BY: Ryan Picarella // Executive Director • WELCOA
The beginning of the year is always a time to pause and reflect. The last several years have brought uncertainty and, in many cases, some level of pain and suffering. We have been challenged in new ways, personally and professionally, and the impact of the world’s happenings have reverberated through us all. Whether it be challenges in the workplace, a natural disaster, war, civil unrest, or a virus, there has been no shortage of difficult situations to navigate. This has left many of us tired, stretched, burned out, or even worse. But in challenging times, we are also faced with new opportunities and a chance to rewrite the status quo. The need to focus on mental health for all has never been greater. As well-being continues to be a priority for all organizations, many are still missing the mark. This is where we come in—It’s time to change the world together.
Without question, the world is evolving faster than ever, and workplaces are struggling to keep up with the new demands. As quickly as workers were forced to stay home, many are now being called back to the office. While none of this is easy to navigate, there are ways for organizations to create the conditions for change and support their employees in this constant evolution that has become our new reality.
Fear and uncertainty are at the root of most of our challenges, and they often lead to a vicious cycle that can include detachment, disengagement, job resignations, and poor lifestyle choices. As humans, we strive for psychological safety, belonging, equity, and the ability to grow and learn. These are not easy concepts for most wellness or HR practitioners to change overnight, but with thoughtful and intentional action, the employee experience can be enhanced to improve not just the individual’s well-being, but also elevate the organization’s culture, thus creating a virtuous cycle of improved health and wellness for all.
As we map out our intentions and strategic plans for the new year, I would encourage us all to remember what matters to our heads and hearts and recognize that we all can influence change. I often use the analogy of ripples in the water—We can’t underestimate the impact that one pebble or one act of kindness can have. All of us have the ability to manifest a better life for ourselves and those we serve.
2024 will be a hallmark year for the wellness industry. Change is on the horizon, and it’s going to be more exciting than ever. I can’t wait to share more in the coming weeks and months.
To begin, I invite all of you to join me in our deliberate and unwavering commitment to wellness for all. Let’s commit to a new year without reservation, with dedication to our cause staying intact, and with leaning into the “what-could-be’s.” It is going to take all of us working together for our beloved field to evolve. Let’s not just build bridges—Let’s build spaceships that provide new pathways to health, dive deep in the oceans to explore a new world together, and support a community that grows stronger by the day. This is a time of learning and leaning into the uncomfortable, knowing you have a friend by your side.
Following are my reflections of 2023 and my suggestions for focus in 2024. It is a quick list of ideas (or mantras) to make 2024 our best yet. It’s time for the ripple to be a wave—a wave that moves us all into wellness in the new year:
- Belonging is key. We need to create conditions in the workplace that are rooted in equity and belonging. While this is no simple task, there are some basics that should be considered. How are new employees onboarded? How are we intentionally not just focusing on inclusion, but on belonging as well? Just a seat at the table isn’t enough. We must ensure that employees feel safe to share their voice and affirm that they are heard.
- Identify an ally. We are better together, both in work and in life. Spend some time forging relationships with people who will support you on your wellness journey. This could be an accountability partner, a mentor, a colleague, or a neighbor. I would encourage all of us to think about the relationships in our lives and how we can better utilize leaning on others for their guidance and support.
- Embrace change. Change is never easy, especially when it’s not our choice. One thing we have all learned over the last couple of years is that change is inevitable. Learning to adapt to new systems, processes, and work structures is now the norm. Flexibility is the key to success and to continuing to focus on a growth mindset.
- Find footing in uncertainty. This is a tough one. The unknown is never easy and often causes anxiety and fear. I often struggle with the absence of information, but what I have found to help is focusing on creativity. Creativity comes in many forms such as cooking, art, gardening, knitting—you name it. Flexing our creative muscles can bring release and a sense of calm when life gets overwhelming. Take some time out of your day and allow yourself to dream, connect, and be creative.
- Sleep. Addressing sleep brings us back to the basics, but the basics matter, and we often underestimate the power of a good night’s sleep. Sleep is our way to recharge and refresh. Without that, we can never be the best expression of ourselves. Start by creating a space that is conducive to sleep and staying on a routine to ensure you get a good night’s rest. For more information on sleep hygiene, there are many great resources out there—WELCOA has several that address ways to get a better night’s sleep.
- Collaboration and connection are the future. This is a biggie for me. Polarization and division are the enemies of collaboration. We all share a common goal: to make the world a better place through healthier and happier people. So, let’s do that together! Collaboration is a strength of mine, and I always seek out people with similar passions and goals—not necessarily like-minded, but with shared goals. Know your strengths and weaknesses, and surround yourself with people who complement you. I also look for shared connections with those on a similar path and reach out. This may be through LinkedIn, an email introduction, or orchestrating a meeting within your organization that includes all departments so that you can find a shared way to collaborate on a common goal. Bringing people together can help make your dreams a reality.
- Be the example. Or sometimes I say, “Be the guinea pig.” We must walk the talk, but that’s not to say we must be perfect all the time. In fact, it’s better not to be. Have some french fries, eat a cheeseburger, and be human, but don’t forget that we need to be the models. I always encourage wellness practitioners to try their programs, participate in wellness events, and encourage people along the way.
- Get curious. This is the fun part! Get curious to learn something new. Read a new book, watch a YouTube video, or apprentice someone you admire. Our curiosity challenges us to think outside the box and question the status quo. This skill always reminds me of my two twin girls who teach me new things every day. Their constant curiosity and questioning are critical to their learning journey, and while it might drive me nuts at times, I appreciate the drive to know and understand more. Let’s all do the same. And if anyone needs a lesson, I am happy to give you one of my seven-year-olds for the day—This concept will then become very clear and fun!
- Nature is the best medicine. This is tried-and-true. As my good friend, Mark Campbell, always says, “You have to get your vitamin N at least 20 minutes a day.” Nature is our healer, and the more time we can connect with her, the better. Simply looking at scenery, listening to nature’s sounds, or feeling the earth beneath your feet can bring healing and inspiration. It’s a reminder to slow down and feel the natural harmony that exists. It’s a reminder that everything is perfect—even us.
- Become unrecognizable to yourself. I’d like to give a special shout-out to Andrew Sykes for teaching me this last, but certainly not least, concept. My wish for you is that you look back on yourself in a month, or even a year, and say, “Who was that person?” because you progressed so immensely. Of course, this could go the other way, so let’s set the conditions for our life that give us best chance of being our best self and the change we want to see in the world. Let’s dream big and be sure that with each action and intention, we feel the ripples changing the world.
2024 will be a big year for wellness. I look forward to forging new and exciting opportunities and elevating our beloved industry together.
ABOUT THE CONTRIBUTOR
Ryan Picarella // Executive Director • WELCOA