Practical & Actionable Mental Health Initiatives

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Mental health has come up in many conversations, especially over the past year.  Employers are becoming more aware of employees needs when it comes to providing resources to manage stress and other mental health conditions, and are responding by adopting a broader approach to mental health.

From offering apps that monitor and reduce stress levels, support sleep and promote relaxation, to robust platforms that afford employees the ability to speak via text or video call with a therapist or coach, employers are taking an active role in the mental wellbeing of their employees. Onsite meditation, mindfulness, yoga, and EAPs are other resources employers are offering, too. Executive decision-makers who make the final calls on investments and spending typically require compelling and reliable evidence and data before committing to rolling out a program. But Google, one of the four big players in the tech space who has been long known for implementing data-driven programs into their employee benefits offerings, has been backing an initiative without any metrics or quantitative evidence of its need. It’s simple in nature, inexpensive, doesn’t add much additional responsibility to HR and is a low-barrier approach to relieving anxiety and some symptoms of depression for their employees across the globe.

Mental Health at Google & the “Blue Dot Program”

The program is known as Blue Dot, and this time Google is not collecting any metrics to evaluate it so as to preserve the psychological safety of their employees. The Blue Dot program was born at an employee-led event called “Mental Health @ Google”, a conference during which hundreds of Googlers come together to discuss topics ranging from mental health benefits to anxiety in the workplace.  Once the benefits department caught wind of it they offered their support to provide the program more structure. Blue Dot, which is essentially a peer-to-peer program, is one in which employees can become certified as “listeners”. The status is indicated by a blue dot on their name tags or laptops, and this subtle symbol lets fellow Googlers know that they are a safe person to speak with if they require a listening ear.

As a part of their training, Blue Dot Listeners are required to complete a 30-minute video course. Their role is to provide a compassionate ear to their colleagues, also known as holding space, without trying to fix or solve the problem or concern that their colleague is coming to them with. Holding space is the process of witnessing and validating someone else’s emotional state, hypothetically creating a container for the other person’s emotions to come up, to be seen and heard without the interference of the listeners advice or opinion. They are trained to know when a complaint needs to be escalated to human resources, when to call Google security due to a possible crisis, or when to ask if a person would be willing to speak to a professional counselor in that moment, rather than a peer. 

Over time, the program has grown organically, even in geographic regions where mental health has a higher stigma attached to it. It’s allowed employees to feel seen and heard by their colleagues whether their concern was mental health related or not. While there are no metrics to back the effectiveness of the program, Blue Dot leads and spokespersons report their experience with the program, and how they believe it has helped build trust amongst those who utilize it. It shows that not all programs need to have all the bells and whistles to be considered effective. Based on reports, Blue Dot has given employees someone to confide in, in the moments in which they need support the most.

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