Housing crisis for workers could be solved by employers


When I think about work, my mind turns to chocolate. Perhaps the ultimate comfort food, chocolate gives us an instant serotonin hit that can temporarily make us feel better about our work.

If you can’t face doing the next task, have some chocolate. It is perhaps no coincidence that if you are struggling with clarity or “going round the houses” you end up with chocolate. Milton Hershey and John Cadbury designed it that way.

Chocolate – the ultimate comfort food.

Chocolate – the ultimate comfort food.Credit: iStock

In this day and age, a boss might be tempted to attract young employees by emphasising their social justice credentials. They may be advised to show their concerns about child exploitation, slavery and animal cruelty. John Cadbury promoted these values and nobody called him woke, probably because the expression hadn’t been invented.

As Cadbury inherited some of these values as a Quaker from his father, so too, did two of his sons Richard and George who took on running the business. They set up a new factory in a small village near Birmingham in the UK called Bourneville. Unlike many of the factories of the time that were dark, dangerous places, they designed one with lunchrooms, and places to warm their worker’s clothes.

However, perhaps their greatest achievement was building workers cottages with gardens big enough to grow vegetables. They built cricket grounds and football pitches for recreation and provided healthcare and pensions. This was all around 1895. Unsurprisingly, they had a highly motivated workforce.

A few years later Milton Hershey commenced building Hershey Park in Pennsylvania, USA. This also featured pleasant workers’ homes and recreational facilities including rollercoasters (how people stuffed full of chocolate fared on these rides is unrecorded).

Cadbury and Hershey identified the value of providing homes for their workers more than 100 years ago.

Cadbury and Hershey identified the value of providing homes for their workers more than 100 years ago.Credit: Natalie Boog

How many employers today show any genuine concern for their workers’ housing and health? It seems only senior executives are deemed valuable enough to be given grace and favour houses, extensive private health insurance and school fees for their offspring. What has happened that today an employer can seem generous if they provide an occasional shoulder massage service in the office?

In the 1990s a journalist asked me whether I thought that spending over 30 per cent of one’s salary on home repayments meant they were suffering mortgage stress. I opined that it did, and the phrase has kind of stuck. We have known for 30 or 40 years that housing affordability has impacts on careers and work. In fact, those pioneering families the Cadburys and the Hersheys were fully aware of this problem over a century ago.


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