Q&A: Jolene Huang and David Drilon on the ‘Working With Cancer’ Pledge and the Importance of Employee Wellbeing

Jolene Huang is Chief Talent Officer, Publicis Groupe Singapore & Southeast Asia, and Dave Drilon is Chief Digital Officer at Publicis Groupe Philippines.

Towards the end of last year, Publicis Groupe announced a milestone for its global “Working with Cancer” (WWC) initiative with its launch in the Philippines. The global WWC initiative aims to eradicate the stigma of cancer in the workplace by encouraging major corporations to sign a ‘pledge’ to provide a more supportive, and recovery-forward culture at work for people with cancer.

To learn more about the initiative in the Philippines and Southeast Asia we recently spoke with Jolene Huang, Chief Talent Officer, Publicis Groupe Singapore & Southeast Asia, and David Drilon, Chief Digital Officer, Publicis Groupe Philippines.

Over the course of our conversation, Huang talks about changes taking place across the region in the field of human resources including making holistic health and wellbeing a top priority.


She is joined by David Drilon who shares more insight on the “Working with Cancer” pledge in the Philippines and the importance of remaining committed to nurturing supportive workplaces.

Looking back over a decade of Human Resources experience in the region what are some of the biggest changes you’ve seen?

Jolene: While traditional concerns like fair compensation and career progression persists, there’s a notable shift in the workforce’s focus on holistic well-being. Employees today are more attuned to their physical and mental health, recognising the importance of a balanced work-life integration.  As such, we’ve made holistic health and wellbeing a top priority at Publicis Groupe SEA as it’s an important part of our culture to care for our employees.

As the economy in Southeast Asia rapidly expands, what are some of the challenges and opportunities impacting recruiting and keeping talent?

Jolene: There has always been a talent war for the best people, although this has slowed down somewhat this year. This means it is pertinent to ensure we have fair, equitable and progressive policies and practices in place to attract talents and elicit a sense of pride in belonging to a workplace which is on the forefront of talent practices.

One of many practices we have in SEA is our Friday Disconnect where no meetings are scheduled after 3pm. Our employees can use this time to finish up work before the weekend, or spend time learning on Marcel, our employee experience and growth platform, or simply use it as personal time.


Globally the Work Your World program is one which not only attracts talents but has also been an effective way in retaining talent.  All staff have the opportunity to work elsewhere in the world, wherever we have offices, for as long as 6 weeks in a year. This marries their own travel ambitions or a desire to spend time nearer to home with being able to do their role well.

 “Working With Cancer” was recently launched in the Philippines, as part of the wider global initiative to provide a supportive, and recovery-forward culture for people with cancer. How has the initiative been received thus far in Southeast Asia?

Jolene: When the Working With Cancer (WWC) pledge was first announced by Arthur Sadoun, we were very excited and supportive of this initiative. It has brought our teams closer together and gave us a chance to rally and provide individualised support to employees who have bravely shared their situations.

David: We recently announced a major milestone for Working with Cancer in the Philippines, partnering with Ayala Healthcare Holdings Inc (AC Health) and the People Management Association of the Philippines (PMAP) to drive the WWC Pledge forward.

“We’ll continue to promote Working With Cancer and drive advocacy across the SEA region so that more companies can be part of this movement.”

Last October, we were invited to present WWC during PMAP’s annual conference in Cebu, which was attended by more than 1,000 delegates representing the top corporations in the Philippines. We will now cascade playbooks and assets to PMAP for distribution to interested members and initiate follow-up calls and meetings, ensuring more companies in the Philippines commit to building a supportive workplace for those who are living with cancer.

What’s next for the Working With Cancer pledge in APAC – will you extend the initiative to other markets in SEA/Asia?

Jolene: We’ll continue to promote Working With Cancer and drive advocacy across the SEA region so that more companies can be part of this movement.

David: In 2024, we will be taking the Working with Cancer pledge in the Philippines a step further. We will continue to collaborate with AC Health on new opportunities while capitalizing on the recent opening of the Healthway Cancer Care Hospital in Arca South, the first of its kind in the Philippines.

Plans also include presentations to key business organisations like the Management Association of the Philippines (MAP), ensuring broader commitment to creating supportive workplaces. MAP is the largest business leadership organization of its kind that includes the Chairs and CEOs of the Top 1000 companies in the Philippines.

Will there be any online/offline marketing efforts for this?

David: We will spearhead a comprehensive marketing campaign in collaboration with the creative talents of Publicis Groupe Philippines, led by our Chief Creative Officer Raoul Panes. The campaign aims to raise awareness about cancer and the Working with Cancer (WWC) initiative, specifically targeting Filipino corporates, employees, and local government units.

Online efforts will include digital videos, social content, and online/offline PR. Our teams – Digitas, Prodigious, MSL, Leo Burnett, PJB, and Publicis Media – across Publicis Groupe Philippines are passionate about this cause and have volunteered their time in supporting it.

In terms of wellness, you’ve previously talked about the importance of leadership picking up on the first signs of issues and addressing them with either support or just giving due recognition to employees. Can you talk more about that?

Jolene: Employee well-being is a collective responsibility. To address issues effectively, we recognise the pivotal role leaders play. Training our leaders and managers to identify early signs of distress is crucial. We believe that leaders and managers, who interact daily with employees, should be the first line of support. This approach ensures consistent care and support, creating a workplace culture that prioritised the mental and emotional wellbeing of our colleagues.

“To address issues effectively, we recognise the pivotal role leaders play. Training our leaders and managers to identify early signs of distress is crucial. We believe that leaders and managers, who interact daily with employees, should be the first line of support.”

How does Publicis Groupe SEA ensure that employees feel comfortable expressing concerns or seeking help? And how do you measure the effectiveness of your wellness initiatives to promote well-being?

Jolene: In SEA, where discussing sensitive topics has traditionally been challenging, we’ve observed a positive shift in the past two years. We’ve taken proactive steps from awareness sessions with mental health experts to digitising mental well-being offerings. Our Employee Mental Wellness Programmes encompass various activities, from Wellbeing Leave to monthly initiatives during Mental Health Awareness Month such as Yoga classes, Walking Wednesdays, Comedy Sessions.

The increased number of employees seeking help indicates a growing trust in our support systems. Our efforts have paid off. We have seen an increased number of employees who are willing to step forward and share their concerns with us, trusting that we will be able to help them manage their own wellbeing.

What advice do you have for organizations seeking to improve their approach to employee wellness?

Jolene: The most important thing is to listen to your employees about what they need to help them improve their mental wellbeing. Starting from this year, we ran a SEA region-wide mental wellness survey in the hope of better understanding the response to our current programs and the needs of our employees. The findings allowed us to start building a framework to address employees’ concerns and needs more holistically in 2024 in line with our ‘People First Culture’.

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