Unilever UK Ltd – Mental Wellbeing Programme

The Bupa Employee Wellbeing Award, Winner, 2015, Reaccredited 2016.

Unilever UK Ltd has created a mental health programme that incorporates manager training and awareness, employee learning, information, and tools for individuals and teams to improve their resilience and positive mental health.

What the judges thought

  • There was strong senior level buy in to the business case, evidenced by the willingness of senior executives to share their personal stories internally, and also strong line manager engagement.
  • Unilever has recognised that a one size fits all approach is not appropriate, and has developed a range of different tools that can be tailored to the priority issues and particular context at site level, and which also empowers people to take responsibility for their own mental health and wellbeing.
  • The company recognises that it is still on a journey but is committed to sharing what it has learnt so far, supporting further research and sharing its intellectual property.

Employee and business impacts

  • The stigma attached to mental health issues has been reduced through communication about mental wellbeing across the organisation.
  • Staff now have 24/7 access to support and information.
  • Among managers, there has been an increased understanding of mental wellbeing due to training and tools being made available.
  • Senior managers have led by example and have taken responsibility for delivering the programme.
  • Engagement and productivity at work have increased, with a resilient and healthy workforce contributing to competitiveness and performance.
  • Work-related ill health due to mental health issues has reduced, as has absence and length of absence from work.

In brief

After finding that a significant number of sickness absences were caused by mental ill health, consumer goods giant, Unilever transformed how it approached mental health, ensuring that none of its 7,500 UK and Ireland employees were more than a phone call, conversation or click away from help and support.

The company’s comprehensive mental wellbeing programme trains all line managers and provides bespoke resources, empowering staff to improve their resilience, mental health and wellbeing. Senior managers openly share their personal experiences of mental health, underlining that mental health is taken seriously throughout the organisation.

The programme has delivered real business benefits, reducing absence and increasing productivity.

The story in detail

An extremely comprehensive programme which gives parity of mental health with physical health. Unilever is taking the agenda of mental wellbeing forward through a holistic approach which can be tailored to the particular needs of employees in different parts of the organisation, enabling the organisation to drive real business benefit and impressive ROI.

- Patrick Watt,
Corporate Director, Bupa UK, Chair of judges
Building on an already well-established physical health programme in the UK and Ireland, Unilever’s Mental Health programme guarantees staff access to appropriate support whenever they may need it.

Mental ill health costs businesses over £1,000 each year for every employee, while the cost to the individual is immeasurable. Unilever’s internal statistics showed that in 2013 a significant number of the days lost by the business to sickness absence were due to mental health issues.

Unilever employees' greater awareness of mental wellbeing

The mental health programme incorporates manager training and awareness, employee learning, and information, and tools for individuals and teams to improve their positive mental health.

It was developed to ensure that each employee is never more than a phone call, a conversation or a click away from the help and support they need. All 7,500 employees across Unilever sites in the UK and Ireland have 24/7 access to support when and where they need it, as well as a comprehensive range of training, information and tools.

While providing care for individuals, it also aimed to create an environment in which it is “good to talk”, to build resilience in teams and individuals across the organisation and to develop line managers who can lead and support a culture of mental wellbeing.

Long-term commitment to mental health

The programme is supported both centrally – recognising the importance of visible leadership – and at a local site level. Each site has a local wellbeing team, responsible for implementing a site plan based on the different needs of each location.

The programme is communicated through events and promotional materials, as well as a dedicated portal page on the intranet, Mental Health and You, which houses online tools for staff and managers.

Bespoke training courses and support tools include individual and group training sessions, personal support, and access to professional help where needed. A Personal Resilience tool is available to all staff and, depending on their response, provides external support where needed. This has greatly reduced the time it takes for employees to access mental health treatment. Many were unlikely to have sought help for their mental health if they had bot used the tool.

Managers at priority sites attend face-to-face training in managing mental health. There is also an online mental health awareness course for all line managers.

The programme is seen as a long-term commitment rather than a one-off initiative, and is supported by continuous communication to promote the tools and support available.

What Unilever's CEO said:

“Under the Unilever Sustainable Living Plan we want to improve the health and wellbeing of a billion people around the world. A key part of that is the wellbeing of our own people, not only their physical health but just as importantly their mental health, particularly at times of change and uncertainty. By listening and responding to their emotional needs we give people a much better chance of fulfilling their true potential, which is good for them and good for the company.” - Paul Polman, CEO, Unilever UK Ltd