I work as a software developer.

I have written on my personal web site that I find walking around to be an important part of the way I work. I see two reasons for this: first, I find it uncomfortable to sit all day, and second, I feel that it is necessary to get away from the code to take a broader look without being distracted by everything else on my workstation.

To be very specific, I mean that I get up out of my seat and walk around outside for 15-20 minutes, usually once in the morning and once after lunch.

Some of my co-workers have told me that they have worked places where this is not allowed. They tell me that they would be reprimanded by HR personnel for doing so (In HR's mind, someone walking around is not 'working'. We know this is wrong; they don't).

I would like to know, from those who are more experienced, which attitude is more representative of software development. Is walking around generally considered permissible?

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    Thanks for the answers! I would like to mention that in my opinion, the walking around thinking about the code is just as much a part of the work as actually writing code. Commented Dec 17, 2012 at 1:34
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    Sounds like your friends have worked in 3rd world sweat shops.
    – DA.
    Commented Dec 17, 2012 at 4:10
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    I have long been under the impresssion that there was some legal requirement in the US about a certain amount of minimum breaks per shift, and their duration. I thought that for every four hours, there was supposed to be a ten or fifteen minute break (paid), and half an hour for lunch (unpaid) if the shift lasted 6 or 8 hours. The specifics never concerned me a great deal, because the spirit of the law was routinely honored. And of course the employer is free to provide further opportunity for breaks as they see fit.
    – JustinC
    Commented Dec 17, 2012 at 15:13
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    There could be some cultural aspects to this question. Where are you located?
    – tehnyit
    Commented Dec 17, 2012 at 15:33
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    Well, I solve most of my difficult problems at night when taking a shower. I even solve a lot of problems when I'm asleep and dreaming. So I guess, I should be able to charge that time to my employer and customer also. I'm sure that would fly really well at most places of employment. The problem is not that you are walking around, the problem is that you are walking around for at least 40 minutes and charging for it. While it is true that you may be thinking of work during your walk, almost everyone else takes those walks on their own time. So it doesn't look good for you.
    – Dunk
    Commented Dec 17, 2012 at 20:40

12 Answers 12


This is actually a good argument for making sure developers are on salary. A salaried individual is paid based on results, not by hours worked. Therefore, as long as you're getting your work done and meeting your goals, the finer micro-details, such as how long your break is and what you choose to do with that break time, should really be no one's business but yours. This is of course just my expert opinion, but that opinion is based on observations and experiences working in environments where management stays out of your way.

Of course, different workplaces will look at this differently. It's your responsibility when looking for a job to properly evaluate your employer, and you can sometimes do this just by observing the way people behave in the office. You can also tell a lot about the design of the office. Is it a bland cube farm? Or do they have foosball tables, ping pong tables, and other amenities that seem to suggest it would be okay to get up and move around?

On one particular instance where I looked for a job, I actually called the customer service line, mentioned I was applying, and asked the representative a few questions about how he/she liked working at the company. The responses helped give me a perspective from a non-manager as to what I was getting myself into.

Consider that any business worth working for will probably want their employees to stay healthy, and considering the health hazards of sitting at a desk all day, some will likely encourage you to get up and move around. If it's not already clear, I strongly suggest staying away from organizations that would have a problem with you getting up and walking around. It's their decision to decide how they want to manage their staff, and it's your decision to look for better employment if one particular employer has a restrictive management style.

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    I think you're on to something with the "design of the office" Commented Dec 17, 2012 at 1:42
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    Yes! You can tell a lot about a company by how they present themselves. The office look and feel is sort of analogous to the attire you or I might wear to the interview. Both give some insight into whether it's a good fit.
    – jmort253
    Commented Dec 17, 2012 at 2:27
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    I really like the idea of calling the customer service line!
    – enderland
    Commented Dec 17, 2012 at 2:59
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    I've never seen a salaried position that didn't have hour expectations clearly defined or that expected people to do a certain amount of 'work' and then do whatever they want with thier free time. I've also heard a lot of software people explain why estimating time is really, really, really hard (so there is no good way to measure how much work X took) - which is why having hours to work makes a lot of sense.
    – Rob P.
    Commented Dec 17, 2012 at 9:14
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    "A salaried individual is paid based on results, not by hours worked." What planet do you live on? I want to move there.
    – user1602
    Commented Dec 7, 2013 at 18:54

I haven't worked in any environment where the HR department had any kind of power to performance manage, reprimand or take action against any employee (apart from those in the HR department, of course.)

