Does Every Developer Deserve a Mental Health Day?

Some developers can afford a mental health day, and some can’t get away with it. What’s the difference?
Posted October 18, 2010
By

Eric Spiegel

Eric Spiegel


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"I'm taking a much deserved mental health day tomorrow.”

This matter-of-fact announcement came from Joni, one of my slightly buzzed developer teammates, as we enjoyed a Thursday happy hour around a crowded table, drinking beer and eating munchies. Having just graduated and barely settled into my first job, it was no surprise I’d never heard the phrase “mental health day.”

In my head I pictured her going to visit some kind of therapist because the job is stressing her out. I’d heard the term “going mental” before and that wasn’t a pretty picture. So maybe she was about to burst from all the looming deadlines.

Being the green guy at the table, I naively asked, “Are you going to see some kind of doctor?”

Joni laughed, “No silly, I’m going to do some shopping and then sit by the pool and sip frozen cocktails.”

More intrigued, I asked, “Are we allowed to do that? I mean using a paid sick day for – you know – not really being sick?”

“Ah, but I am sick – sick of work! Besides, who is going to know the difference?” she responded with incredulity.

Now I was the one who was incredulous. The entire team was under a steep learning curve with a new ERP module we were customizing. We were way behind on the project schedule and Joni was the “defacto” team leader because she was the only one experienced with this module.

“But Joni we have a package due for QA testing Monday and we are way behind. Aren’t you planning on working this weekend like the rest of us?” I said.

She quickly shot back, “That answer would be N-O no! My code is working just fine.”

One of my other teammates, Doug, piped up with some initial sarcasm. “Well, bully for you Joni. Of course you’re done – you’re the big expert with this module. But how do you know your code will work with all of our code once integrated for QA testing?”

“Not my problem Dougie,“ she said. And she knew Doug hated to be called Dougie.

As Doug grew hotter under the collar, I jumped back in. “But it should be your problem Joni because we may need your help this weekend. And shouldn’t we run some tests with all our code before submitting to QA Monday?”

Joni retorted, “Integration testing is their responsibility, not mine. If something doesn’t work because you guys have mistakes in your code, then we’ll figure that out next week when QA kicks it back.”

This was too much for Doug. His raised voice made everyone at the table focus on the banter.

“You’re being selfish Joni. While you are enjoying your mental health day, we’ll be working hard to make up time. And how do you know there won’t be problems caused by your code? “

“That’s easy. Because I know what I’m doing and you guys are just trying to keep up,” she said with a wry grin.

This was typical Joni behavior. She had a major superiority complex. There was no doubt she was good and very experienced, but she did very little to share that experience to mentor others.

Her idea of success was focused on her own work, not the teams. So in her mind, if her code was done, then she was entitled to take a day off to free her mind.

If we had a more well-defined development process, then Doug and I may have had a case. But the fact was that individual accomplishments and heroics were promoted more than teamwork.

Joni announced to the table, “Look, to be at the top of my game, I need to take a well deserved break now and then. Maybe if more of you took a mental health day to clear your heads and relax, we’d all be more productive.

“I for one am 100% positive that I produce more quality code after taking a mental health day.” She paused and looked at Doug, then nonchalantly stated, “Then again, maybe it wouldn’t help Dougie.”

I won’t repeat what Doug said as he put some cash on the table and stomped out of the bar. Joni just smirked and downed her beer.

Following Suit (Or Trying To)

The next morning I walked past Joni’s empty cube and shook my head. Then I noticed another empty cube. Doug hadn’t shown up yet.

Next Page: Doug's attempted mental health day....


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