New working models for a longer working life

Unilever is an employer which is looking at new ways of working that will help workers who want to work longer and in more flexible ways.

Smiling woman works at laptop


What will the future of work be? With workers over 50 representing an increasingly larger section of the UK workforce, with automation changing how we work and large skills shortages in newer areas of the economy and more and more over 50s looking or having to work past retirement, employers need to think ahead even amid the current day to day turbulence.

Unilever is one company which is doing so and developing alternative ways of working to prepare. In a recent webinar hosted by Mercer and the World Economic Forum, Placid Jover, Vice President of HR Latin America, said the way things work now is not working for many people or businesses and that technology does not hold all the answers.

Unilever thinks that looking at employment contracts and making them more adaptable to what workers will need and want will make the company more resilient in the future. They have piloted the new contracts in the UK and are rolling them out in around a dozen markets.

Morag Lynagh, Global Future of Work Director, said Unilever looked at changing demographics in the workforce, the need for greater flexibility, for instance, around where people work, the need to provide people with the skills they need and a sense of purpose. They considered everything from gig working to employee status and decided that something in the middle, that offered some security for workers and some flexibility for employers was the answer. This would, she said, help older employees who didn’t want to face a cliff-edge retirement.

They have devised three different work streams. The first is U-Work. This is for permanent employees who don’t want to work all the time. U-Work employees can work for other employers and are paid a retainer by Unilever. They commit to a certain amount of hours in a year and get a benefits package, including investment in learning and training. “It’s a win win situation. Individuals work according to their lifestyle choice and we get flexibility and access to skilled and trusted people,” said Morag.

The second stream is U-Renew which has not been going as long as U-Work. It is like a paid sabbatical for employees who want to change direction and to retrain or do an external course. Unilever will hold open their job and pay a salary, but employees sacrifice some of their benefits package, for instance, their bonus and have to contribute to their learning costs.

The last stream is U-Train which was launched last year and is for people who are being made redundant. In return for giving up part of their redundancy package, Unilever pays for training to make workers more employable.

Placid Jover says: “One company cannot change the world, but we are committed to explore and find ways to improve people’s employment situation.”

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