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Employees taking a break in China

Future workplace

Average read time: 5 minutes

We’re breaking the employment mould to create new ways of working that suit our business and our people.

Unilever employees in UK Leatherhead office

Traditional employer-employee dynamics are no longer fit for either individuals or businesses. People are increasingly looking for more personally and professionally satisfying work. They want to move beyond the traditional 40-hour/40-week/40-year employment contract to something more flexible that’s tailored to their needs and stage of life.

Older and more experienced workers are increasingly choosing to work for longer; and younger people are after meaningful jobs with more flexibility. And Covid-19 forced us all to think differently about how and where we worked.

We see a hybrid future of work, where people might spend a couple of days in the office and two or three days at home or working remotely. This has unlocked tremendous productivity and flexibility in the Unilever team.

Alan Jope, CEO

So we’re pioneering new ways of working to create a flexible environment that values openness and adaptability, builds resilience, and elevates skills and performance.

Our goal

Pioneer new models to provide our employees with flexible employment options by 2030.

Our new employment models

Our new ways of working are, ultimately, all about helping people stay employed and making sure we have the resources we need as a business. They’re also making sure we can meet the needs of an increasingly automated workplace, where jobs are broken into tasks and projects. And they’re promoting chances to learn and work differently – so that people can enjoy a rewarding working life, both now and in the future.


U-Work gives employees the freedom and flexibility associated with contract roles with the security and benefits typically linked to permanent roles. People in U-Work don’t have a fixed role. They work on varying assignments, and between assignments are free to do other things that are important to them. They get a monthly retainer and specially designed suite of benefits whether they’re working on an assignment or not. And they get paid for each assignment when they’re working.

This more flexible way of working brings many benefits. It helps people who want to reduce their working hours as they get older. It allows working parents to manage their time more effectively. And it allows people to travel or study without sacrificing their jobs.

U-Work works for Unilever too. Managers have access to skilled people who are familiar with Unilever and can hit the ground running, avoiding the hidden costs of finding freelance workers and getting them up to speed.

U-Work is already live in the UK, Malaysia, Argentina, South Africa and the Philippines. Over 2021, we’re rolling the programme out in Spain, Russia, Turkey, Australia and New Zealand.

U-Work has been a real game changer for my team over the last year. It gives us access to a 'known quantity' in terms of resource, who we can access on tap and can hit the ground running. Great for covering short-term resource gaps, or picking up smaller projects when the rest of the team is particularly stretched. I now wonder how we managed without it!

Lucy Beaumont, U-Work Assignment Manager

U-Work in action

From fulltime to flexible

Susanna Speirs: From full-time to flexible

A member of our UK legal team wanted to spend more time with her family, and to be able to help part-time at a friend’s legal firm without sacrificing her job at Unilever. A seemingly impossible bind, until she discovered U-Work…

I’d decided to leave Unilever to pursue a new venture that would allow me to work from home during school hours so that I could spend more time with my children while they’re young. U-work gives me some security of income and keeps me connected to Unilever.

Susanna Speirs, Senior Legal Counsel


Working patterns are shifting; roles are disappearing and reshaping; new skills and ways of working are emerging. Through Future Fit planning, our people are thinking through what they want their working life to look like in the future, and what skills they need to be able to move in the right direction. Sometimes this means taking things in a completely new direction.

If we see a need to pursue this direction as a business, U-Renew gives people the space and financial support to develop their knowledge and skills and apply their learning in the real world. Much like a paid learning sabbatical, we give people funding, time out to study, work experience opportunities and the security of a role. Employees may contribute to skills funding and give up some of their reward package while they transform themselves to move in a new direction. It’s a mutual investment and a shared risk for a better future.

The U-Renew model is currently under intensive development.

Hybrid working arrangements

Even though Covid-19 fast-forwarded the shift to more flexible and remote working, at Unilever we were already examining how to move to more balanced ways of working. Now we’re using everything we’ve learned from the pandemic-induced changes to how we work to shape new and better arrangements for our people.

We see a future where we focus primarily on what people produce, not on where or when they work. So we’re designing working options that will help people balance work and home life without completely losing the value that face-to-face contact brings. This might mean, for example, full-time employees working in the office two days a week and the rest of the time elsewhere. We’re still developing these arrangements, but one thing is certain: things will never go back to the way they were before 2020.

Trialling a four-day week in New Zealand

New Zealand office

Our colleagues in New Zealand are undergoing a year-long experiment where they’re paid for a five-day week while working for four. This may seem radical, but our goal is to shift to measuring performance on output, not time. Our 81 people in New Zealand all sell or distribute our brands, and the trial is built around the 100:80:100 logic: people will keep 100% of their salaries, work 80% of the time, and deliver 100% of their KPIs/output. Each team is empowered to work in the way that best suits them based on what they have to deliver.

The stakes are high, but all eyes are on New Zealand. If the trial there is successful, we’ll extend the practice to other offices and countries, as one of the many ways we’re working to help our people stay happy, healthy and productive.

New Zealand is the pilot country for the rest of the Unilever world, and we’ll certainly be taking every learning with the intention that if it works, this could be a really remarkable new way of working for everybody.

Nicole Sparshott, CEO Australia and New Zealand