If you work in software development or QA testing, you’ll know that it is a fast-paced industry with tight deadlines, late nights, stressful meetings, and buggy code. Unfortunately, it’s easy to become so focused on your projects and the health of your code that you let your own healthy lifestyle slip, and staying healthy at work becomes a problem.
It’s a cliche to say that software testers and developers live on pizza, cans of energy drinks, and sugary snacks, but my experience in the design and development industry tells me there’s some truth to it. Of course, this might be because sometimes I have been known to exist on pizza washed down with a few office beers to keep morale up during busy periods and stressful projects.
The Problem with Productivity
In the UK, from where I am writing, people are working longer hours. Despite an increase in automation and technological advances to help us do our jobs better, we are, on average, becoming less productive and have one of the lowest rankings in Europe. There are many theories as to why this is happening, but a prominent thought is that the UK’s relatively poor health and lifestyle (we binge-drink more and have a higher obesity rate than our European cousins) is harming how well we perform in the office and at our workplace.
Personal evidence has taught me that a healthy team is a productive team, and this article aims to offer some pointers for living and working in a healthier and more balanced way, so the hours you spend working on your projects are better spent. I hope that individual team members will read this and reflect on their daily routines. Team leaders and managers should also consider implementing and encouraging policies that can improve well-being and get the best out of their team and staying healthy at work.
It’s no surprise that the stuff we put in our bodies significantly impacts how we perform. We are biological machines that need good stuff to power our brains and muscles; you wouldn’t pour rubbish into a high-performance racing car and expect good results. Whether you’re designing systems, coding it up, or QA testing the product, you’ll do a much better job if you’re running on the proper fuel and firing on all cylinders!
I mentioned beer and pizza earlier, which at times are the staple diet of a lot of creative and digital development studio cultures. I’m not going to be a party pooper and suggest outlawing this, but there are other ways that you can celebrate and treat the team but more healthily. For example, instead of ordering in a stack of pizzas for the team, why not organize a team lunch somewhere that caters for a broader range of diets with healthier options. Pizza days also form a bad habit of eating at your desk, which isn’t great for digestion, not to mention concentration.
We all need more fruit and veg in our lives, and a team perk could include fruit boxes delivered to the office for the staff to snack on. And if you have a kitchen in the office, why not get a blender or smoothie maker to blitz up some fruit to make it more exciting. I know it’s hard to compete with an apple over a pizza, but everyone loves a tasty smoothie!
Some argue that a wholefood, plant-based diet, one that avoids animal products and processed foods, is the healthiest diet possible. The British Dietetic Association says a plant-based diet is healthy and beneficial for all stages of life, including pregnancy and infancy. It might not be easy to take the leap, so reducing meat consumption is a great step towards eating healthily. Why not try meat-free Mondays, or if your office has a canteen, provide healthy, plant-based meals as standard.
Stay hydrated to support good brain function. However, if you’re not taking on enough liquids (preferably water), being thirsty can create mood disturbance, reduce cognitive and motor skills, and affect your memory; not the best scenario for the work we do.
Be More Active
We all know that we need to move more and that exercise is an essential part of staying healthy. With manual jobs across the world being replaced by office-based, less physically demanding work, there is a lot more sitting down at desks these days. However, we don’t have to accept that our jobs will kill us because we can keep active and fight back.
We did not evolve over millions of years to be hunched over a desk, staying in the same position for 8 hours a day.
This detail becomes sharply evident when we do because we notice the negative impact it has on our posture, joints, waistlines, and even our mental wellbeing. It is recommended that we aim to walk at least 10,000 steps per day to keep active. A useful way to achieve this is to take regular breaks from your desk to stretch your legs. Take a walk during your lunch break, and try walking meetings instead of staying inside a stuffy boardroom. Many find that the rhythm of walking is great for helping with problem-solving.
Standing desks seem to have peaked in popularity (they were all the rage a few years ago!), but they are still an effective way of helping you be less sedentary while still getting your work done. In addition, by having a more adjustable workstation, they can help avoid cramps and RSI (repetitive strain injury), and they encourage stretching and breaking the habit of being motionless for hours on end. Standing desks are useful, but for benefits, they cannot beat physically getting away from your desk.
I am lucky in that my office is not far from home, so when I’m not working from my home office or meeting clients in town, I walk to the office and often meet my step count targets easily – although when the weather is against me, I wish I owned a car.
Walking to and from work is not always possible or practical for all, so other active modes of travel are encouraged for increasing physical and mental wellbeing. Cycling is a great way to stay healthy and get to work on time, and it’s a great incentive to bike more if your office has shower facilities. So why not persuade your boss to sign up for a Cyclescheme to encourage a more active commute for the team?
Even if you drive or take the train or bus to work, there are still ways of getting your steps in. For example, try getting off the bus a stop or two earlier than you need to and walking the rest of the way – who knows, you might even discover a new part of the city or your new favorite coffee shop you’ve been overlooking. Or try parking your car on another street, or block further from the office if possible.
Get enough sleep!
My generation (the millennials) are suffering an insomnia epidemic that’s impacting all aspects of our lives. Our productivity, our mental health, and even our love lives are suffering because of it. Getting enough sleep is vital for our mental wellbeing and for staying healthy, with some studies even suggesting that not getting 7 to 8 hours of sleep per night can reduce lifespan!
Insomnia rates are increasing, with people today sleeping 20% less than they did 100 years ago. We are not entirely sure why, but the way we live and work will be a significant factor. Our technology is said to be a major contributor. As software testers, developers, and QA professionals, we stare at screens for large portions of our working lives, and more and more of us are taking work home with us – or at least take our screen-staring habits home with us when we try and relax after work by watching Netflix or scrolling through Instagram. Reducing our evening screentime can be beneficial, but when this is not possible, it is a good idea to set our devices or apps to dark mode to try and mitigate the interference blue light has on our brains.
Our sedentary lifestyles mentioned above are also contributing to our disrupted sleep patterns. It sounds obvious, but one of the best ways to get a good night’s sleep is to be physically worn out by the time you go to bed. So get those steps in, and cut down on the energy drinks.
So, by eating more healthily, moving about, reducing our screen time, and improving our sleep, we will be better equipped to combat the challenges we face in our industry. In addition, focusing on staying healthy at work helps us build a better work-life balance so we can be happier and even more proficient at our jobs!