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Fairness in the workplace

This work supports the following UN Sustainable Development Goals

  • Good Health and Wellbeing
  • Partnership For The Goals
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  3. Fairness in the workplace
  4. Improving employee health, nutrition & well-being

Improving employee health, nutrition & well-being

We protect and promote the health, nutrition and well-being of our employees so that they can enjoy fit and healthy lives at work and at home.

Unilever employees eating round a table

Helping employees be the best they can be

We aim to support our employees to be the best they can be. This includes giving them tools to promote, maintain and enhance their health so they can maximise their fitness and, at the same time, improve their capacity to work safely and effectively. This benefits the individual and our business.

Our global strategy for Medical and Occupational Health has two core elements:

  • health promotion – to promote, maintain and enhance the health of our employees, maximising their wellness and enabling them to work safely and effectively. Examples include our focus on tackling HIV/AIDs in Africa, and our company-wide focus on physical and mental well-being
  • health protection – to protect our employees from work-related hazards to their health, including in our manufacturing facilities, ergonomically or while travelling.

We bring our strategy to life through targeted health promotions and health protection programmes, including our flagship Lamplighter programme and our global Well-being Framework.

We take a holistic view of well-being

We’ve defined holistic well-being as a sustainable state of feeling good and functioning well, as a ‘whole human’. Well-being unleashes the energy in our people to drive sustainable performance. In 2014 our Global Well-being Steering Committee created a four-pillar Well-being Framework to address the physical, mental, emotional and purposeful well-being of our employees. The Framework 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).

Our well-being strategy includes creating a working environment that is supportive of employees’ personal lives, while meeting our business needs. One of the ways we do this is through ‘agile working’. This means providing our colleagues with safe, adaptable working practices and technology, allowing them to perform their job anywhere, at any time, as long as the needs of the business are met. We offer more formal flexible working arrangements, too, such as job-sharing and flexible or reduced hours. Read more on agile working in Cutting office impacts.

Our strategy also includes planning to respond to pandemics, when taking care of our employees’ health becomes even more crucial for protecting individuals and business continuity alike.

Our programmes for addressing occupational ill-health include

  • 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 Manufacturing Excellence programme.

The potential of purpose

We believe that people are better able to perform and unlock their potential when they can live and work ‘with purpose’. Defining their individual purpose helps employees see meaning in their work and home life and contributes to greater resilience and well-being, enabling them to perform at their best. We also see purpose as a driver of an ‘owner’s mindset’ – where employees work with an entrepreneurial spirit and feel a strong sense ownership. And we’ve found it builds empowerment and collaboration within and between teams too.

According to research among consumer companies by executive search consultancy Korn Ferry:

"Purpose-driven companies with humanistic values outperformed the S&P 500 by 14 times over 15 years. People with a positive, energizing purpose tend to be focused, optimistic, and successful. Great purposes inspire both people and organizations to do great things.”

People on a Mission Report, Korn Ferry, December 2016

In 2017 we developed our People with Purpose initiative and workshop to bring this potential to life.


“To build an organisation that creates sustainable value, we need people with sustainable energy, engagement and resilience.”


Tim Munden

Tim Munden, Chief Learning Officer.

Tim continues: “Research continues to show that people whose purpose is fulfilled by their work are more physically and emotionally resilient. They are also more engaged and much more likely to stay. We need all the energy and resilience we can to create transformational change through our business. Helping our people discover their purpose is key to achieving this.”

Although 2017 was the first year of this initiative, around 10,000 employees have already taken part in our Purpose workshops. They’ve been received with great enthusiasm, with employees saying they found them hugely valuable, would recommend them to other colleagues, and would use what they’ve learned in their job.

As one workshop participant said: “This session was very useful in articulating who you are as a person and what drives you. It’s by no means a piece of cake, be prepared for a lot of deep reflection. It is challenging to uncover or arrive at key “aha” points but once you get them – it’s quite rewarding.”

Well-being for new mothers

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Our new worldwide standard is at least 16 weeks’ paid maternity leave

Ensuring that new parents receive proper support is an important part of improving employee well-being and achieving our ambitions to be a diverse and inclusive business. In 2017, we introduced our Global Maternal Well-being Standard, which among a range of principles makes sure every new mother everywhere in the business receives at least 16 weeks’ paid maternity leave. This has resulted in an increase in maternity leave in over half the countries where we operate.

More details of the Standard and our Maternity and Paternity Support (MAPS) programme are in Advancing diversity and inclusion.

Evaluating the impact of our health & well-being initiatives

Lamplighter is our worldwide programme for improving employee health. In 2017, it covered 74 countries, reaching around 75,000 employees (see Targets & performance).

Programmes such as this have important short- and long-term health and business benefits. In the short term, we expect to see healthier, more motivated and more productive employees, with lower levels of sick leave. We aim to have more conversations about well-being and support our employees to work towards improving their well-being. We see the long-term benefits as achieving a sustainable workforce with long-lasting good health, happiness and purpose for our colleagues. And for our business, we see lower healthcare costs, which in turn also contribute to reducing the burden on public healthcare.

We evaluate the impact of our programmes by measuring health risk factors at country level over a three-to-five-year period, giving us feedback on what needs to improve and how we can provide bespoke interventions. We also measure the frequency of work-related illness per million hours worked. We’ve developed an interactive self-audit tool for our country teams to assess and monitor health data. This in turn helps them make the right decisions for their business, in alignment with our global Well-being Framework. The assessments also feed into our annual Global Health and Well-being Awards.

Good health is good business

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1:2.44

Return on investment in our Lamplighter programmes

We’ve commissioned multi-year studies to evaluate the return on investment (ROI) of our health programmes. These analyses examined risk prevalence data across ten lifestyle-related risk factors from 2008 to 2017. We also looked at data around programme participation, programme investments, and median annual compensation – which we used to determine productivity savings associated with changes in risk prevalence.

Our aggregated results show that for every €1 we spend on Lamplighter programmes, we see a return of €2.44 – indicating that good health really is good for business.

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