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, both at work and at home.

Our strategy

Our aim is to promote, maintain and enhance the health of our employees to maximise their fitness to work safely and effectively. We seek to make a positive impact on their health and well-being – to bring benefits for individuals and our business.

Our strategy for medical and occupational health has two core elements. The first is to promote the physical and mental well-being of our employees. With a large business in Africa, tackling HIV/AIDS is an important feature of our strategy. The second is to prevent occupational ill-health. We implement our strategy through a series of targeted health promotions and health protection programmes, including our flagship Lamplighter programme.

A holistic view of well-being

We have defined holistic well-being as a sustainable state of feeling good and functioning well, as a whole human being, physically, mentally and emotionally. Holistic well-being enables each individual in Unilever to realise his or her potential, cope with the normal stresses of life, work productively and make positive contributions at work and at home.

Mental health is one of the top three health risks we have identified across our business, alongside lifestyle factors (eg. exercise, nutrition, smoking and obesity) and ergonomic factors (eg. repetitive strain injury). In 2015, we put in place a steering committee to provide a four-part framework for employee well-being that addresses physical, mental, emotional and purposeful well-being for employees.

Our well-being strategy also contributes to our aim to create 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 – giving people the right working practices and technology to do their job anywhere, anytime, 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 to protecting individuals and business continuity alike.

Addressing occupational ill-health includes 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.

Good health is good business

The programmes and structures we have put in place have offered proven successes. We know that good health is good business and we are enhancing our medical and occupational health organisation to deliver this.

We are committed to expanding the reach of our programmes to all our employees, and to monitoring the effectiveness of these programmes. Over 2016–2020 we will strengthen the physical and mental dimensions of our well-being programmes. We are also enhancing our approach to occupational health by integrating our initiatives with Manufacturing Excellence, working closely with our factory management and supply chain teams.

Our Lamplighter programme

Lamplighter is our global framework for addressing employee health and well-being. Each country is expected to put in place benefits, programmes and/or resources to address four modifiable risk factors: physical health, exercise, nutrition and mental resilience. Lamplighter provides structure and guidance on how to develop strategic initiatives and programmes so that our country businesses can implement them in the most locally appropriate way.

Specific goals for the Lamplighter programme include:

  • ensuring that Lamplighter is in place in all countries with 100 or more employees, which we aim to achieve by 2020
  • implementing a mental well-being strategy – we completed the roll-out of this health module in 2015
  • addressing local health risks

We cluster countries together for management purposes. Each cluster has a medical and occupational health director responsible for implementing our policies, and leading the prevention and promotion actions we have prioritised for that cluster. Our occupational health function works closely with our human resources and supply chain teams to make sure the right health benefits are delivered in the way that works best for each country.

Promoting mental well-being through Lamplighter

The well-being of our own people includes not only physical health but, just as importantly, mental health, which is especially important in times of change or uncertainty. By listening and responding to the emotional needs of our employees, we give people a better chance of fulfilling their potential. We have identified four pillars that need to be in place to address mental health:

  • leadership and management
  • communication and culture
  • scoping resilience, managing pressure
  • support

Each pillar is supplemented by a number of elements and goals. For example, under ‘support’, we specify that everyone employed by Unilever should be just one phone call, one click or one discussion away from a source of help if they are experiencing issues with their mental well-being. We back this up with specific goals such as offering access to counselling services and online training on mental health, and providing mental health-specific communications for employees at least twice a year, one of which coincides with the World Health Organization’s World Mental Health Day each October.

In 2015 we launched new Employee Assistance Programmes for employees working in Europe, North Africa, the Middle East and Turkey, and our Russia and Belarus region, complementing the programme already running in the United States. In Brazil, Unilever has psychologists who travel around to various sites, as this is what works for Brazil in meeting its Lamplighter goals.

We have found that when it comes to mental health practices, there is a broad spectrum of understanding and available resources. So solutions cannot be global – they need to be local if they are to work.

Encouraging employees to change their habits

Our challenge is to motivate our employees to understand their health status and well-being risks. We focus on encouraging them to change their behaviour and sustain new habits to improve their health and well-being. Our programmes promote exercise and movement, enhanced nutritional intake and awareness of mental health – building resilience and an understanding of how to manage pressure. We have learned that it is important to promote these skills both at work and at home for them to be effective.

Another important factor in the success of our Lamplighter programme is leadership behaviours. Employees often follow the patterns of behaviour set by their managers, so our programme is underpinned by engaging our senior leaders, line managers and human resources teams to set a good example.

Evaluating the impact of Lamplighter

Programmes such as Lamplighter 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. The long-term benefits are in lower healthcare costs for companies and society.

We have commissioned multi-year studies in various countries to evaluate the return on investment (ROI) of our health programmes. The analyses have evaluated costs relating to absenteeism, presenteeism and productivity. In 2015, the studies covered Brazil, Argentina, Singapore, Ghana, Egypt, North America, the UK, Ireland, South Africa, China, Philippines, Russia, India, Mexico, Greece, Pakistan and Turkey. The results show an average ROI across these countries of 4:1 – that is a €4 return for every euro invested. These findings endorse the value of our programmes and encourage us to continue to invest in employee health.

We also measure 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 monitor the frequency of work-related illness per million man-hours worked.

Since we launched Lamplighter, several independent evaluations have endorsed it as an effective programme. In 2015 we won awards for our approach with the Global Healthy Workplace Awards for the large enterprise category in Brazil and the BUPA–Business in the Community Well-being award for our UK & Ireland business, while in North America our business won the National Business Group on Health award.

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