Varun Narayan - Assistant Brand Manager, India

I have discovered for myself how valuable it can be to work for a company like Unilever that takes a holistic approach to employee wellbeing.

Careers at Unilever

I was happily working as an Assistant Brand Manager on the Red Label Natural Care tea brand when I decided on impulse to pursue my passion for theatre and enter open auditions for the Indian production of Beauty and the Beast – Disney’s first ever stage musical and India’s biggest theatrical production.

With over one thousand talented people auditioning beside me competition was high; incredibly, I made it through every round to be offered a leading role as the musical’s chief antagonist, Gaston.

A supportive employer

When I first heard the news, I was of course extremely happy but I also felt some anxiety about how this was going to affect my career. The show was a full-time six-month commitment. How could I accept it without leaving my marketing role and the company I’d been a part of for over four years?

Fortunately, Hindustan Unilever operates an extensive career break policy, as part of its commitment to employee health and wellbeing. This meant that I was able to throw myself wholeheartedly into my stage role, knowing that there would still be a job available for me when the show’s run came to an end.

A boost to my career skills

I returned to work at Hindustan Unilever and took on a new Assistant Brand Manager role for the Bru coffee brand. The first question most of my colleagues asked me was: “Why are you back?” Incidentally, I was excited to be starting again. Working on the show had really lifted me as a person and I was keen to channel that energy into my marketing career.

I have also noticed several ways in which my experiences on the stage (and from a young age) have impacted positively on my performance skills at work:

Self-confidence

Working hard on the show and being part of its success has been a great boost to my self-esteem. In particular, it has given me real belief in my ability to deliver on large projects, such as coordinating the World’s Largest Family (160 members) for a Vim Dishwash ad campaign or the Lifebuoy “Roti Reminder” campaign.

Presentation skills

Presenting is a big part of my role. I often find myself in front of large groups of people talking them through subjects such as consumption patterns or quarterly results. It is important to be able to keep people interested and engaged. Now that I have performed regularly in front of audiences of 2,000 or more, I feel better able to do that than ever.

Consumer empathy

When taking on an acting role, you always need to get under the skin of the character you’re playing. This approach also pays dividends when working with consumers. The empathy skills I have developed in the theatre help me to connect with them on a human level and find out more about who they are and what really motivates them.

Heightened awareness

Being in a large theatrical production keeps you on your toes. It is vital that you stay conscious of what’s happening around you so that, if anything does go wrong, you can deal with the situation and keep the show running smoothly. Likewise, when approaching projects at work, I try to remain aware of everything that is unfolding and to anticipate potential problems before they arise.

The importance of doing what you love

Although the four points I have outlined above are specific to my life in the theatre, whatever passions you choose to pursue outside work have the potential to bring you insights and skills that can be applied in your career.

Most importantly, even if there are no direct links between your hobby and your work, the satisfaction you gain from doing something you are really passionate about can make you much more productive in your role. Personally, I have found myself putting more energy into my work than ever since returning from my period on the stage.

In this way, perhaps, having a career-break policy such as Hindustan Unilever adopts is not just of benefit to employees; by helping people to be happier, healthier and more productive, it can ultimately be of great benefit to organisations as well.

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