Audrey’s 2020 wrap-up: highlights from a lowlight year

by | Jan 25, 2021 | News, Wellbeing

Like everyone, we spent 2020 madly ‘pivoting’ and ‘iso-creating’ our way to whatever definition of ‘normal’ we’re working with now ?

Turns out, necessity actually is the motherhood of invention – our problem solving brains had never worked harder – and our creative ideation processes went into overdrive.

2020 delivered a surprise boost to many people’s sense of Meaning & Purpose and Intellectual Engagement & Flow. But as we’re all learning firsthand, no amount of passion or purpose can sustain us indefinitely over the long haul.

As fatigue and exhaustion set in, our Vitality & Energy and our Resilience & Equanimity were depleted to ‘unprecedented’ levels. And as the last vestiges of Balance & Boundaries disappeared for many of us, so too did the quality of our Authentic Relationships, and even those who usually have the patience of a saint were getting ratty.

Months of prolonged stress arousal, uncertainty and unpredictability; working like the clappers and being glued to our screens ironically means we needed to ‘work hard’ to slow down.

However, after a lovely break, and a bit of time spent taking it easy on ourselves (meaning no computers/phones/emails), we’re feeling re-energised and positive about what’s possible in 2021.

We rediscovered the fine art of being constructively idle, mindfully recovering our energy and replenishing our souls – crucial stuff for innovation, leadership, emotional agility, collaboration, ethical decision-making, integrity, impulse control and risk management.

Our wellbeing is not a luxury or indulgence, it’s a necessity.

So to continue along that vein, we wanted to capture some of our more positive experiences amid all the chaos, pressure and worry we shared in 2020, and say some special thank-yous.


How we got through 2020

Early on, when everything was up in the air and business fell off a cliff, we made the decision to maintain only one certainty – our core values:

  • Always put health before wealth (for self and others)
    We spent months researching, writing and promoting free Leading for Wellbeing through Covid resources. We donated our largest ever number of surveys and reports free of charge and gave more discounts than ever before. For months, our revenues were significantly down but we held our nerve, anticipating (correctly, phew!) that demand would bounce back after the initial ‘quick fix band-aids’ had run their course.
  • Be generous (to self, colleagues, clients and community)
    If in doubt, we try to err on the side of kindness. Not always compatible with short-term commercial acumen but in the long-run, it’s good to be able to look at yourself in the mirror without reproach.
  • Be fair (to one another, clients and community)
    Timeframes are usually quick, tech gremlins abound, humans’ wellbeing is at stake and oftentimes this means pressure can build. Last year there were also lots of ‘work arounds’ and new, first time experiences. S**t happens! 2020 was a bootcamp for tolerance and compassion.
  • Lead with quality (professionalism and rigour in all that we say and do)
    There might have been an employee wellbeing over-communication in 2020 (another wellbeing seminar anyone?) but I don’t think there’s been an over-correction. Beyond good intentions, good corporate messaging, good webinars, check-ins at team meetings and nice care packages etc, a ‘good’ wellbeing response will drive behaviour and cultural transformation. In an increasingly crowded space, we’re still striving to promote the foundation pieces of an effective wellbeing strategy:
    1. accurate measurement of wellbeing and detailed needs analysis and;
    2. leader-led role-modelling.

  • Sometimes, it feels a bit lonely but slowly as people reach saturation on the easier ‘quick fixes’ (that don’t fix) they are looking for a more cohesive solution.

And stay focused on our five pillars:

  1. Evidence-based digital wellbeing solutions – we’ve designed and launched a range of new cost-effective eLearning development options for GLWS
  2. Grow and connect the GLWS community – we’re now a group of 400+ professionals from all corners of the globe. Many went quiet during Covid, and we reached out with the offer to re-do their own GLWS surveys FOC to do a self-check-in, to help ensure we are practising what we preach as a community; and we also developed our GLWS Refresher accreditation, also free of charge.
  3. Provide great service – apart from me, did you know that the GLWS global head office comprises only 4 part time working mums? These amazing women work remotely (always have) supporting clients morning, noon and (sometimes) night to keep the GLWS wheels turning. Behind the scenes Firefish, The Marketing Project and FormationSystems combine to form our virtual leadership team – I’m very grateful to them all, and strongly recommend their services.
  4. Streamline processes – we’ve been doing a lot of ‘mending our nets’ during the worst of the pandemic storm. We’ve improved our online GLWS ordering system, introduced a new Impact & Evaluation option, converted most of our inhouse development tools to make them accessible to everyone through our eShop, embraced ecommerce, built a new eLearning system, updated our items in the GLWS survey to reflect Covid context.
  5. Research focus – we’re practitioners not academics, but we sit on so much data we feel an obligation to keep scouring it periodically for new insights and shifts. We were fortunate last year to be able to analyse a group of 100 professionals who completed the GLWS in Feb/March (pre-lockdown) and compare the data to their redone profile later in the year after effects of Covid kicked in. We’ve got one of the only longitudinal studies with actual data showing the impact of Covid on employed adults, and we are collaborating with a team of data analytic experts to reveal all very soon.

