thousands of employees, many of these factories could be found in the north. Along with long hours, they worked in terrible conditions. There was dust from the cotton that clung to the lungs, machines often trapped hair or arms and supervisors were harsh. In many mills, a third of employees were children because they were cheaper. There were barely any laws protecting employees from danger.
You may think that the most productive mills were those where the workers worked the longest hours, in the most cramped conditions for efficiency, but you’d be wrong.
So, who is Titus Salt?
Titus Salt (20 September 1803 – 29 December 1876)
Titus Salt was a Bradford born mill owner who made his success in the pioneering of Alpaca wool weaving. He was one of a few mill owners at the time that recognised health, happiness, comfort and security outside of work directly linked to productivity at work.
He is best known for the creation of Saltaire – an entirely purpose built town connect to the vast Salts Mill. The town was built to house, educate and better the lives of his workers (over 4,500 at it’s peak!). The town provided decent housing for all workers and other beneficial amenities such as hospitals, schools and public bath houses.
Workers had a fresh water supply, gas and the community eventually became self-sufficient with it’s own shops, churches, libraries and parks. Productivity skyrocketed along with life expectancy and the happiness of the workers. Their lives had improved immeasurably.
Whilst this is an extreme and almost isolated example that doesn’t have such a direct correlation to the modern day office – this is one of the earliest examples of employer care in action.
Modern employers have since recognised that if working conditions and the lives of their employees are supported, the work produced would be of a superior quality.
Today, more employers care about their employees. Offices are better designed to inspire creativity and provide a level of comfort and safety. Human Resources (HR) departments are focused on helping employees and upkeeping health and safety. Employers are now investing more into their employees by creating a positive work culture and finding ways to improve morale in the office.
Unlike 200 years ago, mill workers couldn’t simply change jobs if they hated it, people were very limited by their location and their skills. Education opportunities and the advancement of transport has made it easier for employees to look for new work. There is more pressure on modern employers to keep their staff happy to avoid them handing in their notice.
Want to learn more about the changes of the ‘working office’ in the United Kingdom? Download our free eBook to learn the new ways of working in the 21st century.
Do you know any interesting facts about the history of employer care? Or perhaps you know more about Titus Salt? Share your knowledge in the comments below.