How Google Is Training Its People Managers to Make Team Member Mental Health a Priority

Leading companies, like Google, are starting to realise the value in upskilling their people managers with training to support the mental health of staff they manage. This includes training people in Mental Health First Aid, on learning how to have difficult conversations or how to spot signs and symptoms when someone you manage may be suffering from a mental health problem. And with the impacts if COVID-19 making more workers vulnerable to mental health problems, it’s a more important time than ever for employers to invest in ensuring their managers are equipped with the skills to support not only their teams–but to also look after themselves.

I shared a conversation with Yu-lin Gardner, Benefits Program Manager at Google who gave insights into the progressive ways the global employer is approaching mental health training and support for people managers and what that’s shifted to look like through the COVID-19 pandemic.

What is Google’s approach to ensuring the mental health and wellbeing of staff is supported as well as possible, nationally and globally?

Google offers industry-leading benefits to take care of the diverse needs of Googlers in and outside work. We all need to care for our mental health, just as we do our physical health. For Googlers, this might mean access to therapy, building resilience, or learning how to manage stress.

Mental health and wellbeing is such an important topic and many employers, Google included, are thinking beyond benefits to ensure that their employees have the support they need. At Google, we have many resources available to Googlers and their families. These resources include innovative training, peer-to-peer programmes and grassroots communities to help Googlers be happy and healthy in their personal or professional lives.

How does Google go about upskilling or training its managers to support team member mental health and wellbeing?

At Google, we have a number of grassroots organisations dedicated to de-stigmatizing mental health in the workplace and fostering a more open, connected Google through allyship, peer support, and training. For instance, our Blue Dot group provides a listener network, allowing Googlers to connect with someone live or via video conference should they need to talk. The topic and how much they disclose is up to them.

Over the past year, Googlers have participated in resilience training, led by our well-being and mental health teams. The course teaches Googlers how to counter negative thoughts, identify daily habits that drain energy, and discover new ways to invest in physical and mental recovery.

Google managers have access to online mental health training to learn how to recognize signs and behaviours that someone on their team may need additional support, and how to refer that person to get help. The importance of strong team wellbeing is also a core focus area across all of our manager development programmes.

What has been Google’s approach to ensuring people’s mental health and wellbeing is supported in a remote working context since the start of the COVID-19 health pandemic?

Google has long placed as much emphasis on our employees’ mental health as their physical health. With the majority of Googlers working from home since late March, our focus has been on helping Googlers stay connected to one another and providing access to the tools and resources they need to make their workspace more comfortable. For instance, we have given each Googler an allowance of $1,000, or the equivalent value in their country, to expense necessary equipment and office furniture.

Many of our wellbeing resources, available for both Googlers and their dependents globally, can be accessed remotely. For instance, through Google’s employee assistance program, we provide free and confidential service for all Googlers and their dependents to receive 24/7 counseling over video, or see counselors in the community where it is safe to do so. Google also leverages a platform for text based therapy to allow Googlers to connect immediately with a licensed behavioral health therapist anytime, anywhere, through unlimited text messages.

We also offer employees access to different apps that can help with mental and emotional health, and are grounded in digital cognitive behavioral therapy. These platforms can help with cognitive & behavioral techniques to help you get a better night’s rest, help improve mindfulness through meditation techniques, and build resilience muscle with a mix of small steps, made up of interactive lessons and activities.

Is there any specific support/guidance you’re giving your people managers during this time 1) to manage their own wellbeing, as being responsible for others 2) to adjust their management approaches to support staff mental health and wellbeing in the ‘new normal’?

There are three key pieces of guidance we are giving Google managers: equip yourself; ask about wellbeing; and lead with intention.

Equipping yourself is about managers learning how to manage thoughts and actions in stressful moments, looking after themselves through self-care, and engaging with our teams who can help. Asking team members about wellbeing in one-to-ones and understanding their current mindset enables managers to connect them to resources that can help, and support the employee. Leading with intention is about providing clear expectations that allow team members to be productive, and detach when they aren’t working, reviewing priorities in line with bandwidth and leading by example.

Are there any accountability measures in place for managers around their responsibility to support/be mindful of team member wellbeing?

We actively and regularly seek feedback on the wellbeing of teams and share this feedback with managers.

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In what ways does Google’s senior leadership role model good practice with workplace mental health and wellbeing? What impact does this have?

Our senior leaders are involved in regular open conversations with Googlers across the company about the steps that they take to ensure their personal wellbeing and the wellbeing of their teams. Senior leaders and managers across Google are encouraged to do a T.E.A check-in – where are their Thoughts, Energy, and Attention focused for today, for the week?

Since Google started its programme specifically focused on staff mental health and wellbeing, have you seen any positive impacts on the business, in terms of absences and turnover?

Google leaders are eager to understand the impact on their teams in the near future, and to help guide our workplace programming going forward. Since data drives every decision for us at Google, it’s important we continue to take a pulse on the well-being of our teams to provide them with the tools and resources they need to support their mental health.

What are some top tips Google would offer from one employer to another (if any) about what they think is most key to getting workplace mental health and wellbeing support right in an organisation?

Mental Health can mean a number of different issues and experiences for different people. In any industry where people are trying to be innovative and creative, there are high expectations to perform at a high level, and do so consistently. That’s why it’s important for companies to offer a holistic approach to mental health and wellbeing.

Yu-lin Gardner is Benefits Program Manager at Google. She has worked for Google since 2007 in varying roles from People Programmes Specialist to Global Compensation and Performance Management Program Manager. 

Support for line managers will be a core topic discussed at our global digital events this October. This includes Make a Difference Summit US in Association with Mind Share Partners on October 15th where  Dr. Jessica DiVento, who works at Google as YouTube’s Chief Mental Health Advisor, will be joining as a panellist to discuss the company’s response to supporting the mental health and wellbeing of employees through COVID-19.


About the author



Heather Kelly is the founder of Aura Wellbeing, a consultancy providing workplace wellness strategy, coaching and training services to employers. She’s also Content Director for Make a Difference Summit US and Online Editor for Make a Difference News. Heather led the development and operation of the Workplace Wellbeing Index, during her time working for the UK’s largest mental health charity, Mind. In her earlier career she worked as a photographer, a journalist and a senior manager in the insurance industry. She’s passionate about inspiring more empathy and awareness in workplaces toward normalising mental health and in her spare time Heather teaches photography to teens as part of a charity projects in London and Spain, she’s an avid runner and experimental chef for recipes promoting healthy minds.


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