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Employee wellbeing

Average read time: 12 minutes

Protecting people’s health and wellbeing is crucial to helping people realise their abilities, and cope with the stresses of life. We aim to promote a positive physical and mental health environment in the workplace, to enable our people to thrive. By empowering our employees to be the best version of themselves, we help them, and our business, to work safely and effectively.

A number of Unilever employees selecting condiments in the Unilever canteen.

At the heart of our business

We know that when people are healthy and well, and living their life’s ‘purpose’, they are able to contribute more – whether that’s to their families, their work or society at large.

We want to promote a positive environment in our workplaces, to support people’s physical, mental and emotional wellbeing, as well as to help them fulfil their individual purpose. By empowering our employees to be the best version of themselves, we help them, and our business, to thrive.

Our Wellbeing Framework is at the heart of our business, underpinning everything we do to support our employees’ health and wellbeing:

  • Physical – Looking after our health, fitness, diet, sleep and energy levels so we approach challenges with zeal
  • Purposeful – Identifying what really matters to us and connecting to that as much as possible in all we do
  • Mental – Managing our mental choices and reactions to distractions, pressures, challenges and adversity
  • Emotional – Finding ways to feel positive and confidently face the challenges life throws at us.

We’re bringing purpose to work

It makes sense that if we want to build a purposeful business with purposeful brands, we need to encourage our people to bring their purpose to work.

So we developed the ‘Discover your Purpose’ workshop to give people the opportunity to identify their personal purpose, and put it at the heart of their development and career.

We’ve seen that people who bring their personal purpose to the workplace also feel engaged and positive about their wellbeing and their development at Unilever. And so far, we’ve helped more than 54,000 of our people to discover their individual purpose.

Breaking the stigma of mental health

Alongside purpose, mental health is critical to employee wellbeing. According to the World Health Organization, nearly 10% of the world’s population is affected by mental health issues. And nearly two-thirds of people who need treatment never seek help from a health professional due to stigma and discrimination.

As well as the devastating impact this can have on the individuals and their families, depression alone is estimated to cause US $1 trillion in lost productivity every year.

To create a workplace that supports mental health, our approach focuses on:

  1. Culture – Empowering our people through education and raising awareness of mental health, addressing stigma and making mental health conversations commonplace, on a par with physical health
  2. Leadership – Building awareness and capability on mental health support, while encouraging role modelling
  3. Prevention – Providing access to self-help tools for individuals and teams, including information from experts and lifelong learning
  4. Support – Enabling a strong foundation of anytime, anywhere access to expert mental health support and the ability to have mental health conversations with peers.

Protecting employees during the pandemic

Covid-19 has underlined the need to provide even more support and resources to help people manage trauma and disruption that the pandemic has brought, and to maintain wellbeing. We continue to introduce tools and resources and train our leaders to promote mental and physical health.

Tim Munden, Chief Learning Officer and Global Wellbeing Lead

Covid-19 has underlined the importance of protecting the health and wellbeing of employees.

We responded by implementing protocols for Covid-secure work environments for essential employees. Measures taken included health screening for site entry and strict social distancing. The section on safety explains how we kept factories largely open and offices largely closed, and reopened others after lockdowns eased, while keeping our people safe.

We maximised our use of technology to enable roughly 50% of our employees (those not identified as essential workers) to work from home. We also introduced a simplified reporting process for people to report any symptoms and be directed to the appropriate care option.

In addition to protecting people’s safety and health, an important focus has been on providing easier access to mental health support for our people, and their dependants where possible.

And Our response to disasters & emergencies highlights how we’re contributing to global and local efforts to tackle the pandemic. Employees have told us that our response has contributed to their feeling of purpose and makes them feel proud to work at Unilever. Overall employee engagement is up 6% from 2019 (now 83%) and 82% of our employee survey respondents agree that Unilever cares about their wellbeing. Eight out of ten said they have been able to remain positive and optimistic, and keep themselves physically healthy during the pandemic as well.

