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Fridays (with Benefits) - 3/22/19 - Four centuries of pension plans?

Living Well

When you reflect on your benefits, you're probably thinking back to the last few plans you had, and leaving it at that. But I highly doubt many of you are looking at employee benefits in a historical context. Because benefit programs just seem like such a "20th century" creation, right?

Well, the people at Fast Company dug a little deeper into history to see just how far back things went. Let's see what a few hours in the books turned up...

Your employee benefits were 400 years in the making - Lydia Dishman, Fast Company

It turns out some of the employee perks and rewards we thought were pretty original, actually date back hundreds of years. Maybe those feudal lords weren't adding gym memberships and free lunches to their workers' plans, but you might be surprised at how forward-thinking employers were, even back then.

Lydia Dishman's article offers a quick and entertaining look at some (very) early benefits offerings, and how they shaped some of the things we still demand in our plans today. Here's a few highlights.

Did you know the very first pension plan was offered in 1636? It seems a little strange, coming from a community that still held actual witch hunts, but the colony of Plymouth, Mass. actually started paying small pensions to colonists disabled during their initial fights for independence.

As the idea evolved over the next 150-200 years, similar offerings were made for all war veterans, and then the concept was adopted by private industry, where it slowly became the pension model we know today.

But what about health care and employee wellness? Well, that didn't turn up until the late 1800s, when the Granite Cutters Union developed the first-ever plan for workers injured on the job. A few (okay 33) years later, retailer Montgomery Ward took the idea to the next level, with the inaugural group wellness policy.

And vacation? Yeah, that started right around the 1940s, when two of the biggest companies in the United States -- Kodak and Dupont -- started rewarding both hourly and salaried employees with well-deserved time off. Some were quicker to adopt than others, but this was a standard-bearer for most modern benefits plans.

After that, things really began to roll, and there were exponential gains in employee wellness. But why spoil it here when Lydia Dishman and Fast Company did it for us? It's a worthwhile read that might shed some light on just how far back employee needs were accommodated.

We imagine a day off in 1640 was probably just as appreciated then as it is now. (Yeah, maybe a little more.)

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Fridays (with Benefits) is a weekly roundup of the latest headlines about employee benefits -- from FSAs to fitness programs and everything workplace wellness. It appears every Friday, exclusively on the FSAstore.com Learning Center. And for the latest info about your health and financial wellness, be sure to follow us on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

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