Improving employee health & well-being
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.
Helping employees be the best they can be
We want our employees to be fit and healthy, at home as well as at work. Not only do we have a clear duty to protect our employees' health, but we also know that promoting people's health and well-being is essential to our business success.
We support our employees through a strategy that addresses their physical, mental, and emotional well-being, as well as their ‘sense of purpose’. This includes providing them with tools to promote, maintain and enhance their health so they can maximise their physical and mental fitness.
It’s a holistic approach, which includes a dedicated Well-being Framework as well as our Medical & Occupational Health strategy. We support our approach with a range of global and local programmes.
This combined approach guides us in tackling the health risks we’ve identified across our business. The top three of these are:
- mental health
- lifestyle factors (for example, exercise, nutrition, smoking and obesity), and
- ergonomic factors (for example, physical health issues such as repetitive strain injury).
Taking a holistic view of well-being
Our holistic Well-being Framework places equal importance on the connectedness of mental, emotional and physical health, and on individuals' understanding their sense of purpose. It’s intended to help people 'thrive', rather than just 'survive' – and it becomes more important all the time, as the pace of change and transformation means people need energy and resilience to maintain high performance.
How we define well-being
Holistic well-being is a sustainable state of feeling good and functioning well, as a ‘whole human’. That means the individual realises their own abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to their community. Well-being unleashes the energy in our people to drive sustainable performance.
We created our four-pillar Well-being Framework in 2014, and it underpins everything we do to support our employees' health and well-being.
Promoting & protecting health
Alongside our Well-being Framework, our global strategy for Medical and Occupational Health gives us the platform to support workers in our operations through a range of programmes.
Our Medical & Occupational Health Strategy
Our global strategy for Medical and Occupational Health has two core elements:
- Health protection – supporting the business in identifying any occupational hazards our employees may potentially be exposed to, and supporting strategies to remove or reduce potential harm in all areas where we work and travel, using legislation as a minimum standard.
- Health promotion – identifying potential health hazards, whether physical or psychological, and delivering targeted interventions.
We bring our strategy to life through health promotions and health protection programmes, including our flagship Lamplighter programme, and activities linked with our global Well-being Framework.
Our programmes aimed at protecting and supporting workers in our operations include a focus on:
- the prevention of work-related illness and occupational diseases
- ergonomics in the workplace
- environmental health
- protection from noise
- enzyme-related surveillance, and
- the delivery of occupational health for factory workers through our World Class Manufacturing programme.
Our Medical and Occupational Health Strategy includes planning to respond to pandemics, when taking care of our employees’ health becomes even more crucial for protecting individuals and business continuity alike.
In the face of Covid-19, we’re taking action across a number of fronts to help protect the lives and livelihoods of our multiple stakeholders – including our consumers and communities, our customers and suppliers and our workforce. We’ve put in place a set of measures to support global and national efforts to tackle the pandemic.
The importance of mental well-being
Estimated cost to the global economy of poor mental health 2010-2030
Employees around the world engaged in our 2019 World Mental Health Day campaign
There is increasing recognition of the need for mental well-being, and its importance to individuals and to society as a whole. According to the World Health Organization,1 depression is expected to be the leading disease burden globally by 2030, and the Lancet Commission2 has estimated that poor mental health could cost the global economy up to $16 trillion.
Good mental health is related to mental and psychological well-being. We want to build a 'mental health positive' workplace – and enabling good mental health is a core priority. Our global mental health campaigns drive both awareness and education through mental well-being training, storytelling and sharing, aimed at tackling the stigma that prevents people seeking support.
Our 2019 World Mental Health Day internal communications campaign engaged around 67,000 of our 150,000 employees through an activation, town hall, event or discussion.
- Nearly two-thirds of people who need treatment never seek help from a health professional. Stigma and discrimination prevent care and treatment from reaching people.
- In one study, 95% of people calling in sick with stress give a different reason – and only 16% of employees who have experienced mental health issues would disclose them to their line manager or HR.
