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Employees at wellbeing workshop

Employee health and wellbeing

Average read time: 8 minutes

Promoting and protecting people’s health and wellbeing is crucial to helping people realise their abilities, and cope with the stresses of life.

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

At the heart of our business

We help our employees be the best version of themselves by empowering them to enjoy a healthy, safe and high-quality work-life balance.

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, social 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:

  • 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.
  • Physical – Looking after our health, fitness, diet, sleep and energy levels so we approach challenges with zeal

85% of office employee survey respondents agreed Unilever cares about their wellbeing

Purposeful careers

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 in to their work lives. 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 in to their working environment also feel engaged and positive about their wellbeing and their development at Unilever. And so far, we’ve helped more than 55,000 of our people to discover their individual purpose.

Our mission is to add healthy years to the lives of our people, unlocking untapped human potential for our business and our world. Over the last two years our Global Health and Wellbeing team have been instrumental in providing physical and mental health care and support to employees and families around the world, as the impact of the Covid 19 pandemic unfolded. We continue to remain focused on building anytime, anywhere tools and resources to meet the varied needs of our people and to promote healthier habits to better enable and empower our Unilever family to thrive.

Dr Diana Han - Chief Health & Wellbeing Officer

Breaking the stigma around mental health

Alongside purpose, mental health is critical to our employee’s health and 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. We know the ongoing pandemic has had a devastating impact on mental health of people around the world.

As well as the impact this has had 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.

Future needs for future generations

To make a real difference on mental health, our focus needs to shift from reactive to preventative measures and rethinking how we work as an employer.

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. Already we are encouraging our teams to maintain social connections and manage loneliness by using video calls and regular team check-ins.

We are also working hard to support a culture of learning, helping people to upgrade their skills for the future of work. See Future of work for more on how we are doing this.

Advancing workplace mental health

Unilever is one of the founding partners of the Global Business Collaboration (GBC) for Better Workplace Mental Health, a business-led initiative to advocate for – and accelerate – positive change for mental health in the workplace.

Alan Jope, Chief Executive Officer, signed the GBC Leadership Pledge in January 2021, showcasing Unilever’s commitment to advancing mental health awareness and best practices in the workplace.

As we look to rebuild from the COVID-19 pandemic, the business community must prioritise and invest in the mental health of all employees—this is not just a business initiative, but a social imperative that will drive positive and long-lasting effects for society. I invite other leaders of businesses – whether large or small – to join this global movement to advance the desperately needed conversation around creating an open, welcoming, and supportive workplace environment for all when it comes to mental health in the workplace.

Alan Jope – Unilever CEO

Supporting physical health

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

The Global Health and Wellbeing team is a diverse group of experienced and well-trained medical and human resources 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, medical fitness evaluations and access to market-leading medical care when required. For instance, our employees have access to periodic health surveillance programmes designed to protect their health on the job in addition to general health check-up campaigns to ensure early detection and management of noncommunicable diseases.

Protecting employees during the pandemic

Covid-19 has underlined the importance of promoting and protecting the health and wellbeing of employees over the last two years.

The section on safety explains how we worked hard to keep factories largely open, with an emphasis on hybrid working being introduced for non-essential workers in our offices. In addition to promoting and protecting people’s safety and health, an important focus was on providing easier access to mental health support for our people, and their dependants where possible. For instance, we introduced online training in ten languages to help our people understand the impact of Covid on their mental health, and we saw an uptake in people using our.

Employee Assistance Programme (EAP) which delivers support 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, and is accessible via telephone, text or web chat. The programme provides access services such as counselling, mindfulness-based stress reduction courses, life coaching, financial wellbeing and resilience training.

Our response to disasters & emergencies highlights how we contributed to global and local efforts to tackle the pandemic. Employees told us that our response contributed to their feeling of purpose and made them feel proud to work at Unilever. In 2021, 85% of office employee survey respondents agreed Unilever cares about their wellbeing, with 83% of factory employee survey respondents confirming the same.

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 challenge. 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 Africa 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 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.

Preventing and managing occupational illnesses

As well as taking action to target specific diseases, we monitor occupational illnesses. Our occupational health 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 for all our direct employees (from 1 January to 31 December each year). We do not yet measure this for contractors or the temporary staff we call ‘contingent labour’. We track using the criteria laid down by the US Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA).

Our Manufacturing and Occupational Health teams work together to make our factories and offices healthy places to work and, since 2017, we have seen a steady decline in our OIFR, which now stands at 0.13 per million hours worked, the lowest level since we started reporting.

Occupational Illness Frequency Rate

2014

2015

2016

2017

2018

2019

2020

2021

Direct employees

0.54

0.53

0.60

0.78

0.58

0.58

0.41

0.13

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