I think understanding and awareness about employee well-being programs has been growing over recent years, but the serious need and true value has only been realized recently. Talk about timing! VCA decides to commit dedicated resources to focus on associate health and well-being in January 2020, and we end up in a worldwide pandemic a few weeks later.
I took on the role of program manager, associate health & well-being in January. When I first told friends about the new role, there were a few funny quips about whether this meant I could get them a discount on yoga pants or if we would still be allowed to share a basket of tater tots on occasion (for the record, tater tots and I have a long standing and tumultuous relationship), as well as more meaningful conversations around trying to find a therapist who is accepting new clients and covered by insurance. These early conversations emphasized that well-being is an incredibly personal thing. We all have varied needs at different times, and different aspects of well-being are going to resonate more or less depending on where you are on your journey through life. A successful program has to recognize this.

2020 has rocked many of us to our core both emotionally and physically, and people no longer joke with me about self-care; it’s been proven to be a real need rather than a nice-to-have. In my mind, this means a major hurdle to establishing a successful well-being program has been removed.  Culturally, it is now a lot more acceptable to talk about your mental health, to pay attention to your body and to care for others in your community. This acceptance is only going to help strengthen a well-being program and ensure its long-term success. 

A colleague recently used the analogy of a buffet dinner when describing a well-being program and it really resonated with me. Using that analogy, a successful program has to provide recognized staple foods as well as more creative dishes that you have never tried before. It also needs to recognize that my staple – let’s say tater tots – would not necessarily be considered a staple by someone else, so the key is to offer variety. 

No matter how much variety the program offers or how ready people are to accept it, a well-being program must also have committed support from leadership to truly succeed. In getting to this point at VCA, there were multiple VCA Next candidates and winners, as well as key leaders who lobbied for a formal well-being program. I have been fortunate to pioneer a role within a company that already recognizes the importance of associate health and well-being. 

VCA President Dr. Todd Lavender is a veterinarian. He knows what it’s like to work in a hospital; he has seen classmates and colleagues struggle with the burdens that veterinarians and support staff carry. Having this connection and awareness meant there was no need to convince him to invest in a health and well-being program.  Dr. Lavender knew this program was integral to the future of our company and our profession. 

We are still in the early stages of developing our health and well-being program at VCA, but I am thrilled with our progress so far. We started with a blank canvas and have already built some structure around the five elements of well-being. There is a lot of passion and excitement around this topic and many hospital leaders have already made this a priority for their teams. With additional tools and resources, I know we will make associate health and well-being a lasting pillar of VCA culture!
“Different aspects of well-being resonate more or less depending on where you are on your journey through life. ”