Lennard Boogaard, vice president of human resources at Unilever Southeast Asia, shares the inner workings of the company’s award-winning health and wellness programme. By Sabrina Zolkifi.

At Unilever, looking after employees’ health and wellbeing is embedded in the company DNA.

In 2009, Unilever launched Lamplighter, a programme to help employees realise that when it comes to health, small actions “will lead to big differences in our world”.

“Lamplighter is an organisational well-being programme designed to improve the health, well-being and performance of Unilever employees over a six to 12-month period by focusing on three main areas: exercise, nutrition and mental resilience,” Lennard Boogaard, vice president of human resources at Unilever Southeast Asia, says.

Based off a model which combines physiological and nutritional assessments as well as mental resilience tools, employees are offered a customised diet and exercise programme along with online resources to help them achieve their health targets.

Lamplighter was also created with the business in mind; healthier employees mean a more productive workforce. But this effort cannot be achieved without buy in from the entire company.

Boogaard says departments involved in the implementation and execution of this programme included human resources, communication, finance, legal, as well as all the secretaries of the various functions.

Communication of this programme started with senior management buy-in. A message from the CEO to all senior leaders started the ball rolling with senior leaders taking this to their various teams.

“This was followed with emails and visuals using the onsite media resources. The programme was also highlighted during company town hall business results meetings, and a short video presentation from the senior leaders was also made further exhibiting senior management commitment to this programme.”

Since the inception of the programme, Unilever has seen an increase in employee engagement scores, with Boogaard adding it has also led to “a high performance culture and more motivated and inspiring leadership”.

The pathway to health

Employees begin the programme with a health screening involving an online health risk assessment and blood chemistry test, followed by a debrief by a health professional. They then undergo physiological and nutritional assessments to create a personalised improvement programme for nutrition and exercise, which is monitored over an initial six-month period.

In the three years the programme has been rolled out, 75% of Unilever’s Singapore employees have participated voluntarily, and the results of Lamplighter include a 6.21% increase in the number of employees exercising, a 6.76% reduction in employees classed as having high cholesterol and a 5.28% smoking cessation rate.

Last year alone, there was also an 11.1% reduction in the number of employees who fell in the ‘high-risk’ category and a 31.9% improvement in the number of employees who fell into the ‘low-risk’ category.

“Most notably, risk factors highly related to healthcare cost (poor diet, physical inactivity, overweight) are trending in the right direction, and have shown tremendous improvement over the three-year period,” Boogaard says.

One interesting aspect of Lamplighter is its use of online resources, making it more accessible and convenient for participating employees.

The online mental resilience tool, which is managed by an external provider to ensure confidentiality, helps employees address all aspects of health and performance.

This also allows employees to track their progress while moving at his or her own pace, Boogaard says, adding some of the activities are also held during working hours to make it easier for employees to take part.

“Quarterly health talks are held focusing on pertinent health issues while out third party Employee Assistance Programme providers come onsite and help create greater awareness on mental health.

“Relevant activities on international designated health days, for example the World Heart Day, are also held to create greater awareness, and a quarterly in house e-newsletter featuring employee feedback on the programme is also circulated.”

As well as faring well within the organisation, Lamplighter has claimed several awards, including the gold award from the Health Promotion Board of Singapore, the corporate fitness award at the Workplace Health Promotion Awards last year.

It was also most recently recognised for workplace well-being and having the best healthcare and wellbeing programme by Human Resources at the Human Resources Excellence Awards and Benefits Asia, respectively.

Unilever is committed to the continuous care of employees’ well-being, and Boogaard says the company will be “supporting and aligning with the business needs around improving the global mental health of our employees”.

The company has also created a global mental health standard will is being delivered in all their countries across the world.

“This will aid in supporting the HR function around identifying the causes of stress and pressure, understanding how employees cope with these issues and what interventions can be put in place to reduce these issues.”

He adds the company will also continue efforts to streamline the reporting dashboard so they are better able to measure engagement against health, and gain insights into the role health plays in terms of employee value proposition.

“We already know that as employees become healthier their engagement improves, which leads to better performance. But we need to understand and work with our HR colleagues as to what this means to the business in terms of monetary savings or growth.

“The reporting dashboard will allow Unilever to provide the business, as a while, with accurate ROI proof, which Lamplighter brings to the organisation. This could include important aspects such as absence reduction, return to work after disability or illness, improved morale, and turnover.”