Claire Shrewbury: spearheading wellbeing in difficult times

1 September 2020

Our workplace culture affects how we conceive of breaks. It's for that reason that Claire Shrewsbury - Associate Director of Culture and Development in the Division of Human Resources - is taking the lead on a new wellbeing campaign to encourage staff to take leave.  

We caught up with Claire to discuss 2020 and what she does to relax: 


It's hard to fathom that the bushfires, the hailstorm and COVID-19 all happened this year.  

At the start of the year, I bought a couple of Funko Pop firefighters (see the cute picture to the left!) for a fundraising initiative.  When the Funko Pops arrived in June and we were already months into working from home, it was a stark reminder of the red summer sky in Canberra and the summer my kids didn’t get to have. I really hope we’re not in for more of the same next summer.  

Just when we thought the bushfires were coming to an end, we were (literally!) struck by the hailstorm. I vividly remember the storm tumbling closer to the windows at the HR Division. Whilst at first I was looking out in awe, I quickly had to move away as the hailstones became tennis ball-sized. When we had to seek refuge in the kitchen, I knew the damage was going to be serious. It seemed like the roof was going to cave in! The carnage was immense.  

Then COVID!  Could things get any more crazy?  We dropped everything and transitioned to remote working within two days.  We had it easy compared to the people whose research was totally disrupted - you can’t re-create your lab in your spare bedroom. I feel fortunate that I only needed a computer to keep working but having the kids home at the same time was pretty challenging. 

Through all of this disruption, I have been so proud of how ANU staff have rallied to support each other.  My own team have become closer through our daily online cuppas and trivia sessions.  We have become adept at new ways at communication, such as using Teams – a tool we had never touched before. But … I also think people are starting to feel the strain now.  You can see it in the Zoom calls and Teams meetings…people are tired. 

If you are feeling the strain of this year, I encourage you to take a break.  

Taking a break is really important to me because even having that date in the diary to look forward to gives me the energy to focus on the present. Then, when I’m on leave, I can give myself permission to turn off the Teams alerts, deactivate Outlook on my phone and do something completely different.   

I am really looking forward to taking a long break soon. 

When I’m on leave, I plan to do some baking – that’s my happy place!  I’ve also really been enjoying walking around the lake (clockwise, of course) and discovering new hills to climb. Mount Painter is one we discovered recently. That rated about a three on the kids complain-ometer.  So, I’d call that intermediate.  We like walking some of the shorter trails in the Arboretum too. 

The University is encouraging staff to think differently about taking leave.  We are probably all used to saving up our leave and taking longer blocks of time to go on big trips.  Since overseas travel isn’t possible, we’re encouraging people to be creative - take long weekends and shorter blocks of leave and discover other ways to spend your time. My colleague planned and took six Mondays off in a row and did a bunch of ‘life admin’ – dentist, optometrist – that kind of thing, as well as enjoying a sleep-in and the chance to start going back to the gym again.  The things we put off because we don’t have time usually.   

If we were to wait for the prefect time to take leave, it would probably never happen.  So, it’s good to chat to your team, if you’re part of one, and make an agreement that suits everyone – that way, nobody needs to be thinking about work while they’re away. 

This story is part of the Take a Break campaign. 2020 has been a particularly challenging year and has taken its toll on all of us in different ways.  

We encourage you to look after yourself by taking a break. If you need support creating a team or individual leave plan, please contact: