HBS banner components Harvard Business School Harvard Business School Baker Library Histrorical Collections
 

Employee Welfare

We stand on the threshold of a new era in which attention and interest are beginning to shift from…things that are worked with, to the worker; from the machinery of industry, to the man who made, owns, or operates it.
Robert Yerkes, Chairman of the Personnel Research Federation, National Research Council, 1922 Wehe 19 Track and Field Events, ca. 1925

In the early 1900s labor unions, social reformers, journalists, and photographers brought to national attention poor working conditions experienced by industrial workers. In the ensuing economic climate of the late 1920s and 1930s, many executives came to believe that the foundation of business and of a democratic society itself rested in part in affirming the role of the worker. To inspire company loyalty, discourage high employee turnover and unionization, and present a good face to the public, corporate managers began to focus on the well-being of the employee through the practice of welfare capitalism.

In addition to pensions, sick pay, disability benefits, and stock purchase plans, Western Electric workers could participate in a range of recreational and educational programs from running meets, tennis games, and baseball leagues to lunchtime concerts, beauty pageants, and evening classes. The company’s accident prevention programs included the introduction of safety shoes, eye goggles, and guards for heavy machinery. To better understand worker productivity and job satisfaction, Western Electric became increasingly interested in studies from the social, behavioral, and medical sciences.

© 2012 President and Fellows of Harvard College