For Mental Health Awareness Week we asked Catherine Pezarro a few questions about how she’s navigating mental health during this pandemic season.
Catherine Pezarro has worked in the communications profession for over 20 years in industries that include post-secondary education, consumer services, consulting, and high tech. She is currently Director, Workplace Strategy & Engagement in the VP, Human Resources portfolio at the University of British Columbia. She is also a past president of IABC/BC.
What do you enjoy most about being a professional communicator?
Catherine: It’s the opportunity to do a combination of things that I find interesting and rewarding: strategizing, planning, being creative, and collaborating. Working through the pandemic and also launching some major initiatives in our organization this last year has meant that my team and I have had to do all of these things a lot. I feel very fortunate to have a great communications team that is very smart, collaborative, and agile, and we’ve done some amazing work even though the circumstances have been quite challenging.
We’re in the midst of a prolonged crisis and as a result many peoples’ mental health is suffering. Can you share some of the ways the University is supporting your communities during this time?
Catherine: UBC is very layered and complex, so I can speak to what the area of the organization that I am part of (HR) is doing to support employees more broadly. Since the beginning of the pandemic, a variety of online workshops, webinars, and self-guided learning courses have been created to address topics such as self and community care and managing stress, mindfulness, wellbeing in the workplace, and understanding mental health. We are also a partner in a virtual “sports week” initiative for employees that runs this week, which provides the opportunity for people to participate in a variety of short activities to support mental and physical health while building camaraderie with a virtual team.
Do you have any tips on how to keep teams actively engaged and supported while working remotely?
Catherine: From my experience with my own team, I would say staying connected with the team as a group and with individual team members is key. When the pandemic started, we had daily team meetings. As remote work continued, we found a regular rhythm for team meetings that works for us, including incorporating an informal, fun “hangout” meeting on Friday afternoons. I also increased the frequency of one-on-one meetings to weekly and we’ve stuck with that. Of course there’s also ad-hoc meetings where we message and call each other on Zoom which is like the virtual version of dropping by someone’s desk. We’ve also started using Microsoft Teams as a way to collaborate and connect and that is working well for us.
What do you do to protect your own mental health?
Catherine: Many of my days are filled with back-to-back Zoom meetings and I’ve started booking 25 and 50 minute Zoom meetings instead of 30 and 60 minute meetings to give myself and those in my meetings a small break between meetings.I find that the shorter meeting team encourages everyone to be more focused and efficient and everyone seems to appreciate getting a little time back. Of course others still book meetings that create a back-to-back schedule, but even being able to create those little pockets of space between meetings in my day has been really helpful. The other thing I do is start the day off with some exercise. My husband and I do virtual yoga classes before work three times a week, and the other days I go for an early morning run, rain or shine!
Do you have any additional advice or recommendations on resources to support mental health for communicators?
Catherine: Communications can be demanding work, particularly in the time of crisis. We’ve been in the most prolonged crisis that I’ve ever experienced with the pandemic, and so from my perspective, seeing my work as a marathon rather than a sprint has been helpful. What I mean by that is that it’s important to pace yourself, and to take time away from work to unplug and recharge, especially on the weekend. I find that I come back to work on Monday feeling more refreshed and creative. I also try to go outside in the middle of the workday for a quick walk around the block to get some fresh air and exercise. Another thing that’s really important for mental health is getting enough sleep. My goal is between seven and eight hours a night. There’s more and more research available on the benefits of sleep. One book I found interesting on this topic is Why We Sleep by Matthew Walker.
Visit the IABC/BC Blog for more stories around mental health this week.