Is keeping pace with the future of work incompatible with using purpose to guide the organization? Unilever is stretching its well-known commitment to the purpose of a new and daunting challenge the transformation of its workforce of more than 149,000 employees. Its Future of Work program involves purpose-focused workshops for all employees that are designed to help them choose their future jobs, whether with the company or elsewhere. Many organizations assume that workforce transformations require painful layoffs. Unilever believes that such an approach represents a missed opportunity and is ultimately counterproductive. It has pledged to undertake a workforce transformation guided by its commitment to decency and sustainability.
With more than 149,000 employees, Unilever confronts every issue related to the changing nature of work. It invests in AI and robotics for its factories, negotiates with unions, hires gig workers, and is reshaping its workforce for digital commerce. Many organizations facing challenges similar to Unilever’s assume that workforce transformations require painfully reducing the number of employees—perhaps by shifting some into consulting relationships—or taking other steps at workers’ expense, such as cutting hours or benefits.