In news hot off the press, we’ve also just heard that a paper ‘Relationship between Mindful Leadership behaviours and Employee Wellbeing’ has been accepted for the 7th International Positive Psychology Association World Congress 2021 (IPPA WC 2021) to be held virtually from July 15 – 17, 2021.

Amazing – who would have thought that all this stuff org psychs teach about values and goals actually works? ? 2020 was the strangest, hardest and most uncertain of my professional life. It’s also been the one where gratitude, perspective, and the importance of tolerance and compassion have hit between the eyes. I want to thank everyone who has supported us along the way – you’ll see some special callouts below. If you have a moment to scroll through, we’d be proud to celebrate with you.


‘Being Human’ Podcast

In case you missed it, I ‘shot the breeze’ on all things wellbeing and leadership in a podcast with Mark Le Busque in October of 2020 – free-ranging, unscripted and totally uncensored. Hear how growing up in a house with an actual gaol and in a school with only 11 pupils has shaped the woman I am today and influenced my wellbeing philosophy.

You can listen to the full 45-min chat here. It prompted a number of people to get in touch saying it was ‘just the right message at just the right time’.


‘Calm in Chaos’ Webinar & ‘GLWS Reach Wellbeing’ series

In early 2020, Megumi Miki of Quietly Powerful fame invited me (in my capacity as a leadership wellbeing researcher, advisor and ‘expert’) to take part in her wildly popular Calm in (Coronavirus) Chaos live webinar series.

Each week, Megumi creates the space to step back and experiment with different ways to access our inner calm, creativity and resourcefulness.

It’s a subscription service, but recently Megumi shared the best insights across the whole series of 18 guests in a free episode available here.

In our conversation, Megumi drew out some of my best insights on how leaders can care for their own and others’ wellbeing during these extraordinary times.

Here’s my deck for the session – it provides a good snapshot into the new online GLWS Reach Wellbeing development program that has been a major achievement for the team. Thanks to the whole GLWS team for their tolerance and patience as I ‘iterated’ (ahem, changed my mind) but especially to Margo Kan, Bec Bennett, Kate Oliver, Neil Cowieson and Christine Tiyur.


GLWS in the Australian Financial Review

You might already have caught Natasha Boddy’s provocative feature piece, Coronavirus Australia: Bosses are burning out. Here’s why,” where a major study of 3300 managers’ and leaders’ GLWS profiles featured strongly. In case the picture of Donald Trump right next to mine compelled you to quickly flick past before reading, I was quoted, along with Select Wellness talking about the reality of what happens when leaders are barely functioning from a health and wellbeing perspective.

In a world where…

  • 60% of executives always or usually feel stressed and anxious, “drowning” in the overload and frustration caused by inefficient admin/red-tape requirements
  • 75% feel they are pulled in too many different directions
  •  80%+ feel at risk of burnout

…we should not be surprised by soaring human and productivity costs.

It’s nothing short of a crisis, but perhaps one of the upsides of COVID for leaders has been that it’s served as an awakening, leading many to question their relationship with their jobs.

Bosses are well aware of their obligations for staff wellbeing, but many are feeling quite unsupported themselves, with significant flow-on effects for talent retention, working practices and talent pipelines of the future.

We are now seeing a gradual but clear shift from simply talking about wellbeing and offering what is perceived by many as ‘tick-a-box’ or ‘butt-covering’ support towards providing more personal, meaningful, substantial and engaging options.



It was quite the year for masterclasses.

While client confidentiality dictates these mostly remain private, there have been a couple in the public arena I’m able to share.


