Flexibility at Unilever: ‘I was there the first time she said Dad’

Ahead of the curve, Australian HR Awards finalist Unilever declared ‘all roles flex’ several years ago

Flexibility at Unilever: ‘I was there the first time she said Dad’

The COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated flexible working like never before, however some progressive companies have been ahead of the game when it comes to working from home arrangements and supporting parents.

Australian HR Awards finalist Unilever has given employees flexibility to complete their work when and where it suits them for several years now, according to Anish Singh, HRD at Unilever ANZ.

In 2016, the multinational consumer goods company declared ‘all roles flex’, which enables staff to balance their personal commitments and work to meet both their needs and the needs of the business.

Since embracing a flexible working culture, Unilever have seen increased engagement and productivity, greater retention and fewer sick days. The result is approximately $6 million in cost savings for their Australia and New Zealand business, said Singh.

Beyond declaring ‘all roles flex,’ Unilever has a range of policies to ensure they are consistently fostering a gender-balanced and inclusive workplace.

These include unlocking job share opportunities, ensuring their compensation structures are gender neutral, and supporting new parents through their ‘pass the baton’ primary carer leave and superannuation policies.

In recognition of Unilever's commitment to flexibility, the company has been named as a finalist in the Best Workplace Flexibility Program category for the Australian HR Awards 2020.

“We are particularly proud of our parental leave policies because they acknowledge that being a primary carer is not gender specific,” said Singh.

The policies enable any parent who wishes to become a primary caregiver to take 16 weeks paid leave and receive their full superannuation for 36 weeks of unpaid leave, regardless of their gender.

Read more: Flexibility is the future of work

“Not only does this give our employees the flexibility to choose how to care for their little ones, it also gives them financial security and peace of mind,” said Singh.

“Through the combination of these policies we want to empower our employees to bring their best selves to work every single day – this is not only the right thing to do, it also makes good business sense.”

Singh said that Unilever is also keen to play its part in creating a fairer, better and more equal world. 

Currently, women make up 57% of Unilever’s local workforce and 67% of management positions.

“We are proud to have been recognised by the Workplace Gender Equality Agency (WGEA) as an Employer of Choice for Gender Equality (EOCGE) since 2017,” he said.

“But we know there is more to be done and we are committed to continuously adapting our policies and adopting new ones to ensure we are supporting and meeting the needs of our diverse workforce.”

Read more: Flexibility tops wish list for jobseekers

Adrian McGuigan, who works for Unilever ANZ, added that Unilever’s parental leave policy has been a game changer for him on a personal level. 

“Firstly, and most importantly, it allowed my wife to return to work in a capacity that was comfortable for her, knowing there is emotional and physical pressures with this transition,” said McGuigan.

Secondly, it alleviated any financial pressure that McGuigan’s family would have experienced if he were to take extended leave without pay.

“Lastly, and the part I love most is it has meant I can enjoy the small moments with my baby girl.”

In the first few months, McGuigan would come home and his wife would tell him about all the new things she had done.

However, the policy has meant that he has now been able to enjoy these moments himself.

“I even got to be there the first time she said ‘Dad’.”

Unilever is a finalist in the Best Workplace Flexibility Program category of the upcoming Australian HR Awards. The awards will be announced at a virtual ceremony on 3 December 2020. To register, click here.

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