Englewood Cliffs, NJ
Number of Employees
In 2001, Unilever began a pilot program to address biological, physical, nutritional, and mental health needs of executives in their London office. The program includes a health risk appraisal with personal face-to-face coaching and follow up that is triaged according to risk levels. The voluntary program has been expanded to 35 countries.
In 2002, Unilever began a pilot to address mental and physical health needs of executives in their London office. The integrated approach includes an online health risk appraisal, blood chemistry tests, and physiological/nutritional assessments, as well as an external resilience tool. The assessment is comprised of questions about functional abilities (SF-36 questions) and work performance (WHO-HPQ questions).
Personal face-to-face coaching helps participants set aims and objectives in areas such as fitness, nutrition, energy, stress, resilience, and sleep. All individuals receive information on appropriate health topics and health promotion programs available in house. For individuals at moderate to high risk, follow up is triaged to internal resources or external providers according to area of risk and risk levels. For example, referrals may be made to general physicians, psychiatrists, psychologists, or a telephone-based employee assistance program.
The Unilever assessment is repeated every 6 months, and this voluntary program has been expanded to 35 countries in Asia, Africa, the Middle East, Latin America, and West Europe, with delivery adapted to the culture and needs of each particular country. Employees are invited to participate by Unilever’s chairman him or herself, who communicates an expectation to participate—though employees may choose to decline. The program is free-of-charge to employees, with spouses and family members also choosing to participate in many locations.
A major component of Unilever’s approach includes an assessment of resilience through a set of questions that were developed in conjunction with UK-based WorkingWell Limited and personalized for Unilever. The assessment looks closely at employee’s perception of their major sources of workplace pressures, the effects they perceive in terms of job and organizational satisfaction and mental and physical health, and also at the coping strategies they make use of. This tool helps the individual, as well as the work team, address areas that might be changed to improve performance and reduce pressure, reinforcing a shared responsibility for improving both individual and organizational issues. Human resources and/or employee assistance personnel may help facilitate group discussions to address particular sources of pressure.
Unilever also assesses employee attitudes through a global employee opinion questionnaire, and many of the issues covered are being added to the questionnaire to help the company determine direction for the effort over the following year.
Examples include: “Who is responsible for resilience, the individual or the company?" "Do you think we should address pressures and resilience more actively?”
The company has been pleased with participation, achieving 97% participation and only 10% attrition in the pilot. As the program expanded, this engagement has remained above normal levels with participation averaging between 60 – 90% across the countries where the program is implemented. Outcomes include improved health status, reduced absenteeism, and improved work performance in the intervention group compared to the control group.
In comparing health status over time, the company has found that the healthiest employees tend to be the top performers and vice versa. Even relatively healthy high performers have areas where the individual coaching may help translate health improvements into work performance enhancements. An example is in the area of sleep and energy levels. In addition, Unilever has documented differences in types of pressure based on levels of performance. For example, high performers tend to identify more pressure from the organizational structure, attending meetings, business travel, career vs. home, and inadequate feedback. Middle performers feel pressured by under promotion, concerns about career advancement, and morale/work climate. Low performers’ pressures come from implications of mistakes, taking work home, and lack of encouragement. This information is shared with teams as well as a facilitator so that solution-based interventions can be provided.
Unilever has also focused on employee engagement. A valid external engagement questionnaire is completed by all participants’ pre- and post-program and externally analyzed. Unilever found that as an individual’s health status improves, engagement increases as well—a powerful motivator for the organization to continue investing in workplace mental health programs.
While savings in terms of healthcare costs are not measured in the UK program due to national health care coverage, other countries have seen positive financial effects. For example, after three years double-digit increases in operational health care costs for the Middle East region, rates dropped to their lowest in three years following the initiation of these workplace mental health assessments.
Unilever is a producer of 400 brands spanning 14 categories of home, personal care, and foods products. The company employs 174,000 people in 100 countries worldwide, and supports the jobs of many thousands of distributors, contractors, and suppliers.
Last Updated: March 2010