1. Deakin University

Deakin University has been setting progressive new standards for management education, recognising the critical impact of wellbeing for an organisation’s performance and the role of leaders as change agents. Deakin engaged Wellness Designs as their partner, and as a long time faculty member and adviser to Wellness Designs, I didn’t need to be asked twice to be a guest lecturer! Katrina Walton and I had a great time running a 2.5-hour intensive class with the current MBA cohort of experienced and emerging business leaders.

Cultivating a wellbeing focused culture requires strategic leadership. You must know how to identify, analyse and mitigate wellbeing risks, and have a proactive results-oriented wellbeing strategy aligned to business goals. In the first part of the masterclass, I emphasised the importance of prioritising personal wellbeing to maintain and sustain effective leadership.

Completing the full GLWS survey was not an option given various constraints, but there was a lot of benefit from having the students complete a special edition self-assessment using the GLWS Framework to reflect on their own wellbeing.

The remainder of the masterclass was focused on helping students build their wellbeing capabilities as leaders. We conducted self-evaluations against a series of KPIs, completion of their Leadership Wellbeing Shadow tool and a Leadership Wellbeing Action plan.

You can book in for the 2021 MasterClass here and if you are interested in using any of these training tools, they are available without accreditation requirements. Please contact



The European Association of Work and Organizational Psychology (EAWOP) is the leading European association when it comes to evidence-based insights regarding people, work and organization. Annually, they run a highly acclaimed Worklab which is open only to experienced practitioner psychologists who are committed to new ways of working and interested in learning more about the changing workplace.

It was an honour to be one of only two invited speakers at 2020’s EAWOP event focussed on ‘Working well remotely: Impact, productivity and wellbeing’.


Homeward Bound

We have been delighted to work in close partnership and as sponsors of the groundbreaking leadership program Homeward Bound.

It’s been a fruitful relationship – more than 30 practitioner coaches have graduated with honours from our new GLWS Level 1 accreditation eLearning course. We’re now seeing the GLWS being rolled out to past Homeward Bound alumni courtesy of our generous coaches who have donated their time for free in the interests of promoting senior scientists into leadership positions where they can have the most impact.

The women forming part of the 20/21 cohort for the Antarctic leadership expedition (which sadly had to go virtual) will receive free GLWS surveys and reports to continue their development.

Homeward Bound CEO Fabian Dattner has been effusive about including GLWS as “a very brilliant diagnostic” and “a uniquely holistic, evidenced based set of online, virtual and personal wellbeing solutions” which take “very little time” and will be rolled out to all current and future participants.

Why now? Because it has become the single most significant topic for leaders and their teams, and in 2021 you need to understand what wellness entails and how to build it for yourself, for teams and as part of the culture you lead.

Faby doesn’t beat about the bush: “If you have anything to do with the management of the planet as our home–as you all do–the relative urgency of building this [wellbeing] skill is significantly higher still.”


GLWS coming soon to a store near you!

Over the coming months, we will be bringing news of how some of Australia’s largest retailers have been using GLWS strategically with their leaders to drive an increased focus on improvement on employee wellbeing, as a major part of their ‘‘leader-led’ employee wellbeing strategy. Martine Beaumont, founder and co-CEO of Select Wellness says some of the biggest pressures facing leaders are exhaustion, overscheduled diaries, back-to-back virtual meetings and the struggle to motivate exhausted teams. She puts the high number of executives who are at risk of burnout down as a symptom of what I call the “21st-century human pressure cooker”. Multiple projects have underscored so clearly that when leaders are burning out and sacrificing their wellbeing in the pursuit of work goals, although their intent is admirable, it ultimately becomes a BIG problem in terms of how they show up for other people. It’s the contagion effect: when the boss is tired, grumpy and not loving work, you can bet staff will also be suffering.


Sydney Metro

In the spirit of “who cares for the carers?”, Louise Howard, head of health and safety at Sydney Metro and one of 2020’s BOSS Young Executives is concerned about the unintended consequences that the shift to remote work has had for many leaders. We will soon share in its full glory how Sydney Metro has tackled these issues, and know they are winning (because they have collected feedback and measured outcomes), with the help of Select and GLWS.

Thank you again for your support and belief in us throughout what was an incredibly tough year. We can already see that the need to prioritise wellbeing is not going anywhere in 2021. We look forward to seeing and speaking with you all again very soon!

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