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The 2021 Wellbeing Wishlist: Part 1

Well, 2021 is finally here. Over the past 365+ days, HR has been challenged by unprecedented change and forced to pivot quickly to prioritise the safety and wellbeing of their people. We’ve seen incredible stories of how HR leaders are engaging employees throughout COVID-19, but what about the HR heroes leading the charge? How are they staying engaged and motivated through the most trying of times?

We asked several HR and People leaders for advice as they enter 2021 to reflect on how they’ll be taking care of themselves and their people to stay inspired and connected as they continue to climb mountains we’ve never seen before. From serious to amusing, we captured the wellbeing wisdom from across the globe. 

We spoke with members of our own People Team at Reward Gateway, including:

  • Robert Hicks, Group HR Director
  • Catrin Lewis, Head of Global Engagement and Internal Communications
  • Carla Sutherland, HR Business Partner
  • Didi Kirova, Head of Learning and Development

Here’s a look at what the team had to say:

What are some of the best things you’ve learned about yourself and/or your people through 2020? 

hicks-circle-headshotRobert Hicks: For me - that I can run faster than I thought I ever could. New personal bests in 1k, 1 mile, 5k, 10k, 10 miles and half marathon. And that I really do like being around people and like a good aspect of socialising in my life!

For my team - that they each have even more bespoke needs of support, and that helps a lot, but that in the absence of 'same space' connection you really have to double down on your internal communications. And that when I do that they perform even better during a pandemic than before.

Learn more about how to improve connections during the pandemic »

cat-circle-headshotCatrin Lewis: No matter where we are geographically, humans have the same values and needs. I have friends all across the globe, from USA to Australia, from Ethiopia to Germany, Brazil to Democratic Republic of Congo, I have spoken to people all across the globe. There may be borders between us but we are all in this together. I’ve learned that I can live with a lot less. I’ve learned patience. I’ve learned to appreciate the quiet times. I’ve had to become a better listener and understand that there may be more than meets the eye.

We are more capable, flexible and adaptable than we gave ourselves credit for.

carla-circle-headshotCarla Sutherland: I always thought of myself as a people person but realised I love being around people even more so during quarantine. I have a few artistic capabilities that I channeled during 2020 and excited to continue doing so.  

We can only control the controllable. Here at RG, we did a great job communicating with the information we had and being as transparent as possible. People are like chameleons, they adapted to a different situation and did so like rockstars. 

It’s interesting that in such a time of change, you can feel so connected to a team since you’re all going through the same situation at the same time.

didi-circle-headshot-purpleDidi Kirova: 2020 was a tough year. I had to pull on my strengths a lot more, and some of my weaknesses became even more obvious. I had to work harder to achieve my goals, and I felt less confident in my abilities. Nevertheless, I’m more proud of myself for achieving what I did than I’ve been before, because the unusual circumstances made for a year of discomfort, and therefore, a year of growth, both personal and professional. And this wasn’t just for me. 

Growth was everywhere. It was enough to just look at people and have a quick conversation, or read boom!, our employee engagement platform, and the different blogs being published there, to find out how much people have done and accomplished in such unusual times. 

Everyone seemed to continue doing their job, and not just doing it, but doing it better, and pushing those boundaries further.

What became even more obvious is how much people at Reward Gateway really live by our value of We Are Human. Everywhere you look, you see true care for each individual, asking 'How are you?' started having a deeper meaning, and with every conversation, we offered each other support and a bit of a laugh over the day-to-day, and kids interrupting our meetings, new quirks and the few extra pounds, home renovations, and really just life happening in the background of our calls and meetings.

Are there any positive initiatives or habits you’ve introduced for yourself or your team that you would definitely like to continue into 2021? 

hicks-circle-headshotRobert Hicks: For wellbeing, the running side, as I said above, I am 100% a morning runner, I also enjoyed evening walks when it was the summer, as that was nice. I really appreciate the green spaces I live near. For skill, I have become an okay baker.

Crumpets, bread, flatbreads, and anything else with flour really. I have really found this to be great fun. The last thing I did was steam puddings, which were amazing and really simple.

And for communicating I have tried to make it different for each person. Some calls, some texts, some video, and to see what they prefer and need really. The best way to communicate is to adapt to what is best for the other person.

cat-circle-headshotCatrin Lewis: I joined a virtual run club and have been out every week with them during lockdown. I absolutely love it.

I pop in my headphones, tune into the fitness instructor who gives us audio guidance on warm up, technique and cadence and lost myself in an hour of mindfulness through movement. 

I can really feel the difference afterwards. I am more productive, focussed and feel a lot more positive in general. I feel like running is medicine for the soul. 