Helping employees with Covid-19 in LATAM

A busy street in Latin America with everyone wearing masks over their nose and mouth

Latin America has some of the highest Covid-19 death rates in the world. Across the continent, we implemented a Covid hotline to provide accurate medical information and support all our employees and their families. We test all employees who have come into contact with Covid-19, or who are symptomatic. All symptomatic employees receive a kit from us containing a thermometer, oximeter, fever-reducing medication, and instructions for use. Our internal health team connects with and monitors those confirmed as having Covid-19 on a daily basis, and this kit helps us to advise on the appropriate course of action. For serious cases, we help to find a place in a hospital and if necessary, transport employees to a different city in order to access medical care.

Supporting our employees and their families

We believe that everyone employed by Unilever (and often their families) should be just one conversation, one phone call or one click away from support. Our global Employee Assistance Programme (EAP) delivers support 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, and is accessible via telephone, text or web chat.

The programme provides a range of options, including access to counselling services, mindfulness-based stress reduction courses, life coaching, financial wellbeing and resilience training.

We continue to work to raise awareness of the service. In many countries, including the UK, Ireland, Canada, Denmark, Turkey and India, take up is above industry averages – showing that employees value this programme.

Prevention is the best cure

To make a real difference on mental health, our focus needs to shift from reactive to preventative measures.

We’ve implemented a number of initiatives to foster frequent, authentic mental health conversations and address the behaviours at the root of poor mental health. For instance, we’ve expanded our Mental Health Champions network across our global operations. This enables employees to have peer-to-peer mental health conversations. It also emphasises our ‘Team Energy’ approach, which aims to build psychologically strong, high energy teams.

To understand what wellbeing needs will look like in the future, we also have to look at how society and the workplace will develop over the coming decades. An ageing population – and workforce – in some markets will mean people will need to be able to learn new skills and relearn others, as well as work in hyperconnected, highly diverse and transient teams.

We want to enable our employees, through a mindset that embraces change, to become resilient and build communities of empowered, like-minded people. Our task will be to support good mental health, tackle the potential loneliness caused by increased digitalisation and help people to limit damaging health behaviours.

We encourage our people to ensure they incorporate 20 minutes of physical activity in their daily lives and to take breaks during the workday to ensure they get a mental energy boost. We also encourage the use of video calls and regular team check-ins to maintain social connections and build virtual ways of staying regularly in contact.

Reaching nearly 50,000 employees on World Mental Health Day

Woman speaking on video call whilst working from home

Each year, we recognise World Mental Health Day with an internal communications and experience campaign. Perhaps unsurprisingly given the circumstances, 2020 saw the highest engagement levels so far.

In total, more than 48,000 employees engaged with our story-telling films, mindfulness sessions, online activations and expert-led events. And for the first time, we even expanded our reach externally with live LinkedIn events.

Our purpose-led brands are also helping us promote wellbeing to consumers, which in turn supports our work with employees. Lipton Tea, for example, is tackling the issue of social isolation with our ‘#Unloneliness – You. Me. Tea. Now’ Opens in new window campaign. And Clear shampoo's 14 days resilience challenge Opens in new window to #comebackstronger is helping to promote the importance of a positive mental health agenda in society.

Supporting physical health

We want our employees to be fit and healthy, at home as well as at work. Our Global Health team is crucial to achieving this.

The Global Health team is a diverse group of experienced and well-trained medical professionals stationed all around the world. Their goal is to establish and maintain a safe and healthy working environment. The team also provides proactive pre-employment checks, annual health examinations and access to market-leading medical care when required. For instance, all employees can benefit from periodical health evaluations for health issues, such as hypertension, diabetes and cardiovascular pathologies.

The Global Health team has played a critical role in helping to protect our employees against Covid-19. Through rigorous early testing, effective contact tracing protocols and ensuring early access to medical care, we’ve been able to keep the number of Covid cases at our workplaces proportionately lower than community prevalence and infection figures. And we constantly review the latest scientific data and technologies to ensure our employees can access the best available testing and treatment options.

