Natalie Roach, Ryerson University’s mental-health co-ordinator, discusses employee well-being, the ‘new normal’ and figure skating.

Q. What top challenges do you face in your role?

A. People feel very passionately about mental health and well-being, but it often exists as something “at the side of their desks.” That’s not an indictment; it’s that the daily operational requirements of people’s roles can make it difficult for them to focus on initiatives to advance well-being or to even engage with the topic at all. Rather than conceptualize mental health as something extra, I invite people to view it from an institutional lens. Mental-health well-being doesn’t need to be something extra; it can be more effective [when] woven into your way of doing your everyday work.

Read: Managing the employee mental-health tsunami

Q. What new programs or initiatives are you looking to implement?

A. We’re rolling out a virtual mental-health training program unique to Ryerson. It’s designed for students, staff and faculty to notice times of distress, engage someone with empathy in these times and understand how to make a good referral to a resource. We just completed the first session with over 50 people. We’re adding a few exciting things to the program, such as a shortened video for the website and a session specific to leaders and their concerns. Right now, people are really thirsty for information on how to respond to mental-health distress in the current context.

Q. What programs do you consider the most successful or that you’re most proud of?

A. We just rolled out Ryerson Recharge to address the new reality of burnout. Research shows people are meeting for less time, but they’re also meeting more frequently; people are having 10 or more meetings in 15-minute increments. In response, Ryerson implemented five best practices throughout the summer: meeting-free Fridays, an extra day of vacation, 50-minute meetings, no meetings after 6 p.m., no emails on evenings or weekends unless urgent and avoid sending emails after 7 p.m.

Q. What key mental-health issues do you expect to arise in 2021?

Career crib sheet

September 2015 — Present
Mental-health co-ordinator, Ryerson University
August 2014 —
August 2015

Campus mental-health facilitator, University of ManitobaJanuary 2013 —
July 2014

Student accommodation facilitator, Ryerson University

July 2011 —
October 2012
Intake administrator, YWCA Toronto

A. Burnout will be a key issue because people are navigating so many constantly shifting areas simultaneously in their lives. There’s a greater need for balancing, especially for parents, who’re operating at high stress levels. Responding to this will be a challenge for [human resources] in terms of committing to being flexible from the top down. When I speak with colleagues from different institutions, the subject turns to the importance of acknowledging that this time we’re living in isn’t normal. We’re operating in a pandemic so we’re constantly processing new information and adapting our behaviour accordingly and that’s very stressful. I think HR’s invitation is to commit to being flexible, agile and to acknowledge the reality of people’s circumstances.

Read: How Accenture is supporting working parents amid the coronavirus crisis

Q. What’s your favourite employee benefit and why?

A. I’m lucky enough to get massages. As an over-analyzer, it’s really nice to just do something that’s purely physical relaxation. A few well-being gurus I follow have said the body changes your mind faster than your mind can change your body. I don’t know why, but I get a sense of relaxation from a massage that I don’t get from more cerebral things.

Q. What do you like to do in your free time? What are your hobbies?

A. Ever since I was a child, I’ve loved to read. My girlfriend and I started a book club four years ago and we decided to only read books by authors who are women of colour. We would get together in the park over the summer and with the cold weather, we’re now meeting virtually. In the summer, I also did an Afrobeats dance class and I’ve recently taken up figure-skating lessons. I’m very bad at it and have fallen many times, but I recover with the help of anti-inflammatories.

Lauren Bailey is an associate editor at Benefits Canada.