Generally speaking this was a line management role, and while HR might raise an issue with a line manager they don't usually act as the company "policy police."

Even more interestingly, most of our Heath and Safety guidelines (which are managed by HR) state the need for quite the opposite - they encourage staff to take a 5-10 minute break from their keyboard each hour, and to regularly walk around. This is designed to lower the risk of occupational issues related to DVT (Deep Vein Thrombosis) and RSI (Repetitive Strain Injury, also called OOS, Occupational Overuse Syndrome), which of course the company would be liable for if is was a result of workplace conditions and rules.

For example :

Job design for screen based work should make provision for regular breaks of at least 15 minutes per hour for concentrated screen based work, and 15 minutes per 2 hours for less strenuous work.

I would suggest that if you were ever blocked from taking these short kind of breaks by HR, sending them a few links on the risk they are exposing the company to as a result would see the policy rapidly reversed.

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    There are many places where HR will handle these sort of issues. Generally it is initiated by the persons management though. Commented Dec 17, 2012 at 16:37
  • @Chad - Interesting. While I do go to HR for advice when things get tricky, and they do offer support, I wouldn't want to abdicate my responsibilities to them. Part of the job, and all that.
    – GuyM
    Commented Dec 17, 2012 at 17:57
  • I do not disagree but some managers are spineless politicians that have give service to no goal that will not help in advancing their own career. Commented Dec 17, 2012 at 18:06
  • @Chad - if you change "Managers" to "people" then I'd agree. I've had plenty of staff come for a "chat" with sharpend knives all ready to stick in the back of their co-workers. This kind of issue is typical - its usually co-workers who lodge the orginal complaint in a passive/aggressive "its not fair" kind of way, clutching a copy of the company handbook as they do so. To be honest, the "health and safety" redirect I suggest is a similar "play", just using an external "hammer" not a company based one.
    – GuyM
    Commented Dec 17, 2012 at 19:07
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    Like all things, it is up to the manager to inform HR when they are handling their employees improperly.
    – user8365
    Commented Dec 17, 2012 at 19:48

There is no 'one' software development environment, so it's hard to generalize, but...

...the more corporate/large the organization, the more likely the place is full of dress codes, insistence on 40 hour work weeks, and silly HR policies like 'no walking'.

That said, even in the most corporate of places I've worked, most everyone got out of their chairs as needed all the time. Hourly walks with team mates were an excellent way to just relieve stress or, at times, even brainstorm. Whenever we could, we'd also take laptops and find a 'war room' to occupy to work together in a group.

In the end, the company should be willing to do whatever is within reason to make it easier for you to do your job.

Personally, any place that has an HR policy of 'no walking' is likely a horrific place to work at.

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    Personally, any place that has an HR policy of 'no walking' is likely a horrific place to work at. These are perfect examples of ways to spot problems with a potential employer before you agree to a final offer. I can't tell you how many times I've been handed a contract, employee handbook, etc. Only reached the second or third page before deciding to reject an offer. Those dogmatic nuances are a screaming alarm of an unhealthy place to work. Commented May 16, 2014 at 19:52
  • @RualStorge my favorite example of that was getting a tour at an agency that wanted to offer me a position. The end of the tour concluded a stop at the 'free beer fridge' which they clearly thought was a huge plus to working there--until they said that they break this open at 5pm on Fridays for everyone to get together and do demos. All I could think was "You people are still here at 5pm on a Friday!?" :)
    – DA.
    Commented May 16, 2014 at 20:35
  • @RualStorge, what a great idea. I am going to ask to see the HR handbook the next time I look for a job before accepting any offers. Usually I have only seen that on my first day. You are right , it can give insight into the culture of the place. (Of course one of teh worst places I ever worked had no HR handbook, so that would be a giant red flag to me. )
    – HLGEM
    Commented Jul 16, 2014 at 18:24
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    @HLGEM it's worth noting many companies just copy paste job other companies policies... in those I'd put that as a point of caution more so then a full out red flag, but worth keeping in mind. (I've stopped in several interviews and said stuff like "how do you design guns when you have a policy saying you can't talk about them here?" or "Isn't it against the law to not allow people to discuss wages among their coworkers?) but you have to tread lightly, sometimes that's a plus in your book to know these things, other times it's viewed as negative. Depends on the individuals involved. Commented Jul 16, 2014 at 19:14
  • "...the more corporate/large the organization, the more likely the place is full of dress codes, insistence on 40 hour work weeks, and silly HR policies like 'no walking'." -- I've worked for some large organizations, and none of them had anything like that. Perhaps I've been lucky. Commented Aug 17, 2021 at 16:45

