Alaina Melena on Cultivating a Culture of Care

In the spirit of celebrating the achievements of our team, we’re excited to share that Alaina Melena has recently been promoted to Chief Strategy Officer at Family First. As a seasoned leader and strategic advisor on employee well-being, DEI, and workforce support, Alaina brings more than 20 years of experience to this role. 
To mark her transition to Chief Strategy Officer, we sat down with Alaina to talk about why she came to Family First, her vision for the future, and how she sees Family First taking the leading role in solving the complexities of the caregiver crisis. 

Why did you decide to come to Family First? 

I was impressed with Family First’s outcomes. I spent 20 years in consulting trying to solve how to keep people healthy and productive at work. Family First is solving a big problem—a big barrier to keeping people healthy and productive at work—in a really meaningful way.

The lines between work and home have blurred. During the pandemic we were all working at home, you got a view into people’s home lives and this meant a spotlight on the quiet struggle that people have around caregiving. It’s a much more complex challenge than finding childcare or healthcare. I realized the magnitude of the barriers to taking care of yourself as you’re trying to take care of others and I wanted to be able to have more of an impact.  

Family First is addressing this problem by going after the fundamental, core problems of the fragmentation of our social, financial, and healthcare systems to drive meaningful results. It’s exciting to be a part of! 


What is it about Family First that gives you confidence that we’re the right leader to solve the core problems faced by caregivers? 

The feedback we hear from members demonstrates we are the right solution. Our Care Experts are solving caregiving challenges that are extremely complex and the feedback that we get is unmatched. Between a 95 NPS and the testimonials from members, we are truly making life changing impacts on peoples’ lives. The Family First team is made up of people who are driven to succeed for our members and stakeholders and who care very much about Family First’s mission. We are sensitive to the needs of our members and stakeholders. We are constantly thinking strategically about the problem. We’ve all come from different backgrounds, have been successful individually in past endeavors, we have our own caregiver experiences, and now we’re all coming together at Family First—I just know the impact is going to be significant. 


How do you envision the industry evolving and what part do you want to play in the process?  

Caregiving as a concept has been around forever, but there’s still a lot of educating that we need to do. As we age as a society, there will be more of a need for community support because the existing structures in place are unsustainable. These systems are also not addressing important social or mental health needs as well as they need to be. There’s such an opportunity around what can be done to support community caregivers and getting people the right solutions—even helping to plan for it before it is an urgent need. How can we help the sandwich caregivers who are balancing jobs and caring for loved ones simultaneously? There’s a lot to do, but I think it starts with a functioning workforce of people who are caring for their own well-being and thriving in the lives they want to live, while having the resources and support in place to care for their loved ones in the ways that are needed. 

My role in this is to be a builder. I want to be a part of something that meets the needs of everyone and to nurture a solution that really makes an impact. I can’t take credit for this, but the Family First team has been having conversations about the culture of care concept and the importance of organizations to consider how they've built a culture of care in the workplace. It’s not just considering employee well-being or DEI strategies, it requires care. 

Having a level of sensitivity to what could be going on with a team member, or anyone, and not making assumptions about what they are doing with their time all support this idea of cultivating a culture of care. 

How are you building trust with your employees? Do people feel safe to open up about their struggles at work? Have you created an environment that’s friendly to people’s personal needs—through work policies, managers, resources, and benefits? Setting people up to thrive and be successful, cultivates a culture of care. 


What advice would you give to organizations that know caregiving solutions are needed, but they don’t know where to start? 

Caregivers are often difficult to find in data, which is then difficult to understand the prevalence and impact to have a business case for solutions. You might be surprised to hear that 20% or more of your population at any given time is a caregiver—sometimes very complex and difficult caregiving situations—and for employers it may be some of your highest performers. Unsupported caregivers are at a greater risk for chronic conditions, unplanned absences, and turnover. We have an important role in ensuring caregivers have the support they need to care for loved ones for the best outcomes, to prevent burnout, and retain employees. 

A good place to start is taking the time to listen to employees about challenges related to caregiving and understanding the importance of providing support and its impact. Know caregiving expands beyond childcare. Working caregivers spend on average 23 hours per week or more on unpaid caregiving, it may be for a child, spouse, parent or other older adult, friend, neighbor, or pet—or in many cases multiple loved ones. Organizations need to start looking at why someone may be missing work or is less engaged in their role. Retaining a high performing workforce is critical to the success of an organization and recognizing the needs of people who have caregiving responsibilities will lead to higher retention and better performance because there will be meaningful support in place. 


What most excites you about the future at Family First? 

Number one is having Family First accessible to as many people as possible because I really believe it’s a life changing benefit. I am also excited to continue to grow our offerings in ways that are most beneficial to solving the needs of caregivers. There is such a huge need to support caregivers for the health, safety, and well-being of both the caregivers and the care recipients. 


What drew you to the mission of Family First—to be an unstoppable force for families? What does that mean to you personally? 

I love being able to help people. I love that we came to “unstoppable force for families” because it’s what I saw from Family First before I even came here. Family First solves problems and has real outcomes.  

Personally, being an unstoppable force means being persistent and determined. I’m the type of person that listens to needs carefully and will do whatever it takes to find a solution. Because of this, I feel well-aligned with what we’re achieving at Family First.


See the Video: Alaina Melena on Why She Joined Family First


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