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Google Addresses Worker Psychological Well being Issues With Resilience Coaching Movies

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Lauren Whitt, Google's head of resilience, installed a series of tutorials and video content for Google employees who are burned out while managing the pandemic.

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During the coronavirus pandemic, Google has emphasized employee health, created long-term remote work schedules, and offered regular days off known as "reset" days. Even that was not enough to deal with the psychological stress caused by the virus.

"Covid-19 is something that we did not expect or openly prepared based on a mental ability approach," said Lauren Whitt, whose title is Wellness Manager and Resilience Executive at Google. She does a great job: "She helps Googlers master the moment they are in today."

Whitt told CNBC in an interview that the company is relying on "resilience training," a phrase usually reserved for professional athletes and combatants, to find strategies to help Google's 130,000+ employees cope with the ongoing crisis.

The company has expanded existing programs and created short weekly instructional videos of athletes, coaches and psychologists that employees watch more often.

Ruth Porat, Alphabet's chief financial officer who organized the early crisis response effort, said last week that the company has recovered from a decline in employee productivity. Her main concern today is her spiritual well-being due to the isolation and intensity of recent events.

"One of the things we are very concerned about is the wellness measures," Porat said at the New York Times' DealBook conference. "What could we do to alleviate the stress of working during a pandemic?"

For investors, Alphabet continues to evolve. The stock is trading near a record high of 32% this year, compared to the S&P 500's 12% gain. However, the company's vocal workforce has not been silent about the surrounding fighting, especially at a time when it is not Case is access to the usual facilities on campus.

Google vs. S&P 500 this year

Shortly after the Covid-19 outbreak, the nation faced another crisis after police killed George Floyd in Minnesota, which was taped and sparked nationwide protests. The incident forced tech companies, including Google, to face their own issues around diversity and the treatment of minorities.

"The summer sparked a lot of discussion about social unrest and racial justice," Whitt said. "It's very real and a very important part of our 2020 conversation."

She said that despite the resources of the support groups and staff, "Googlers in particular are encouraged to have conversations and be authentic with who they are and what they feel."

As the discussions got heated, Google urged employees to take a more active role in moderating internal message boards.

"The tensions persist especially for our Black + community with Black Lives Matter and our Asian Googlers with coronavirus and China / Hong Kong," said the internal moderation team of Google in a blog post in September. "All of this is compounded by the added stress of working from home, social isolation, and caregiver responsibility – to name a few."

Meanwhile, Google made it clear that there would be no return to normal anytime soon.

In July, Google became the first major company to announce that it would give employees the option to work from home until mid-2021. This is an extension of the previous schedule. Soon afterwards, reset days were offered so that employees could regularly take their time to pull out the power plug.

"In July and August we realized this was not going to go away and we started shifting the conversation to establishing new routines, changing or changing the environment they work in, and looking to new skills, habits and routines focus, "said Whitt.

Little habits

The company's resilience team, which already had programs such as counseling and employee resource groups in place, wanted to do more for mental wellbeing. But it faced a challenge. Employees had been stuck in front of their screens for too many hours and now they were offered additional videos to watch.

Whitt's group opted for a series of digital clips called "Meet the Moment". Each video is five or six minutes long and focuses on a specific topic like sleep, breathing, parenting, and avoiding anxiety. Whitt said she has worked with experts and performance coaches from professional soccer, basketball and baseball leagues, as well as college and Olympic athletes, to create content for resilience training and skill development.

"Breathing and sleep video content is one of the most sensible ways to rest and recover, as well as a temporary detachment throughout the day," said Whitt. She added that another popular video was about "facing times of uncertainty with authenticity and humility".

The main characters in the resilience training videos are people who have experienced stressful situations like a big game, fight or other stress.

"Resilience is a skill that can be built, practiced and cultivated," says Google in its instructions on digital resilience for employees.

Sundar Pichai, CEO of Alphabet Inc., gestures on Monday, January 20, 2020, during a discussion on artificial intelligence at the European business think tank Bruegel in Brussels, Belgium. Pichai called on the US and the European Union to coordinate regulatory approaches for artificial intelligence, the direction of which is described as critical.

Geert Vanden Wijngaert | Bloomberg | Getty Images

In less than a month, 30,000 Google employees viewed the videos. The company has also hosted 150 virtual events around the world to promote mental health awareness and "prioritize wellbeing," according to Whitt. Contractors and contract workers, who make up around half of Google's total workforce, have access to some but not all of the mental health and wellbeing resources for Covid-19, the company said.

According to Whitt, Google used robotic cameras developed by third parties to produce the videos to comply with Covid-19 precautions. Filming took place in Google's Atlanta and Boulder, Colorado offices while the directors and audiovisual team connected virtually.

As part of employee training, the company also expanded some existing activities it launched shortly before the pandemic called "TEA Check-Ins," an acronym for thought, energy and attention. They are supposed to manage common symptoms of burnout and managers are encouraged to say, "Let's have a drink of TEA" to encourage employees to be proactive.

"It gave people a chance to report to 'Where are you right now?'" Whitt said. "Are you distracted? Do you need a nap? Pushups?"

Google developed a variant aimed at meeting the mental needs of employees who were parents and caregivers. The video content includes tutorials on how to focus on things like time management and housework when people are distracted.

Parents have the added challenge: "Making the transition to kids with a day job at home as they navigate what it's like to physically distance yourself from the people you care about," Whitt said. The company also shared tips on building a productive workspace in the kitchen.

To keep things as easy and fun as possible, the company offered virtual classes on dancing, cooking, and a virtual "yoga with your dog" event. The videos feature many of the same instructors and consultants who have been teaching on-site at Google's offices.

The staff have also set up virtual orchestras and comedy shows.

"We wanted to keep connecting people to activities, art and music – all of which were part of our culture when they were in the office," said Whitt.

CLOCK: Suffer in silence

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Katherine Clark