This man discovered over 200 years ago that happy workers are more productive

The link between employee wellbeing and productivity is all the rage these days in the world of work.

Recent studies around the world have found that employees who are happy, are paid well and have healthy working environments, are more productive.

The studies include trials by the organisation 4 Day Week Global, which claims working fewer hours equals more productivity and better mental health for workers.

SA’s pioneering pilot programme of this work structure was carried out in South Africa by the local branch of the non-profit organisation, 4 Day Week SA and the results were similar .

However, the idea of higher productivity in healthier workspaces is not a novel one. It was discovered and applied over 200 years ago by Robert Owen, a Welsh entrepreneur and social reformer.

Owen was born into a working-class family in 1771. When he was 10 years old he was was sent to work in a drapery and textiles factory. This experience at a very young age shaped his beliefs and ideals for the rest of his life.

Owen’s ideas cannot be divorced from his politics. He is considered the father of British socialism. Among other things, he sought to create a socialist utopia. A self-educated man, he aimed to establish a community where everyone worked for the common good and there was equality among individuals.

As the owner of a cotton mill, Owen supported youth education and early childcare, free education for workers, and incentives for work produced by labourers.

He was also instrumental in raising demand for an eight-hour work day, at a time when most people, including children, worked more than 13 hours a day.

“Eight hours daily labour is enough for any human being and under proper arrangements sufficient to afford ample supply of food, raiment and shelter or the necessaries and comforts of life and for the remainder of his time, every person is entitled to education, recreation and sleep,” Owen is quoted as saying.

He also championed higher wages for workers. According to the social reformer, “the lowest stage of humanity is experienced when the individual must labour for the small pittance of others”.

However, Owen was not without critics, especially the liberals and capitalists of his day. Famously, even the German philosophers Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels were among them.


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