I'm a data analyst at a fairly large company and work primarily on predictive modeling. After finishing a task and before starting the next one, I like to take a 5 minute break and walk around, chat with colleagues, get coffee, etc. My job requires a fair amount of creativity and I find that this helps me come up with new ideas and wrap my head around complex problems, but I'm afraid that other people, especially those I report to, may see this as a sign of laziness. I'm wondering if the amount of time spent sitting at a cubicle is an important factor in forming an opinion about an employee's work ethic or if the only thing that matters is the quality of work and how quickly tasks get completed.

I'm sure there is a lot of cultural variation between different workplaces so to add some context, many people at my company work remotely 100% of the time and most people (at least on my team) spend a couple days a week working from home. Employees are expected to report and update the number of hours spent on a project and the number of hours needed for completion on a daily basis. We work on projects as a team and micromanagement is almost non-existent.

  • By restricting your question to just managers, have you considered the value of input from fellow data analysts and employees in other positions? – Frank FYC Aug 29 '17 at 19:59
  • Good point--fixed. – AffableAmbler Aug 29 '17 at 20:01
  • To your question, I would argue that it depends on company culture. In the few roles that I've had, I valued the opportunity to stretch my legs and think about the problem in solitude. Now does your immediate boss value results or process? – Frank FYC Aug 29 '17 at 20:05
  • Short 5 minutes breaks are actually a good idea. And considering your second paragraph, I think you'll be fine. – Stephan Branczyk Aug 29 '17 at 20:45
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    @HorusKol One sentence. 5 min break. Another. 5 min. Done. 5. – Frank FYC Aug 29 '17 at 22:28

I'm wondering if the amount of time spent sitting at a cubicle is an important factor in forming an opinion about an employee's work ethic or if the only thing that matters is the quality of work and how quickly tasks get completed.

I can't speak for all managers, but this manager doesn't frown on taking breaks. I never check on "the amount of time spent sitting at a cubicle". I'd probably chat with you at the coffee station more than once during the day.

The output you produce is by far the most important factor in my opinion of your work ethic.

If you take a few breaks during work - to use the bathroom, to get coffee, to get water, etc - you would fit right in with the culture of the companies where I have worked. As long as you weren't bothering others who were trying to work, nobody would think twice. And if that still allowed you to get the expected amount of work done in the expected amount of time, with sufficient quality, then I think you are doing exactly the right thing.

On the other hand, if I were to see you consistently wandering around on break while your work didn't get done on time, or if you turned in sub-par work, then I'd wonder if you were concentrating enough.

The work product is the end result, and would constitute the majority of how you were measured in my shop. The path you took to get to that result is far, far less important.

Note that this is likely dependent on culture and context. I tend to self-select companies that believe in the result like I do, rather than expecting folks to be chained to their desks. In other cultures and other companies, expectations might be different.

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  • That's been my experience under most managers as well. How you spend your time generally only comes under scrutiny if you start underperforming (or if there are budget cuts coming down the pipe). – sleddog Aug 29 '17 at 20:10
  • I believe my company's culture is the same as your's which is the main reason I took the job, but I guess I'll need a little more time to know for sure. I posted this question knowing it violates the rules--sorry about that. But I'm glad some good answers before it got downvoted to the depths of hell. – AffableAmbler Aug 29 '17 at 20:36

Data analyst here.

Talk to your boss about their expectations for the volume and quality of your work, as well as how you spend your time. By some people's standards, I'm sure the amount of time I spend doing "non-work" related functions on SE, YouTube, Reddit, etc. would qualify me as a slacker. My boss is thrilled with my performance thus far and my project folder for the year is brimming full of successfully completed requests.

There's no hard and fast answer here, but when talking to your boss, be prepared to justify why spending time solving a Rubik's cube helps you focus, fiddling with a fidget cube helps you concentrate, or music from a streaming service keeps you from getting distracted. As long as the quality and timeliness of your work doesn't suffer, they probably won't care what you do, but will definitely appreciate your honesty.

Listen man, we're in the tech field. Nobody can focus on this stuff for 8 hours a day without frequent mental breaks, and the people that do burn out super fast. If we wanna last, we have to keep our brains happy, healthy and stimulated. If your employer isn't big on micromanagement and is more deliverable oriented, how you get it done probably isn't a concern. Just be open and honest about your needs and they'll likely be more than willing to accommodate you if you've been performing so far.

Whatever you end up doing to keep your brain from liquefying, make sure it's safe for work!

Good luck!

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  • Congratulations on your achievements and thanks for your advice! I'm still pretty new to the field and my last job didn't really count but I think everything you said is dead on. – AffableAmbler Aug 29 '17 at 20:25
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    @AffableAmbler Communication is key. Don't take coworkers' word for it: talk to your direct manager and figure out what his expectations are. As long as you meet those, it should be smooth sailing! – sleddog Aug 29 '17 at 20:26

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