GBCHealth Case Study of the Month Newsletter | Unilever


UnileverThis month GBCHealth presents Unilever’s award-winning Lamplighter Program, an innovative approach to employee wellness that uses health risk appraisals alongside exercise, nutrition and mental resilience to help employees improve their health and wellbeing. The program, operating in 46 countries, focuses on non-communicable diseases (NCDs) such as coronary heart disease, hypertension, diabetes, high cholesterol, and tobacco-related illnesses. It has reached 35,000 Unilever employees, driving improvements in health status across 30 countries.

At the 2011 UN High Level Meeting on NCDs, the World Economic Forum projected that NCDs could result in a cumulative output loss of US$ 30 trillion over the next two decades. NCDs undermine companies’ productivity by causing absenteeism and premature deaths, as well as rising healthcare costs. Globally in 2010, the direct costs (diagnosis, treatment and care) and indirect costs (loss of productivity and income) were $863 million for cardiovascular disease alone. This is projected to increase by 22% to $1.05 billion by the year 2030.

Unilever has recognized that these conditions can impact the quality of life and wellbeing of its employees, and its health and wellbeing program seeks to be ahead of the curve. The Lamplighter program has won awards for corporate social responsibility and sustainability by the Financial Times and other prominent institutions for its work in Mexico, India, Germany and the UK.

GBCHealth hopes this case study will provide useful insights and lessons learned for GBCHealth members with NCD workplace programs.

Case Study | Unilever’s Lamplighter Program

About the Program

Unilever's Lamplighter Program

The Lamplighter program uses health risk assessments to create individual scorecards for each employee on measures of nutrition, exercise, mental resilience and biometric indicators. The global program is adapted to each country’s particular context and major causes of ill health among workers; however, each includes global mandatory standards on medical and occupational health, HIV/AIDS, non-smoking and mental well-being.

Employees are given a biometric grading based on their body mass index (BMI), blood pressure, cholesterol level and sugar fasting. There are three grades: green, indicating excellent health; orange, indicating the need for periodic reviews; and red, indicating the need for both focused attention and periodic reviews. Employees then develop a personal work plan that includes exercise and nutrition. Appropriate interventions are offered to people in the orange or red categories, differing from country to country. For example,

  • Nutritionists work with Unilever’s food providers to ensure portions are controlled, salt intake is at a healthy level, and daily caloric requirements are not exceeded;
  • Unilever builds exercise facilities where they are not already present, or works with local gyms to subsidize employees’ memberships;
  • Employees facing high levels of stress are offered an online stress reduction course, cognitive behavior therapy to improve mental resilience, and referrals to psychiatric professionals when necessary.

A review of the global program is conducted every five years and takes into account internal and external stakeholder feedback. In addition, the Lamplighter programs in each country review their progress on a yearly basis. An external benchmarking against similar programs from other leading multinationals and peer group industry is performed as well.

The results have been encouraging: In India, for example, over half of the original “red” employees have moved out of the danger zone, while a survey found a widespread boost in morale among participants at all grades.

Specifically, Unilever reports that Lamplighter has achieved globally:

  • An 8% reduction in overweight/obesity
  • A 16% reduction in hypertension
  • A 5% reduction in physical inactivity
  • A 17% reduction in poor or under nutrition
  • A 3% reduction in smoking
  • A 40% increase in mental resilience (varying by region)
  • A 3.5:1 return on investment (ROI)

Critical Success Factors

Biometrics measurement through Unilever Lamplighter program in Zimbabwe

Unilever believes that when employees have personal development plans focused on well being which they can achieve, it is also translated into an enhanced work performance.

Leading by example
Adopting a healthy lifestyle is a personal option, but the key here is the visible participation by senior leadership. What a manager says or writes has limited effect, but what s/he actually demonstrates through his or her behavior is extremely powerful. The behavior of leadership has encouraged participation in the Lamplighter Program more than any medical advice from doctors.

Measurement and availability of data
Business managers collect data on the program, citing the well-known mantra ‘you can only manage what you can measure.’ Producing data on health and wellbeing was new to most of the participants in Unilever’s program, and they found it not merely of interest but actively motivating to continue maintaining a healthy lifestyle.

Coaching and specialist interventions
In Unilever’s experience, giving individuals intensive personal coaching over six months seemed to get them to a level at which the healthy lifestyle was accepted by the participants. The challenge, as always with health, is sustainable behavior, and long-term commitment is needed from both the provider of coaching and the recipient.

Business alignment
The key to a health and wellbeing program’s sustainability is ensuring that it is aligned with a genuine business initiative. Unilever’s mission statement is “to add vitality to life. We meet everyday needs for nutrition; hygiene and personal care with brands that help people feel good, look good and get more out of life.” A healthy workplace is a way of living this commitment in the company’s day-to-day work atmosphere.

Lessons Learned

Unilever Lamplighter program in action in the Philippines

Overcoming challenges
Unilever was able to overcome pockets of internal resistance that were based mainly on issues of cost by highlighting the business benefits of the health and wellbeing program. Feedback on reduced absenteeism, reduced presenteeism (reduced productivity when an employee is at work due to illness) and the positive ROI of health promotion programs helped Unilever to garner support for the Lamplighter program. In some cases a “not-invented-here” syndrome was overcome by showcasing benefits from other companies that had successfully adapted similar programs.

Enlisting the support of top-level leadership
Top leadership support was crucial to the program’s success. At the grassroots level, enlisting the support of those who benefited from the program to promote it brought in more voluntary participation.

Learn More

Click here to learn more about the Unilever Lamplighter Program.