Unilever Canada’s holistic approach to supporting employees’ health and well-being throughout the coronavirus pandemic scored the company a win at Benefits Canada’s 2021 Workplace Benefits Awards on Oct. 14.

The organization was awarded in the Coronavirus and Benefits category for an employer with fewer than 5,000 employees. Unilever’s global well-being framework is based on four quadrants — physical, mental and emotional well-being, as well as a sense of purpose, says Bronwyn Ott, Unilever’s well-being, equity, diversity and inclusion leader.

Read: Who are the winners of the 2021 Workplace Benefits Awards?

At the onset of the pandemic, the company established incident management teams at the global and regional levels that were responsible for the health, safety and well-being of all its employees while maintaining business continuity. Comprised of company leaders and senior representatives from health and safety, well-being, human resources and communications, the teams provide a comprehensive view of the impact on employees and the business from all areas, says Ott.

In addition, to support employees through the switch to remote working, Unilever took a number of steps to ensure employees had enhanced access to the physical and mental-health care they needed, including launching a virtual health-care program in just three business days. Knowing employees were going to require additional resources and support, the company also launched an internet-based cognitive behavioural therapy program that provides employees with more personalized care and it expanded its paramedical coverage to include most mental-health practitioners.

Unilever also infused mental-health champions across the organization and developed a mental-health first-aid training program. It created a domestic violence policy and virtual learning pathway to educate employees on the issue and make them aware of the various supports available to them. And to foster work-life balance, it implemented two additional company-wide paid days off, flexible working hours and meeting guidelines and etiquette.

Read: How to manage the employee mental-health tsunami

As well, the organization increased the funds in employees’ lifestyle spending accounts and expanded the allowable well-being services to include food delivery, vitamins, office and fitness equipment. It provided free online fitness classes throughout the day and repurposed fitness employees in its North American head office to provide stretching breaks for virtual meetings, as well as its external food service employees to provide virtual nutritional cooking classes to employees.

While Unilever already had a childcare program in place, it asked its provider to allow the benefit to be used outside of its network when daycares were shuttered amid government lockdowns. This way, if employees had a neighbour who was willing to help out with childcare, says Ott, they could use that money to pay them. It also provided employees with a $500 tutoring credit that could be used on both private and group sessions.

Half of the organization’s Canadian workforce were essential factory workers who showed up every day to ensure products were being made and going into the supply chain, so the company implemented “hero pay”  for these employees to recognize their hard work. And throughout the pandemic, Unilever is providing employees with care packages, which includes personal protective equipment, some of the company’s products and information about its benefits and well-being programs.

Read: Sobeys reinstating ‘hero pay’ for employees amid third wave of pandemic

“When we were designing this strategy, we really wanted to understand what is causing people stress, where they’re struggling and how we could remove barriers for them,” says Ott. “We recognize that we have a very diverse workforce and we want to make sure we have the right programs to support all of our employees’ needs.”