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Ready for Any Challenge

With its 175th Anniversary on the Horizon, Unum’s Executive Vice President of People & Communications Reflects on the Company’s Progress

With its 175th anniversary on the horizon, Unum’s Executive Vice President of People & Communications sat down with Chattanooga City Lifestyle to reflect on the company’s progress and to share the vision for the future.

TELL US ABOUT YOUR ROLE AT UNUM

AHMED: I am the Executive Vice President of People & Communications, which means I’m accountable for Unum’s people strategy. I have about 300 employees throughout the US, the UK, and Ireland, so we are a global organization. Day to day, I’m responsible for all aspects of the employee experience, including talent management, employee wellbeing, inclusion and diversity, corporate social responsibility, and corporate communications—and serve as Unum’s culture advocate and brand builder. I am also a part of the C-Suite operation, meaning I am here to be a strategic adviser to the Unum executives.

TELL US ABOUT YOUR JOURNEY TO CHATTANOOGA

AHMED: I came to Unum about three-and-a-half years ago. I’m British and I have lived in Cleveland, Ohio before relocating to Chattanooga. Moving to a smaller city with a vibrant outdoor lifestyle was a big plus, and I’ve since realized how unique it is to have trails and mountains so accessible. In Chattanooga, you can have brunch downtown and in 15 minutes you can be a world away on a scenic hike.

WHAT WERE YOUR IMMEDIATE IMPRESSIONS OF CHATTANOOGA AFTER GROWING UP IN THE UK?

AHMED: I lived in a rural part of the UK and I moved around a lot growing up as a child, so what I really appreciate about Chattanooga is the small city community. We live in Northshore and we are surrounded by wonderful neighbors who have been very welcoming. The cherry on top is being a part of an organization like Unum that encourages us to give back to the community. I have the opportunity to serve on the boards of the Partnership for Families, Children, and Adults and the Tennessee Aquarium as part of Unum’s directive of corporate citizenship.

WHAT DOES UNUM DO TO ATTRACT THE BEST TALENT IN THE INDUSTRY?

AHMED:  We know from a recent employee engagement survey that employees are attracted to and stay because of two things: benefits and a culture that helps them succeed. One of the things I like to say is, “At Unum it’s not just a job, it is a career.” It really is our people who define our success. We have to have a workforce that is collaborative, innovative, caring, and purpose-oriented. When we create that environment, it enables us to get and keep amazing talent.

INCLUSION AND DIVERSITY ARE CORE TENETS OF YOUR RESPONSIBILITIES AT UNUM. WHY IS THERE SUCH A FOCUS ON THIS ITERNALLY? HOW IS I&D IMPLEMENTED THROUGHOUT THE ORGANIZATION?

AHMED: We are very focused on making sure we have a culture of belonging. We believe we have a collective responsibility for inclusion and diversity. It makes us a stronger organization; it also helps us make sure we have a better understanding of our customers’ needs and challenges. A major piece of the value system for Unum is an appreciation for differences. It’s at the heart of who Unum is. If our employees have a strong sense of belonging and feeling valued, we know that this is a top driver of employee retention. We refreshed our strategy last year to include three pillars: an equitable culture, a representative workforce, and an inclusive team. We believe each individual helps foster our collective innovation, and that’s critical to meet our goal of protecting employees at their time of need.

AS UNUM PREPARES TO CELEBRATE ITS 175TH ANNIVERSARY, WHAT CHALLENGES AND OPPORTUNITIES DO YOU SEE ON THE HORIZON?

AHMED: It is amazing to think about the 175th anniversary of this company coming up soon. Longevity is generally a positive thing. Sometimes organizations of that age can feel stale, and we’re certainly not. In terms of what I think is ahead, I think employers of all sizes depend on us for workplace solutions in order to attract and retain their employees. It’s never been clearer that employees need financial planning mechanisms for things like disability, life, accident, critical illness. One challenge we’ll continue to face is around talent. We’ve felt the reshuffle of employees just like other companies around the globe, but the difference is that we know we have to continue to listen to our employees. We know our employees are looking for more flexibility than ever before, and we’ve responded. We have more employees who are full-time remote, and the majority of our employees are now on a hybrid schedule. This helps employees to have the flexibility they’ve told us they need while also experiencing the manager interaction and social connection that comes with time in the office. We believe there’s great importance in having both.

WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE TO YOUR YOUNGER SELF?

AHMED: I would say be flexible, be agile, and be ready for any challenge. Be resilient, keep learning, keep taking risks, and take advantage of any internal learning offerings your company has. The last things I would say is that professional growth is not always vertical or fast, so it’s important to stay the course.

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