Employee wellbeing has soon changed its meaning from what it was before the pandemic struck to how companies perceive it afterward. To protect employees' mental health along with physical health and make working from home comfortable, big-name companies like Google have come up with different ways to take care of their employees.
The basic definition of employee wellbeing that most people know is to have cozy break rooms in the office or to offer mental health days to employees. But during the COVID-19 pandemic, employee wellbeing became more important than ever. Google was one of the top companies that placed a lot of focus on the mental wellbeing of their employees during this unprecedented time.
As a leading company, it’s not surprising that their method of ensuring the physical and mental wellbeing of their employees evolved before and after the pandemic crisis. Let’s take a closer look at the employee wellbeing plan of Google before and after COVID.
Pre-pandemic employee wellbeing at Google
From culture to a belief in employee wellbeing
Before the COVID-19 pandemic, Google already had an impressive employee wellbeing plan from hiring to the customer retention process. An essential part of Google’s culture is keeping its employees happy and satisfied by offering different perks to them. A part of the employee training in Google for managers is to prioritize the complete well-being of all their subordinates.
Some of the amenities that Google workers get include free meals; free haircuts; subsidized messaging; hybrid vehicle subsidies; video games; ping pong; free dry cleaning; gyms; napping pods; foosball; and on-site doctors.
Although these perks and employee benefits are costly for Google to offer its workers, dealing with high turnover and dissatisfaction would cost even more.
Industry competition driving the healthier workplace
As there is a lot of competition for talent in the tech industry, it saves more money and time to retain your employees than constantly recruiting. This is why Google did its best to provide employee wellbeing before the pandemic started.
Google also provides mental health support to its employees apart from the physical health benefits. This is offered in the form of counseling sessions and health insurance.
Employee wellbeing provided during the pandemic
As remote working became more of standard practice due to the lockdown restrictions put into place by governments. This is why they had to develop new ways to help their workers create a healthy work-life balance and offer mental health support while they are working from home.
Google was the first big-name company to tell their employees that they could work remotely even after the lockdown was lifted. But the company has also affirmed that the biggest challenge they faced while moving most of its employee base to remote working is the mental wellbeing of the employees. Thus, Google began to use different strategies to take care of employee wellbeing during the COVID-19 pandemic. At the time, there is no sense in offering perks such as gyms, swimming pools if they are unable to go to the office.
Facing the unpredictable situation, Lauren Whitt - Google wellness manager and resilience lead has said
“In July and August, we realized this isn’t going away and we really began to shift the conversation to how to set new routines, how to change or alternate the environment they’re working in and focus on new skills and habits and routines”.
$1,000 allowance for necessary equipment and office furniture
To make working from home easy, Google announced that they would give a $1,000 allowance to all their workers right after they announced that their employees would be working from home. Employees were given $1000 or their currency equivalent for those working outside of the United States. This was the first strategy that they employed to cater to employee wellbeing.
Remote workers usually have to work on setting up a home office with comfortable office furniture and equipment. Although employees have access to these amenities while working in an office, it's different when you’ve never worked at home before.
With this in mind, and to promote their work culture, an allowance was given to cover all expenses for employees to buy furniture and equipment like computers, to create a suitable working condition.
Another way Google catered for their employee wellbeing during the pandemic was their reset days, also known as Google global days off. This was their method of giving their employees chances to recharge during the pandemic to take care of their mental health. The reset days allow employees to switch off from work and prevent burnout.
The extra paid days off allowed the employees to rest and slow down, as many people felt rushed and confused during the pandemic. Although the concept of reset days has a good intention, it would be difficult for employees to go back to their everyday life at the office.
But even with this, Google provides these days to make it easier for their workers and also increase productivity.
Flexible working hours
Google also provided flexible working hours and experiences for their employees. For one, Google opened more locations globally and allowed their employees to apply for complete remote work. This means that their employees could continue working from home even as others transition back to the office.
Employees also have the chance to work from a temporary location rather than their main office for up to four weeks every year. And, the company came up with focus hours, which would reduce the number of internal meetings so that their workers have more time to focus on projects.
“Resilience training” videos
Google also provided resilience training videos to encourage employee health and happiness. The company even hired a wellness manager and resilience lead, Lauren Whitt, to provide employees with this support.
The company expanded its existing programs and created short resilience training videos that they gave their employees every week. The videos were created by coaches, athletes, and psychologists, and it was reported that their employee was watching the videos constantly. The company came up with employee wellbeing initiatives because of the fears of what would happen with their mental health and wellbeing due to stay-at-home notice and isolation.
24/7 counseling over video or meeting a counselor in a safe place
Even before the pandemic, mental health counseling existed in Google, and they didn’t stop doing this once their employees had to work from home. Instead, they had 24/7 counseling over video chat available to all employees or allowed them to meet the counselors in a safe and secure place to prevent the spread of the pandemic.
Employees could request this session whenever they were feeling cornered or stressed during the lockdown period. Google is already aware that workplace stress has become more severe than ever since this pandemic. Thus, the empathy and sympathy that employees feel are significantly crucial for a long-term growth objective.
Plans for the new normal
Although the COVID-19 pandemic is not entirely over, there’s little chance of going back to the state of affairs as it was before the lockdown period. Thus, big-name companies like Google are making plans for the new normal instead. This way, they can ensure job satisfaction for their employees while they recover from the pandemic.
The first to declare a hybrid workplace after a pandemic
Google was the first company to retain the hybrid workplace plan after the pandemic restrictions were lifted in different places. A hybrid workplace can be easily defined as one in which there is a mixture of support for in-office and remote workers.
The hybrid return-to-work plan first stated that 60% of employees would come to work for a few days per week, 20% would work from home, and the final 20% would work in new office locations. Research shows that more than half of workers want to work on a hybrid work schedule after the pandemic.
Collect data and make decisions based on employee assistance requirements
Google also organized pulse surveys and sent them to their employees. These surveys are meant to determine what employees think about their job-related roles, communication, and relationships. It is also to determine what their employees need during and after COVID time and prepare for a new type of employee engagement in a hybrid workplace.
Furthermore, the employees’ health issues are also taken into account via these pulse surveys. The management team would know the overall health status of all employees and plan for immediate aids if needed.
Can Google’s plans be replicated in other companies?
Since Google is one of the best places to work, it's not surprising that other companies want to replicate their strategy and also provide employee wellbeing services during and after the pandemic.
Now that pandemic restrictions are being raised, and the new normal is being established, hybrid workplaces and staying safe while at work have become the norm in many companies, including Google.