In my experience, this would be fine as long as someone's performance is good overall. I could see cases where someone who has had poor performance reviews may be subject to more scrutiny and thus this could be frowned upon as they are seen as wasting that time instead of working. Another factor is whether or not you'd be available for calls or emergencies should something come up. If you don't have a cell number that could be called, then there may be an issue if you are seen as the "on-call" person to handle production issues ASAP.

However, if someone is known for doing good work then there is a greater chance is being given the leeway to take those breaks. This would be part of the meritocracy that can exist within techies from what I've seen. There is something to be said for marking one's calendar and making sure it is known when these breaks are being taken so that there isn't the issue of, "Where's Bob?" that gets met with, "I don't know," from everyone else on the team.

  • Doing this is not fine, even if that employee has a poor job performance. In this case, you should find alternative solutions about that employee; otherwise, it's very difficult to draw the line between who will get that treatment and who won't. Commented May 15, 2014 at 21:21
  • So you'd ask before leaving your desk all the time?
    – JB King
    Commented May 15, 2014 at 22:11
  • God no ! I would quit the minute they enforce something like this. I was just saying that, if a company does decide to enforce this for unproductive employees, then the entire workplace atmosphere would be filled with "it's not fair" statements... Commented May 16, 2014 at 6:17

Apart from the possible health issues may rise discussed in the other answers, I know that having no intermittent breaks lowers your performance.

For example, you might get stuck on something or have been concentrated for a long time and you need a bloody break. There has been countless times for me where I was fixing a bug or looking a neat solution for hours and I have solved those in my smoke breaks.

We are all adults here, and we're not so much laborers as knowledge workers. When I go for a break, I go for it because I feel tired or frustrated not because I'm counting minutes as non-work minute profit in my workhours. I do know that if I stay there, I will stall for more and as a result, not getting the job done.

If a company actively engages in this type of intervention, they clearly do not understand how knowledge workers need to work. Even worse, they treat their employees as their slaves in which they don't have breaks or whatever. Eventually, this attidude is going to be clear in other areas related to work in time.

My advice, if the company you work for enforces you to sit all day, start looking for another job.


In my experience, the more technical the company, the more likely they are to realize that your productivity is not measured by how many hours a day you sit at your keyboard typing. In most companies, HR is not going to get involved unless your manager or his/her manager brings them in. So, if your manager is fine with it, I wouldn't worry about HR.

One of the best programmers I ever worked with used to wander around (sometimes outside) with a cup of coffee for hours. He would then sit down and implement his solution and much more often than not, it would compile and execute correctly on the first try. There is definitely value in having a clear picture in your mind of what you are going to code. If fresh air and nature are going to give you a clearer picture, sounds like a productivity booster to me.


Forgive this from an old lady, but I worked at Digital (DEC) many years ago, in the Mill in Maynard MA. This was a very old hodgepodge of buildings connected in the strangest ways, and easy to get lost in. There were big old windows and wide-planked wood floors. And walking around was a part of the culture. When you got stuck on a problem, or just got tired, felt uncomfortable, or needed to clear your head, the greatest option was simply to walk a new route within the buildings.

But DEC was one of the early companies to be more accommodating and realize that software was "creative" work. We had unlimited sick days & personal time, and no rigid work hours; all you had to do was get your work done. The offices were almost all in those "campus"-style settings that were so popular in the 70's and 80's, with trees, woods, places to walk and places to rest, places to breathe. The Mill was much more indoors, but had so much quirkiness that it was like travelling to another land.