Promoting mental health initiatives worldwide
Mental health is one of our top three health issues and is a central focus of our Lamplighter programme, which recognises that mental health is especially important in times of change or uncertainty. We actively encourage talking about mental health with the same comfort as we do about physical health at the workplace. We train our leaders and line managers to understand the impact of mental health issues, recognise signs and signpost the support available to their teams.
We’ve identified four elements that need to be in place to promote mental health initiatives:
- leadership and management
- communication and culture
- scoping resilience, managing pressure
At the same time, we know we need to keep adapting our approach to embrace the latest techniques, reflect changing attitudes and have a positive impact through and beyond our business in ways which support Sustainable Development Goal 3 on health and well-being.
Every employee is 1 chat, 1 call, 1 click away from support
Dr Thirumalai Rajgopal – Dr Raj – is our Global Vice President of Medical and Occupational Health. He recognises it’s crucial to support employees’ mental well-being.
“We know that one in four people in the world will have mental health issues during their lifetime, yet many people hesitate to seek help. Getting timely support is the most important thing individuals can do when it comes to mental health.
That’s why we’ve ensured that every Unilever employee globally is no more than one chat, one call or one click away from mental health support provided by our network of employee assistance programmes. We work to address the stigma and lay a strong emphasis on ensuring that our employees are aware of our support and resources on all aspects of their well-being, and how to contact our assistance programmes.
Across society, we’re experiencing a tectonic shift in people’s attitudes to mental health and well-being, as mental health is acknowledged as a serious and growing problem. Of course, people still face difficulties in overcoming cultural and social stigma associated with mental health, but we’re creating a culture where mental health is actively discussed, managed and understood. The role of our senior leadership and their willingness to share their personal stories on the topic of mental well-being have been pivotal to the success of this programme.”
Creating the right working environment
One of the aims of our approach is to create a working environment that is supportive of employees’ personal lives, while meeting our business needs.
That includes the use of support systems like agile working, employee assistance programmes, and health and well-being facilities. We can often provide the safe, adaptable working practices and technology that allows people to perform their job anywhere, at any time, and lead fulfilling personal lives. We offer more formal flexible working arrangements, too, such as job-sharing and flexible or reduced hours.
We encourage open conversations within teams on each individual’s best formula for success.
Purposeful brands driving well-being
Many of our purpose-led brands help us take our commitment to promoting well-being to consumers, which in turn supports our work with employees.
In 2019, Lipton Tea's #Unloneliness – You. Me. Tea. Now. campaign and Clear shampoo's work on social anxiety and resilience helped promote the importance of a good mental health agenda in society.
Tackling loneliness one cup of tea at a time
“Social isolation can be as damaging to your health as smoking a packet of cigarettes a day,” explains Jennifer Antczak, our Global Vice President for Lipton tea. “But Lipton has found that just 15 minutes of quality conversation a day can reduce our chances of feeling lonely.
Tea really helps people to be ‘fully present in the moment’. And that’s exactly what a quality connection is. It’s a genuine connection where you feel truly engaged with the other person. Using tea to prompt these conversations lies at the heart of Lipton’s You. Me. Tea. Now campaign.”
Taking the long view on health & well-being
We know that we need to look beyond the present if we want our health and well-being strategy to really deliver. To understand what well-being needs to look like in the future, we also have to look at how society and the workplace will develop over future decades. The world of work is changing fast, and with this comes both opportunity and risk.
Today workers in some regions may be preparing to live 100-year lives. An ageing population – and workforce – creates a strong need to learn and relearn new skills, adopt knowledge faster and work in hyperconnected, highly diverse and transient teams. We also expect to see the continued rise of digitalisation, automation and new models for business.
More than ever, people will want to work with purpose. True well-being can enable them, through a mindset that embraces change, to become resilient and build communities of empowered, like-minded people.
Nonetheless, there are challenges. A longer life does not come with a guarantee of health. Our task will be to support good mental health, tackle the potential loneliness caused by digitalisation and limit damaging health behaviours (such as poor nutrition, smoking, lack of exercise or excessive alcohol intake).
1 World Health Organization, 2011 http://apps.who.int/gb/ebwha/pdf_files/EB130/B130_9-en.pdf