Lamplighter – shining a light on preventative action

Beyond treating diseases, our Lamplighter programme promotes proactive action to protect employee health. Lamplighter provides structure and guidance to our local teams on how to set up local initiatives to support physical health. It also contains specific guidance for assessing and improving variable risk factors, such as exercise, smoking, diet and alcohol consumption.

As a result of these efforts, we expect to see healthier and more productive employees, with lower levels of sick leave. And in the longer term, we expect our efforts to support employees’ health will result in an even more sustainable and motivated workforce.

Our Lamplighter programme

Every year, Lamplighter supports more than 76,000 employees in over 75 countries

We’re on a mission to tackle HIV and AIDS

Nowhere else is our support for the physical health of employees felt so profoundly as in our mission to combat HIV/AIDS.

Our HIV/AIDS policy embraces the principles and recommendations set out by the International Labour Organization (2010) and the UN High-Level Meeting (2011). It is based on human rights ethics in accordance with the UN High-Level Meeting on Ending HIV (2016).

Our HIV/AIDS programmes are integral to our Global Health strategy and are a priority for our business. For more than three decades, we have worked through our partnerships to help combat HIV/AIDS in our workplaces and also in wider society.

Measures such as behaviour-change campaigns have helped. However, HIV remains a huge problem. We have seen the reality of people living with HIV/AIDS at our company clinics, particularly in Africa.

Our HIV/AIDS programme in Africa

In our workplaces in Africa, incidence of HIV is now below the national average. The mortality rate in some places has dropped by up to 70%.

The Governments of Kenya and Tanzania have set national strategies with a 90/90/90 target – 90% of people are aware of their HIV status; of these, 90% are on anti-retroviral treatment; and of these, 90% are virally suppressed.

In our sites within Kenya and Tanzania we have already exceeded these national targets through:

  • spreading awareness, information and education through employee ‘peer group educators’ and by training management groups in the latest developments
  • healthcare provider-initiated counselling and testing
  • distributing condoms to all employees
  • providing anti-retroviral treatment based on WHO guidelines, at no cost to our staff and dependants
  • monitoring treatment adherence and viral suppression
  • treating tuberculosis and other opportunistic infections
  • promoting male medical circumcision.

We provide free testing to all pregnant mothers and those found positive are started on anti-retroviral treatment immediately. This has been a success story with no child born positive in the last three years. We also offer testing to their partners, most of whom are not aware of their status. These policies are aligned with the principles of the International Labour Organization (ILO) Code of Practice on HIV/AIDS.

Encouraging progress in South Africa, but more to do

map of South Africa

According to UN AIDS, roughly one in five people in South Africa lives with HIV. We have three factories and our head office in the region.

Our programmes have made a measurable contribution to improving the lives of our employees and their communities – and to SDG target 3.3, which is to end the epidemic of AIDS and other communicable diseases.

Thankfully, advances in treatment mean that we’re able to help more and more people with HIV to survive. Now, 8.9% of our employees in KwaZulu Natal are infected, which is 61% lower than the regional average.

But we want to see zero new cases, so we know there is more we need to do. As well as providing treatment, our focus is on including and improving participation of business partners, third parties, contracted employees and the communities around our facilities. We’re also addressing the mental health effects of the epidemic.

Monitoring occupational illnesses

As well as taking action to target specific diseases, we monitor occupational illnesses. Our World Class Manufacturing and Occupational Health teams work together to make our factories and offices healthy places to work. Our programmes cover the prevention of work-related illness and occupational diseases, ergonomics, environmental health and protection from noise and enzymes. We track our progress via the Occupational Illness Frequency Rate (OIFR), which measures the number of work-related ill health cases per million hours worked - see Safety for more information.

We’ve made good progress in supporting employees’ physical as well as mental health, despite the pandemic. We will step up our efforts further in 2021.

Dr Diana Han, Vice President Global Health