Even in a more rigid work environment, being able to get up and walk has so many benefits. It's certainly not healthy to sit in the same position for hours on end; your body needs to stretch, and your eyes need to be off the computer screen and start blinking normally. Your mind sometimes needs to think of other things while you work out a thorny problem. And your psyche needs a reminder that you are a human being and that your senses are good for more than breathing recycled air.

In particular, creative people -- which includes many IT functions -- don't do their best work chained to a desk. If you work at a company where HR thinks otherwise, well, that's probably not an especially good place to work, and their company performance probably shows the attitude. And while I'm not really a fan of the high-tech companies that encourage beer pong and napping in the lounge, I do think that making human beings more comfortable will tend to improve their ability to produce good and elegant creations.

Digital's company motto is a big indicator of how your question would have been answered there: "Honesty and respect for customers and employees."

A few pics to show how odd the complex was:

  • When I was graduating CMU in 1979, DEC was considered a plum employer. That changed pretty quickly as Unix workstations and then PCs displaced the old VAX mainframes. Commented May 15, 2014 at 19:42

You need to know what's important to your imediate supervisor. If he is concerned about making HR happy by not letting his people appear to be wasting time by walking around, you need to find a suitable replacement. Get a drink, go to the bathroom, walk over to your boss's office.

Hopefully you have a supervisor who will stand up for his people and inform HR of their innacturate assumption. Some people are paid to think.


I personally like to take two fifteen minute walks, one just before lunch and one mid-afternoon. I've worked in a number of places that have had different responses to this.

At one company, the entire team would take a walk every day at 3:00. At most companies, nobody seemed to mind. At another company, I was called into my supervisor's office and reprimanded. I was told that I was wasting the company's time.

Needless to say, I refreshed my resume the minute I got home. Any company that meters software engineers' time like that certainly has a lot of other problems as well.


The generalized response is likely that it depends. Certainly most current management theory I've seen speaks to the answers here about the benefits of moving the body, and the approach that knowledge work (including software development) is best as salaried, results oriented work, where it shouldn't matter what your observed behavior is (as long as it is not offensive) as long as you do the work well and on time. I don't think anyone could honestly average out the totality of manager/company opinions on whether best practices are actually followed widely. I'd hope so, but it's hard to say with any certainty.

But let me point out a couple useful areas of management, policy and potential thoughts for legislation:

Breaks - Salaried vs. Hourly

I've noticed the trend that breaks are considered differently depending on whether you are salaried or hourly. There tends to be a lot more regimentation in any corporate policy over protecting the rights of hourly workers. In some offices, I've seen breaks mandated for them and as the US legislation covers it, their breaks are covered as part of their pay (where lunch is not). Often salaried guidelines are not as clear, given that the hours are far more flexible, although in cases where the employee's time is billed to a client, this can also be quite regimented.

Hours worked?

Usually with salaried folks, I have seen managers generally take notes of entry and exit times (if this is a traditional office environment). You like to know you can find people for a certain number of hours a day. I often don't see that most managers care much about breaks, but if they are long or if your are hard to find for hours on end, the excuse "I was taking a walk" may not cut it. In essence, 5-10 is a lot easier to handle than 30-60 minutes - particularly if we are talking twice a day. Even a 20 minute break, two times a day, is going to add up to more than half an hour (a common unit of time charging), and the manager may expect that you be around longer than the typical 8 hours if this isn't a team norm.

That said, if you are a wizzing along, meeting the same expectation as anyone else, and doing it in the typical hours a day (including breaks), then I have trouble seeing the average manager having an issue here.


At least in US law, the word "accomodation" is a word treated with a certain amount of caution. If you have a variety of health issues, it can be highly advisable that you get in a few brisk walks a day. I'd go so far (from a personal perspective, no medical expertise here) to say that if you qualify as human, a quick walking break will do you good... so getting a doctor's note even, to cover it, should be possible for many if not all people.

