Proving the financial worth of corporate health and wellbeing programs is often a challenge. HR Leader finds out how manufacturer Unilever has developed a robust program that is hardwired into business outcomes
Corporate health and wellbeing programs are often seen as warm
and fuzzy HR initiatives, with no hard and fast business benefits.
While the outcomes of such programs are often positive
anecdotally, proving their financial worth is another thing. One
company that has taken the lead in this area is Unilever, which
has developed a global health and wellbeing program that is hardwired into
The program, called Lamplighter, was initially created in 2001 following
a request from senior company leaders to help them improve and manage
their energy levels, to allow them to get the most out of their personal time
and find ways to better manage their heavy workloads, according to Dean
Patterson, global health and productivity manager for Unilever.
It proved such a success that it was piloted in
a number of categories and regions between
2003 and 2008. Following strong support from
Unilever’s global CEO, Paul Polman,
Lamplighter went global in 2009 and is currently
being implemented in 30 Unilever countries
reaching 35,000 employees. At Unilever
Australia, the Lamplighter program is currently
being piloted under the name ‘Ignite U’.
Elements of success
Unlike the community-based health approach
many companies offer their employees,
Patterson says Lamplighter is a specially-tailored
and confidential program which addresses not
only many aspects of physical health, but mental
health issues as well.
“Using a top down approach, whereby senior
leaders champion the program for the rest of the
business, helps to encourage employee
participation. Leaders and managers can inspire
individuals to take responsibility for their own
health through leading by example,” he explains.
While the format of the program differs
slightly in each country where it is implemented,
in order to account for cultural and other
differences, Patterson says it always includes the
following fundamental elements:
A nutrition component: Following a
nutritional assessment (often involving a blood
chemistry test) employees are offered tailored
nutritional advice to reduce lifestyle risk factors
such as blood pressure, cholesterol, poor diet,
and so on.
An exercise component: A personal exercise plan is developed for the individual
based on health requirements and the
employee’s personal goals.
A mental resilience component: Usually in
the form of an online tool which employees can
use to monitor and improve their individual
pressure levels as well as identify the sources of
pressure in their lives.
A reassessment: After an initial six months in
the Lamplighter program, individuals are
reassessed to track progress.
Through Lamplighter, Patterson says Unilever has become one of the first
organisations to be able to prove the relationship between health,
engagement and performance.
A study, evaluated by Lancaster University, found that employees
who participated in Lamplighter felt significantly more engaged with
their work and were less likely to take time off work due to health
problems, able to perform better in their job, less likely to be adversely
affected by pressure at work and more likely to practice healthy
behaviours at work.
Further, the overall number of employees classed as a “high health
risk” dropped by 5 per cent and the overall number of employees classed
as a “low health risk” increased by 23 per cent. “Increasing the number of
employees in our low risk population ultimately means cost savings for
the business, as low risk employees cost the company less money in health
care costs and absenteeism,” Patterson explains.
Unilever first measured the impacts of Lamplighter in 2003 on a small
group of employees across three of its UK sites. “Not only did we see
impressive improvements to the health and energy levels of our people, the
business also benefited from a financial return on investment of £3.73: 1.
So for every £1 ($1.64) Unilever invested in its employees, it got back
almost £4 ($6.59) through reduced health care costs and increased
productivity,” Patterson says.
Lessons learned through Lamplighter
Establishing a clear global strategy is important not only for establishing
global targets and mapping a plan of action, but also for guiding regional
and country adopters, Patterson says.
“The way the program is branded and communicated internally and
externally is key. Having a solid communications strategy and look and
feel in place can help speed up a global rollout where implementation is
optional, as is the case with Lamplighter,” says Patterson, who adds that
it also helps establish a global appearance and overall tone for the
When crafting a health and wellbeing program such as Lamplighter, he
also says it’s important to distinguish between the wants of an individual
and their health requirements. “Differentiating between these two will
help to ensure a comprehensive and successful program.”
How to measure the success of a health and wellbeing program
The Health & Productivity Institute of Australia’s Best-Practice Guidelines recommend that a comprehensive evaluation strategy involves:
1. Clear goals and objectives
2. An effective data management system which provides clear, simple, accessible and
aggregated data in a meaningful format
3. Valid and reliable methods and measurements
4. Using both qualitative and quantitative methodologies, process evaluation (evaluates the implementation of strategies), impact (measures whether the program met its objectives) and outcome (evaluates the long-term effect of the program, specifically whether the program met its goal)
5. An annual review mechanism to regularly scrutinise and review performance. This includes reaffirming management approval, redefining management expectations, and repeating the needs assessment
6. Linkage to organisational key performance indicators
7. Internal and external benchmarking
8. Dissemination of results to senior leadership, key stakeholders and employees