7 On employee well being

Do you respect your employees? This is the question you should answer. I’ve seen a very relevant dose of unhealthy behavior toward employees, and they come in different forms.

This chapter will not focus on issues such as discrimination, racism, sexual harassment or similar topics. These topics are covered and already considered relevant by HR for action (although, in a case I’ve personally witnessed, HR is the offender, with the disclaimer of “cultural humor”). The topic is instead on practices that, while legal, show a poor appreciation for the software employee.

The office and workspace chapter already included a broad discussion on the location and requirements for software development, but it’s worth reiterating that a software company should focus on improving productivity by reducing disruption in any form.

On top of these, there are technical and human factors to consider when it comes to well being.

For example, having no illness days and expecting employees to take their sick days from their holiday budget has dire consequences, especially when the holiday budget is already reduced to a minimum. People will come to work when sick, spreading the illness and reducing overall productivity. The associated costs, both in terms of budget and morality for such policy are staggering.

Similarly some companies, typically consulting companies, may ask employees to:

  • consider work only the work done that can be billed to the customer, with a request for 40 hours a week. Everything that is not directly related to customers is, for all purposes, considered “not work”. Typical activities include interview of candidates, all-hands meetings (that typically last hours), general administrative duties, or even development of internal tools that have been green lighted by executives, but are not directly related to a customer project. This behavior is offensive because the employee is, for all practical purposes, asked to work for free and overtime at whim when no real reason exists. Only poor management and the expectation that the company itself cannot be billed for the work it asks its employees to do.
  • Not consider travel time as work, expecting people to code during transoceanic flights. Similarly recovery time from jetlag is not considered work and needs to be offset against either vacation or working overtime to recover the missing time.

These instances show a massive disrespect for the employee, that is considered nothing more than a cash cow. Employees experiencing this kind of treatment from the company should leave immediately for less disrespectful employers.

Training days

Employees of a software company fear first and foremost being left behind technically. In fact, I suspect this is the major reason why people decide to move to other companies. Technologies move forward, new ideas come along, old ideas are considered obsolete, and developers that are left behind to the mutating landscape of technology quickly open themselves to a hard reality if the company were to go bust and reduce their workforce.

It is therefore good practice to grant “tranining days” where people are assigned the sole task of exploring a technology that they find both interesting and relevant for future use within the company. While one could argue that this is “informally already present”, you want to stress the existence of this feature so that people can plan, organise, and follow through with their committment.

  • too many new tools at once.

  • Technologies that we use are overdesigned or redundant, no training given, huge money sinks because they don’t behave like expected.

Do the employees have heavy workloads for long periods of time? Are the employees often required to work overtime? Is it clear what is expected of each employee? Are the employees able to exert influence on their workloads and on how to perform their work? Do the employees get the necessary information to be able to perform their work satisfactorily and to prevent conflicting requirements? Does bullying and/or sexual harassment occur in the workplace? Is the work performed recognised and appreciated? Is there any risk of violence in connection with the work? Does the work include the provision of training/development, including work variety? Is support from qualified staff, management and colleagues available during the day-to-day work? Putting the project in a location that is space limited for additional hires.