It never hurts to clear any accomodation with your manager, though. Getting up and walking around randomly could come off as weird in some cultures, but going to your manager and saying "hey, I stiffen up both physically and mentally if I don't get in a brisk walk every 2 hours - I'll do it anywhere you like, but I have to do it to stay productive" isn't out of line.


Looking from another angle, the common reason management objects to walking around is usually the disruption. Some folks like walking, some folks like as few distractions as possible - and the two can be mutually exclusive in some environments. Be aware as you walk about those around you and set a tone by limiting or avoiding conversation.

At least in places I've worked, it's not a walker that gets the flack, but someone strolling the halls looking for a juicy conversation instead of getting to work that gets labeled as the slacker. But if timing is bad and you're always off having a conversation when management walks in, you could be setting a tone that you would prefer to prevent.

Also, sadly, some buildings are just hard to walk in - in which case, a walk outside of the team area may be in order.


In most places I've worked, it's really about performance. But a talk about performance can quickly lead to a talk about walking around alot. A manager has to point out issues in performance, when an employee isn't getting work done. And it's not always easy to observe the actual problem when there's a big performance gap. Walking to think and walking out of distraction are hard to differentiate. But walking vs. pounding on a keyboard is easy.

Whether the feedback "don't walk around" is given in your performance review or a fellow coworker's - it's good to ask the speaker "why". The answer is likely to be that there's a claim that work isn't getting done... which is the real problem.

For the most part, in software environments where the work was highly valued, I've seen tolerance for all sorts of goofy behavior (and a walk is hardly goofy) and as long as the performance is good and sustainable.


I sometimes get up, and walk around. When I worked in the office, I'd leave the office, walk to the canteen, a few rounds in the canteen, and walk back to my office and my desk.

And in this time I would usually solve some problem that required genuine understanding of some complex matter and some genuine creativity.

Back at my desk I would then be able to do the actual work, with my brain all pointed in the right direction.

Not allowing me to walk around would likely mean being stuck for quite a while. Probably until the next morning under the shower :-)

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    the question is not "is this a helpful practice?" - the asker already knows it is. The question is "typically, do software firms punish developers who follow this practice?" and your answer doesn't speak to that at all. Commented Aug 17, 2021 at 14:23

As a coder, it is of great worth to sometimes just simply walk away from your code and do something trivial just for a couple of moments and come back to your code with fresh eyes.

So many times it has happened to me that I was wrestling with a piece of software that was not doing what I wanted and in fits of exhaustion just simply had enough. Just to come back 15 minutes later and have it immediately become clear what small mistake was at the root of my problems (So many times it was an incorrectly placed semi-colon).

Some of the social sciences may say that by walking away you give your sub-conscience a chance to mull over the problem while taking a break yourself. If you want to believe in that or not it is true that when it comes to code a break is as good as a holiday.

Any person who has coded for any extended amount of time knows that programming mostly comprises of high level thinking. A human being can only do so much of this type of thinking in a day. This is why I believe that 6 hours a day is really the maximum you can do in a day if you want to work continuously. Burn out is unfortunately a real concern for programmers.

Ultimately if an employer feels the need to micro manage you even when it is not needed then you have to ask yourself what is the employers motivation for doing it. Do they not trust you to do the job or do they think you are incapable of doing it? Either way at this point you have to think the trust is gone.

I will gladly discuss my process of producing code with my fellow coders and the tech lead and the chief technical officer or anyone that does what I do for a living. I'm by no means think I'm above critique. I will just require that the source of my methods critique be suitably qualified. If the person is unhappy that he is ignorant of a profession that he does not practice then maybe he should accept that trough the years of committed learning I have learnt a few things that this person has not learnt.

Really what right has A HR executive have to demand explanations from me on how I program? Any answer I give is going to be meaningless to everyone except fellow coders. How is such a conversation ever going to be anything else than an exercise in futility?

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    the question is not "is this a helpful practice?" - the asker already knows it is. The question is "typically, do software firms punish developers who follow this practice?" and your answer doesn't speak to that at all. Commented Aug 17, 2021 at 14:13
  • @KateGregory ok I will edit my answer to clearly state that this common and largely useful practice should not really be problem.
    – Neil Meyer
    Commented Aug 17, 2021 at 18:47

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