Wellbeing at Etain
October 3, 2019

I’m going to write about health and wellbeing at work. Originally this was going to be part of my other blog post which ended up being specifically about testing at Etain but in the end I felt like this required its own post. Let’s face it - lots of people who are interested in wellbeing at work are NOT interested in software testing (though I don’t know why!)

Damn it Jim! I’m a software tester not a Doctor!

 
I can’t offer any advice in this area. I’m no expert on workplace health and safety or mental health. I’m absolutely not an expert on keeping fit or eating healthily!
 
I once asked my Home Economics teacher if brown sauce was good for you, hoping against hope because it was the closest thing to vegetables I ate. It wasn’t made of meat or potatoes, after all. I think I was rationalizing along the “well it’s made by monks so this tonic wine must have some health benefits…” line of logic.
 
So, I can’t offer expert advice, only observations based on subjective experience.
 
 

Case Study

 
I once left a job because of a mental health problem. I developed an anxiety disorder which was acute and had specific triggers and I attribute it the job. I won’t go into the details, other than to say this: the symptoms and triggers of my illness were not directly related to my job but my job was the source of the issue.
 
I used to sit in work being miserable. Irritable. I felt trapped and overworked. I stayed up late because I wanted to regain more of my day from the commute and working day. I used to watch movies and play games late into the night, sometimes only getting a few hours of sleep. I was burning the candle at both ends and running on bad fuel and there’s only a limited amount of time you can live like that.
 
The only evidence I can offer to prove the connection between my anxiety and my job was that once I resigned, I started getting better straight away. Even during my notice period, the knowledge that I was going to be leaving made me feel better.
 
I’m going to detail some of the reasons that were making me so miserable, how I handled them badly and why I don’t have the same problems at Etain.
 
 

Work-Life Balance

 
One of the main reasons I was unable to maintain a healthy work-life balance at my previous job was my inability to go home at home time.
 
When you start a job, you want to look keen. You’re also new at the company, and potentially in the role, and so you have a learning curve to overcome, so it’s easy to get into the habit of staying half an hour late every day as you get to grips with new things. Maybe one or two days a week it’s an hour.  Before long, you are working late as a matter of course.
 
This can be exacerbated by company culture. If there’s a culture of working long hours, you don’t want to be different and go home, or be seen as not pulling your weight, so you stay late to fit in.
 
This is especially true for people starting their careers. They want to impress, they want to meet deadlines and expectations, and they’re bad at judging what NEEDS done by a specific date and what they have been TOLD needs done. With age and experience you get better at this. (And if you’re anything like me, the older you get the less you care about what other people think of you!)
 
Now, most people reading this will work in the technology industry and will believe there are times when working late feels like a necessity. I appreciate this and I’m not afraid of working late. There are crunch times when there’s a deadline coming up and you feel the need to get something ready to go out the door.
 
In fact, for testers this can be particularly bad. If development takes longer than expected then testers are expected to fit the same amount of test effort in a shorter time, and when they do test it, if they find bugs, they are seen as holding up the release!
 
But to be honest, I’m not sure these crunch times, when everyone must work late, are necessary at all. I say that because I’ve NEVER had to do that at Etain. What I expected as a matter of course in the past just does not happen at Etain.
 
At Etain I have never been asked to work late, nor have I ever been given the impression that I’m expected to work late, and I can’t work late if I wanted to because the building gets locked up shortly after close of business!  So many people avail of the flexible working culture on offer (starting early, splitting their day, working from home) that the office is often quite quiet at close of business anyway, so there’s no peer pressure to stay late either.
 
By working on a full tank of energy and to fixed daily deadlines I can work more productively which is key to how Etain gets the work done and how it gets done well.
 
So, my first tip for maintaining a healthy work-life balance would be to go home at home time unless there’s a very pressing reason, and usually even pressing reasons aren’t as pressing as you believe.
 
 

Opportunity and Purpose


Perhaps more than working too many hours and being unable to tell which work is most pressing, a harder problem to overcome is the feeling that your work doesn’t really matter, or that you aren’t appreciated for what you do.
 
I spoke in my last blog post about how as a tester at Etain, I feel respected. I feel like testing is seen as important. The company wants to satisfy clients and make a good product, so they don’t skimp on the QA. So many people in this role, at other companies, sit in quiet desperation feeling unappreciated and surplus to requirements. I know that because that’s how I used to feel.
 
I worked long hours feeling unappreciated, so I resented the time I spent at work. I was a human version of selenium, repetitively running the same tests on the same product, seemingly forever.
 
At Etain though, I feel like I’m free to experiment. In my down time I can train in automation. When I thought to myself, “I’d like to try out marketing to add another string to my bow”, it took all of 3 or 4 days before I was given the opportunity to help in the marketing department. Instead of feeling trapped and unnecessary; I am given opportunity, time to train and am trusted to try new things.
 
 

Wellbeing Initiatives


As I mentioned, I’m no athlete. If I wanted to be though I can see that Etain are trying to help!
 
In my time at the company there has been a walking challenge where employees formed teams and tried to wrack up steps on pedometers, a kayaking outing, a demo by people who run a gym for boxing exercises and the company has organized a sports day! There are probably other things I don’t remember, these have all been in the last few months! These events were the result of a wellbeing survey the company published in which employees could register their interest in such events.
 
Etain doesn’t just focus on physical health.  A course in mental health training was offered to employees and every fortnight an anonymous survey is sent out where we can rate our week, saying what went well, what didn’t and our thoughts and opinions. It all contributes to the feeling of being appreciated that I talked about earlier.
 
All in all, the things that contributed to my past mental health problems are absent at Etain. I am not expected to work long hours, I am appreciated and respected for the work I do, I am given opportunities to try new things and new ways of doing things, and the company takes an active interest in my physical and mental wellbeing (even If I am often too lazy to take part in the physical exercises… but nobody’s perfect.)
 
 

Bob Beck

Bob Beck

Quality Assurance Engineer
Jurassic Park Enthusiast

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