How to Take a Strategic and Equitable Approach to Worker Well-Being
Dania Alarcon has always had an enthusiasm for wellness and helping others stay healthy. As a fitness instructor, cancer researcher, and leader in pharmaceutical advertising, she has always been focused on the health of her clients.Now as chief medical officer at Wunderman Thompson, Alarcon continues pushing for better health for the clients she works for, while also supporting a healthy workplace for the people she works with.At From Day One’s January virtual conference Alarcon met with Siobhan O’Connor, Atria Institute’s chief content officer, for a fireside chat about working toward a healthier world while balancing workers’ well-being.Health for EquityAt the height of Covid, Wunderman Thompson established the Health4Equity Center of Excellence to fight forms of health inequality rooted in cultural bias.“It happened at a very unique time in our history collectively,” Alarcon said. “2020 represented the height of both the racial injustices that were occurring across the U.S. and other parts of the world, a pandemic that was felt most acutely throughout historically marginalized communities and countries, and a number of other things that compounded the lack of access for health and wellness.”Siobhan O'Connor of the Atria Institute, right, interviewed Dania Alarcon of Wunderman Thompson, left, in a virtual fireside chat (photo by From Day One)Health4Equity focuses on increasing access to healthcare in those communities that historically have been left out by targeting three disease areas: prostate cancers in Black men, bladder cancers in Black women, and maternal health for Black mothers.“There’s no shortage of health inequalities,” Alarcon said. “Our biggest challenge was making the most of this and deciding what to prioritize. One of the things we focused on was not just going deep, but going broad.”A broad approach looks different for each group. Health4Equity campaigned for Black men to get screened for prostate cancer at 40 years old instead of 50 to catch cancer in the early stages. They also connect women with urologists for bladder treatment, providers who are not usually a part of women’s regular healthcare team.Black women in the U.S. are about 3 times more likely to die during pregnancy or delivery than women of other races, according to the CDC. Health4Equity addresses the Black maternal health crisis by connecting Black soon-to-be mothers with licensed doulas for personal care during their pregnancy. Doulas provide personalized support and advice during pregnancy and delivery and they can act as patient advocates to close the racial gap in maternal healthcare.Health4Equity takes direct approaches to support the well-being of their clients. “That’s exactly what the ‘4’ in Health4Equity stands for. It’s a four step strategic approach and process that’s very intentional to help identify those highest priority and need areas and match them with what might have the biggest impact,” Alarcon said.Commitment to Employee Well-beingEmployee well-being isn’t just a set of corporate goals and boundaries. It takes a daily direct commitment to respecting those boundaries, which can be especially difficult while working from home.“It was almost like you were always on 24/7 and don’t know where the separation stops between life, feeding a dog or a child and then going back into my online work to finish up the day,” Alarcon said. “I think that lack of boundaries really took a toll on people.”A direct approach to employee wellness also needs intentional moments of separation for employees to catch up on work and take care of themselves.“We have something called Focus Fridays, where the back half of our Friday afternoon is reserved for catching up on emails, doing actual work because when you’re in meeting after meeting there’s not much opportunity to get things done,” Alarcon said. “So I think just understanding those boundaries, creating those intentional moments of separation, and also being respectful of others’ calendars.”Purpose Plays a Role in WellnessThe adage “If you love what you do, you don’t work a day in your life” isn’t entirely true. Work can be tough and days can be hard, even when employees love what they do. But being passionate about the work and finding purpose in it helps keep motivation even when the work is difficult.“As much as that health inequity movement was really tough to acknowledge, it almost renewed the enthusiasm for showing up at work and doing something that I felt brought purpose and meaning to my life and to those who maybe have been ignored in the system for far too long,” Alarcon said. “That’s very motivating, just being in a space where you feel like what you’re doing matters.”When employees are passionate about their work and they receive support and respect for their boundaries, they feel more motivated and can thrive in the workplace.“Workplace well-being is where you feel engaged,” Alarcon said. “Where you feel motivated, where you don’t dread Monday morning on a Sunday night, because you know that there’s exciting things coming in the week ahead.”Toby Mohr is an editorial intern at From Day One and journalism and political science student at University of Wisconsin- Eau Claire.