At the same time, to ensure a healthy workforce, companies set up remote operations. According to a Stanford University study, 42% of the US workforce has been tele-commuting full-time during the pandemic. Employees like the new normal—so much that nearly 30% of working professionals saying they would quit if forced to return to their offices.
Nair told McKinsey that it’s time to rethink the traditional models of “employment forever.”
She said the old 40/40/40 model; i.e., 40-hour weeks for 40 years with one employer in order to retire with 40% of one’s annual salary, no longer fits with many employees’ realities.
“Why have just one standard employment model that everyone must fit into rather than having multiple employment options that fit into people’s lives?” she mused.
She acknowledged that during the early days of the pandemic, Unilever and other multinationals showed great agility by learning to work as a team without hierarchical or functional boundaries, and breaking through many organizational silos.
“One of my big learnings through this period has been we’re all in the same storm, but we’re not in the same boat,” Nair observed. “Creating personalized solutions for people everywhere has been a huge challenge. We operate in 190 countries. Each country has met different challenges at different times and has often responded differently.”
As a result, countries like China and Australia, which were nearing the end of COVID-19 crisis, served as models for Brazil and India to show what worked and what didn’t work.
At the individual employee level, Unilever recognized early on that employees were having vastly different experiences. Some people were just exhausted, while some people wanted more time in terms of mindfulness and reflection.
“It’s not been a one-size-fits-all approach,” said Nair. “Everyone has different needs; everyone has different concerns—how do we respond to that?”
The pandemic also underscored growing inequality and inequity in the workforce. In an attempt to right some of these wrongs, Unilever announced a wide-ranging set of social commitments about raising living standards for everyone, creating opportunities for inclusivity, and preparing people for the future of work.
For example, the company has already ensured a living wage for 150,000 people; now, it is committed to pay a living wage or income to everyone who directly provides goods and services to Unilever by 2030.
“That’s a pretty big, bold, audacious commitment to make,” Nair told McKinsey & Co.
At the same time, Unilever has pledged €2 billion annually of its supply spend with diverse businesses—which it defines as those which are 51% owned, managed, and controlled by people from underrepresented groups, such as women, the LGBTQI+community, minority ethnic and racial groups, and people with disabilities.
“We’ve made a commitment to say we would pioneer new employment models for everyone who works for us so that they all have flexible options by 2030,” concluded Nair. “And lastly, we’ve committed to equipping ten million young people with essential skills so that they can find job opportunities.”