Investing in the mental health of your team

I stopped watching football games like ~6 years ago when I was starting to realize that sitting on the couch doing nothing but watching a 90 minutes game is a waste of time and I can spend that time instead with my new addiction .. my computer.

FC Barcelona v Real Madrid CF - La Liga

Before losing interest in following football games and news, I was like most other boys in my age. following all European football games and spending the rest of my time playing football in real life and on the old play station 1.

Last week I tried to break the boredom and depression in my life and joined the folks watching the game between Real Madrid and Barcelona and the experience was good. I kept looking at the big screen for more than 90 minutes and wishing my old time favorite team “Real Madrid” would win the game, and for my surprise they won the game.

Watching a good game and talking about it with other people (specially, Barcelona fans) was entertaining and I decided to do that again from time to time. and here I’m writing this while watching another game between Real Madrid and Manchester United.

Actually I started writing this when I was listening to the commentator of the game talking about how big football teams use full time psychologist to make sure their players are always in their best mental conditions, because if the players are playing while in bad mood, their performance would go down.

It’s not the first time for me to know about that, but It’s my first time to relate this to work generally. I’ve been reading for years about how great companies try to make a great work environment for their employees to enjoy every moment of being part of that company. which comes back with benefits to the company in many different ways.

The first thing to come to mind when I talk about this topic is Joel Spolsky’s series of articles about building great place for software developers.  I even wrote about this topic before in 2010.

The 2 main conclusions I wanted to write about after watching the game are;

1. Money isn’t enough to make your team happy

While those football players are getting 7 figures salaries, and while they’re considered to be the best of the best in that industry, and that they shouldn’t be playing for fun as they’re professional players. still, this isn’t enough to make sure that they will play well and win games with high scores.

If they are sad, angry about something or having anything bad going around in their minds, they won’t play as expected, and all the other investments that their clubs invested in them would go with the winds.

That’s why clubs get full time psychologists to keep watching their players and taking care of their mental health.

2. Get your team a psychologist

Yeah, if you’re the CEO of a company or if you have the authority to get a psychologist psychiatrist to take care of your employees, then you should do it.

The best and most paid football players always need the support of a psychologist, and I’m sure that your team of software engineers, designers, marketers and every one else need to have a one meeting each month with a psychologist, at least. and if you’re a big company then I think that a full time psychologist would be a must.

The psychologist will be most valuable in those days when there’re conflicts between your team members, and when there’re tight deadlines that are putting great pressures on your teams. plus all the other daily personal stuff that may your employees be suffering of. didn’t you ever try working after having a fight with your wife/husband?! (for example)

You may agree with me about this or not, but I would do that someday in my startup when there’s enough budget, and would advise my CEO and other CEOs in other companies and startups to do the same.

update: from the comments and discussions, I found that what I meant to say originally is to use a psychologist. my use of the word psychiatrist wasn’t accurate.

Developers in open work spaces

Are you working in open work space where all your co-workers are sitting in the same place with no walls between each desk? If your answer is yes, then mostly you know that the majority of people don’t understand how their loud talks can affect the productivity of their colleagues. some jobs require a big amount of concentration, let me just be specific and talk about software developers.

Most companies don’t give each software developer his own office and a door that he can close whenever he wants to concentrate and get isolated of the world. to provide an office to every developer you need a big place and big places are expensive and most software companies are managed by people who don’t get why would these developers need offices; they say that developers are just normal employees, not super stars.

We know that it’s not about being super stars as much as it’s about a fact that developers work on solving problems that contain a lot of little details, and the normal human brain won’t be able to hold those details together for longer than 5 minutes and connecting the little details is another harder task. I don’t imagine that a developer working while surrounded with many talking people will write code with good quality. he won’t be able to focus and won’t notice many logical errors and after some days this will give him more bugs to solve and more time to lose. this will force the company to pay more money and lose more time.

I don’t think that you will get your own office soon; unless you get the chance to work in a company that treats developers as super stars or maybe you will wait longer till you become a manager.

But now, what can you do? I think you can try to talk with your managers about how this noise affects you and your colleagues. and try to come up with some easy to implement ideas like making every 2 or more guys who want to discuss something go out of the work area till they finish their talk or even just stay in the work area and keep it down as much as they can. it won’t be a hard thing if your co-workers respect the value of working in a quiet place. but some times it won’t be that easy, like when you find yourself sharing the same work space with people who talk a lot as their job forces them to. like customer care and marketing guys. and I don’t know a solution for this case.

Another thing that you have to put a solution for is the interruptions done by co-workers. haven’t you ever been working on a very hard to solve problem that needed all your brain power and you were just seconds away from finding the solution and suddenly you find someone tapping on your shoulder to ask you about the name of a function that he doesn’t remember ?! I know that you hate this guy and at that moment maybe you wanted to kick him in the face, but you controlled your anger and just answered his question and left him to leave in peace and tried to go back to what you were doing and you couldn’t remember the last point you arrived to in your thinking, and probably it took you around 15 minutes to get back to your last concentration level.

You have to talk to your colleagues about this problem and tell them that they can send you emails that you will answer later when you are free, or maybe you can use a piece of paper with “No Interruption, please” written on it. you can put this paper on your chair/desk whenever you need to focus on something important, so your co-workers will know that you aren’t ready to talk at the moment.

there are many pros and cons of working in open work spaces, but we can get over the cons by putting effective rules that can control the noise and interruptions, and you won’t succeed in that unless your co-workers are understanding the problem and believe in the solutions.

maybe you want to read more. Joel Spolsky talked about this topic before when he was talking about the design of his company’s new office and it was the 8th rule in the famous Joel Test “Do programmers have quiet working conditions?” . also,  you can make your managers and colleagues read the field guide to developers.

so at last, I have to say that I don’t hate open work spaces but it will be a good work environment if all co-workers understand the new rules that have to be applied to make it a healthy work environment .