Employers and work-life balance

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Case studies


Developing an approach that is consistently applied across a large business

The company
Unilever, which has 30 sites across the country, is the UK arm of Unilever plc, one of the world’s leading consumer goods companies. Unilever’s range of household name brands includes UK market leaders Persil, Flora, Magnum and Lynx.

Annual UK sales £2.3bn

No. of UK employees 12,500

The problems

  • Work-life balance initiatives have developed over many years in response to employee requests and a desire to innovate to increase employee satisfaction
  • It was recognised that Unilever’s approach needed to be promoted more widely to employees

Unilever developed a harmonised policy for flexible working and communicated this widely across the business. Flexible working options are available to all employees.

Flexible working options include:

  • Part-time working
  • Home working
  • Job shares
  • Flexible hours

Leave options include:

  • Maternity, paternity and adoptive leave policies in excess of statutory requirements
  • Career break scheme

Employer support policies:

  • Childcare support
  • On-site gyms
  • Occupational health and dental services

Business benefits

  • Retention of skilled staff:
    • In 1988, only 6% of female managers had childcare responsibilities
    • Over 90% of employees now return from maternity leave: Unilever’s enhanced maternity benefits have proved very successful in retaining female employees
    • Research among managers working part-time suggests that 60% would have left had they not been able to work flexibly
  • Greater employee satisfaction:
    • Scores for satisfaction with work-life balance in the company’s regular employee surveys have improved
    • There is a new ‘can do’ attitude across the business: colleagues and managers are very supportive of team members who want to work flexibly
  • Enhanced customer satisfaction:
    • Unilever believes there are direct links between employee satisfaction, customer satisfaction and business results
  • Improved productivity:
    • Managers of those working part-time rate the performance of part-time staff very highly
    • Increased work-life balance satisfaction among employees who work flexibly means that they are very committed and deliver results
  • Reduced absenteeism:
    • Absenteeism rates have fallen at sites where employees feel most in control of their working hours
    • This is particularly evident at manufacturing sites, where employees can job share on shifts or swap shifts to meet emergency needs

The greatest take-up of flexible working options is still among working mothers, but the company is increasingly seeing demand from other groups.

The future
Unilever is committed to helping employees achieve balance in their lives because this brings real benefits to individual employees and to the business. The company is continuously looking for innovative ways to do this.

June 2003


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