Virtual events are filled with information, networking, and challenges like Zoom fatigue, technical difficulties, and an occasional barking dog. These moments are memorable and engaging and can bring us joy, as we all sit far apart but long for connectivity. Connection is important and we are stronger together. That is why, despite our desire to be seated together in Austin, TX, the HERO Forum21 was held virtually from October 11th through the 15th, when meeting in person was still not feasible. The event was packed with thought-provoking speakers, panelists, and presenters, all of whom brought new ideas to the table. Our theme, Bouncing Back: Boosting Mental Resilience and Building Organizational Immunity, quickly transformed into a message of hope and planning for how we can now work to bounce forward. We are all working with one goal in mind, to overcome the trials of the ongoing syndemic of COVID-19, racial injustices, and health inequities that have plagued organizations and communities these past 2 years. As we near 2022, HERO has a renewed commitment to connect science to practice. Together with our members, we are stronger.

Forum21 opened with in-depth learning groups, discussing the new hybrid work model that many organizations are trying to accommodate, the challenges of recovering from this pandemic and addressing the culture of health and well-being that employees are seeking. We ended the first day of Forum with an opening ceremony that featured a special piano solo by HERO President & CEO, Karen Moseley and a musical treat by HERO Senior Fellow, Paul Terry, and Forum favorite Stefan Gingerich (and his kids).  These learning labs, deep dives, and breakout sessions started off the week of learning, which continues even now with access to the On-Demand library. The week continued with speakers like Patty Purpur deVries, MS, and Meag-gan O’Reilly, PhD, providing a real conversation that acted out a scene between a manager and an employee. Their reenactment touched on the current challenges that employees are facing in the hybrid workplace, as they return to work, as women, and as people of color. Our General Sessions provided more personalized stories that touched on mental resilience and overcoming challenges: Joe Kenner, MBA (Jerry Noyce Executive Health Champion Award recipient) talking about Greyston Bakery’s open hiring policy; Olympic bronze medal gymnasts Justin Miller and Wendy Bruce Martin overcoming the intensity of competition both physically and mentally as they worked through injuries and emotional stressors; and four incomparable women like Rachel Henke, PhD (2021 Mark Dundon Award recipient), HERO Senior Research Fellow Sara Johnson, PhD, Tsitsi Masvawure, PhD, and Juliette McClendon, PhD, all discussing research that shows what is, and what is not, working in workplace health promotion and wellness/well-being.

These are just a few examples of the more than 50+ speakers and panelists that presented information and led deep dives and breakout sessions with the HERO Forum21 attendees. This conference addressed the challenges and the “micro-losses” that everyone has faced during the COVID-19 pandemic. Whether it be your child’s preschool graduation, a family reunion, a work retreat, a dream vacation or seeing a grandparent – we have all lost moments due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Many others have tragically lost friends and loved ones to this disease. These losses, micro or macro, have taken a toll on us all. Bouncing back from these challenges and focusing on resiliency, both as individuals, and as organizations, will require long-term solutions to the immediate concerns of employees and employers as they move head-on into hybrid and fully remote workforces, maneuver different healthcare and wellness needs, and pursue diversity, equity, and inclusion like never before.

We had fun, played games, and learned together with panelists, question and answer sessions, and engaging network opportunities. We also found time to give out the HERO Health & Well-being Awards. Read our press release to meet all of the recipients.

We look forward to 2022, a year that can bring us forward and through these challenges. Our focus will remain on the hybrid workplace; Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion; and workplace well-being. HERO Forum22 will take place September 19-23, 2022, at the Omni Amelia Island Resort in Florida, where our theme will be, How the choices we have, Influence the choices we make: Diversity, inclusion and the Integration of Lifestyle Medicine and Population Health Promotion.

If you did not attend, and you still want to immerse yourself in the learning that Forum21 offered, you can purchase the On-Demand access and watch all the pre-recorded presentations as well as the live sessions that took place during the virtual conference. If you attended HERO Forum21, look for the email entitled: HEROForum21 On-Demand Library Update. This email will walk you through how to access the entire on-demand library that is free to you as part of your original registration.

©2021 Health Enhancement Research Organization 'HERO Health'

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