Connecting remote employees for our virtual team-building event provided a more inclusive, environmentally friendly and budget-pleasing experience for all. We introduced Employee Network groups which have allowed our employees to connect, learn and build relationships with each other on other positive things outside of the day to day role. I have a very bright yellow dress which I would always wear to brighten my team meeting day and I know that the pop of colour really made my colleague Carla very happy.

carla-circle-headshotCarla Sutherland: I worked on changing my mindset. While through lockdown, it was so easy to think about all the negative that this has caused which would have led to a dark hole. Instead, I focussed on the positive that the lockdown has created and it made me very happy and thankful. I’ve created some memories that I normally wouldn’t have done and for that I am excited to continue my positive mindset through 2021.

While meeting with managers, I decreased the amount of people per meeting so it was easier to chat and listen to ideas being shared. From a wider team perspective, we tried to keep Zoom meetings fun and not have it just be 'another' zoom call.

Learn more about how companies around the world are supporting their employees  through the pandemic »

didi-circle-headshot-purpleDidi Kirova: Working full-time and being a mom didn’t leave much time for me to learn a new skill or pick up a new hobby, but I did make small adjustments and changes to support my wellbeing, and therefore my team’s wellbeing too by setting an example and showing that work is important, but family and wellbeing come first (and, of course, taking care of self and family naturally leads to a more focussed and more productive time at work).


  1. I start my days earlier now, and get more done, leaving time at the end of the day for me and my 2 year old to enjoy together, and sometimes split my work day so I can take him to the park for a few hours.
  2. I started using Clockwise calendar assistant to help me organise my days better, and started grouping meetings around specific times, leaving more focus time between to get things done.
  3. Although I didn’t learn how to cook, I did improve on making healthier food choices when I shop, and preparing more and healthier food at home. I also learned to have healthy snacks handy to help keep away from the fridge. It takes a world pandemic to teach some of us the basics of healthy living.
  4. My hiking boots are still getting good use - although I spend much of my time indoors due to another lockdown, I do get outside every day for a walk/hike, and for a longer hike whenever I can. My son’s started really enjoying our hikes, and I think I’ve planted the passion for outdoors in him, which gives me great joy and years of hikes together to look forward to.

What are you most excited about for 2021? 

hicks-circle-headshotRobert Hicks: So much. Travelling, seeing friends, seeing colleagues, work projects, the impact of tech, the vaccine, seeing family more, gigs, festivals, football matches, the pub, nice restaurants, more running, some sunshine, maybe some skiing, a weekend break, airports, trains, planes and automobiles to holiday destinations.

I think I am most excited for everyone finding their new personal work and life equilibrium. We need to embrace what 2020 gave us, and to ensure that the positives remain.

cat-circle-headshotCatrin Lewis: Blending the learnings of 2020 with the world where we can connect in a physical space.

I am excited for a world where we no longer take our privileges for granted and we come into 2021 with so much appreciation for our friends and loved ones.

Working for a tech company, I’ve seen the speed at which innovation has increased over the last decade. I never thought I’d see that same logic applied to medicine. When all blockers and barriers to innovation are removed, financial investment, scarce resources and budget limitations, the results of what we can achieve are absolutely astounding. 

At Reward Gateway, our engineers delivered recognition to frontline workers on a scale we’d never seen before. On the news we saw the Nightingale Hospitals – 4,000 COVID-19 patient beds set up with supporting technology within a week. Unheard of.

Now, the vaccine will be a global example to inspire a generation to come of what’s possible when the world needs a hero. I feel this is a story we will tell for years to come. How the technology and medical world truly pushed its boundaries for a better world beyond 2020. I’m excited to watch that story unfold.

carla-circle-headshotCarla Sutherland: Being with my colleagues again in the office and able to appreciate all of the things from being together in an office transpires. From a personal perspective, travelling, seeing friends, being able to sit close to friends on the beach, sitting at a pub enjoying good food, attending sporting events and/or concerts and finally enjoying a long meal with friends not on a 90-minute limit.

didi-circle-headshot-purpleDidi Kirova: In a short period of time, humanity developed not only vaccines that would normally take much longer, but also digital and communication skills that’ll take us to a new level of connection, interaction, and collaboration. This will inevitably affect our work lives and work spaces to cater for more flexible than ever arrangements. 

At the same time, work’s never felt more personal than in the last 10 months, and allowing colleagues and others into our homes has created an environment that's more collaborative and more empowering when we're able to bring our whole selves to work. 

Children have now truly learned the importance of work, and experienced being 'at work' with their parents working from home, and children carrying new study responsibilities on their own. Or experienced the urge to develop new skills or grow while out of work in order to have better opportunities once the pandemic is over. This is a great life example for them to teach them how during difficult times, humans are capable of pulling all their strengths to build resilience and move faster and with more focus.

While we may not be at the end of the hard journey that 2020 brought us, it’s critically important to take care of yourselves while you take care of others. Stay tuned for more ideas and advice from our community in our next blog post.

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Chloe Thompson

Chloe is the Head of Global Content Strategy and Thought Leadership at Reward Gateway. She has a strong penchant for great food, better wine (especially if it sits alongside a cheese plate) and dancing around her kitchen to musical theatre tunes.

Head of Global Content Strategy and Thought Leadership

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