I work in an open-plan office, at one of the 'edges' of the room. Nobody sits behind me, but the printers are immediately behind me, and people often walk past to get to the toilets or an adjacent meeting room.

When someone is standing behind me (usually at the printers, or having a chat with someone en route to the toilets), I start to get nervous and feel that they are all staring at my monitor and judging my work. In a rational sense I am not worried about this - it's just the feeling of it which is strongly distracting until they move away.

I have a phone on my desk which has a camera for video calling, and I often turn on the 'self-view' function. When I start getting nervous as above, I glance at the screen, and 90% of the time that solves my nervousness and I can immediately get on with my work.

However, some people have commented on it/asked why I always have the self-view on (I usually say something about how vain I am - which is trueish, half the time I look it's just to check how my hair is looking!). More significantly, my boss tends to lean over me and turn it off himself when he walks past. He hasn't told me not to use it, but it clearly bothers him for some reason.

I was thinking of getting a small mirror to put on my desk instead to serve the same purpose without looking as strange to my colleagues as the self-view on the phone. But I'm worried that since they don't like the self-view, they also won't like the mirror. I'm not keen to raise this with them as I think it's an irrational nervousness, and just a practical adjustment that's a bit tricky to explain without sounding suspicious or weird.

How normal or appropriate is it to keep a mirror on one's desk in a setting like this?

For reference: I'm in in finance, I've been at the company for ~6 months, in a fairly junior position, in the UK.

  • 8
    Ask you boss if you can have a different cubicle location, as unseen people standing behind you on a regular basis makes you feel uncomfortable. Oct 25, 2017 at 15:44
  • 4
    I can´t help you, but I can absolutely relate to the feeling. Awful, especially if I am in a deep-thinking state and apparently doing nothing on screen. Sadly, that is also when it is the most harmful to be distracted.
    – Daniel
    Oct 25, 2017 at 15:56
  • 7
    Side note: Your boss has spontaneously leaned over you to change a setting on your monitor or computer multiple times? That seems somewhere between fairly and very inappropriate of him. Did he say anything? Did you say anything? Oct 25, 2017 at 16:01
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    "I'm worried that since they don't like the self-view, they also won't like the mirror." - No. A mirror is a normal thing and won't raise any questions. The reason a self-view camera is much more noticeable is that the image is not a true reflection, there are probably slight delays, etc. which are unconsiously perceptible.
    – Brandin
    Oct 26, 2017 at 11:47
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    "I'm worried that since they don't like the self-view, they also won't like the mirror." -- A Mirror can't record - a phone can record both audio and video! More so recording is the common use! Its freaky, switch to a mirror.
    – Morons
    Oct 26, 2017 at 12:40

6 Answers 6


How normal or appropriate is it to keep a mirror on one's desk in a setting like this?

I know many folks who have a small mirror attached to their computer monitor so that they can see people who walk up behind them.

These mirrors are usually small and come with a self-adhesive strip that attached them to the corner of your monitor. They can be very inexpensive.

It seems perfectly normal to me. And I've never heard anyone say that it was inappropriate. I suppose in some offices it would be frowned on, but none that I've ever seen.

  • 7
    They're very, very common in cubicle environments, particularly where people wear headphones. Oct 25, 2017 at 16:01
  • 4
    Mirror seems much more "inert" than actively having the phone, I'd guess, to a boss. Plus then there's no worry about it being a way to discreetly record someone without permission. Oct 25, 2017 at 16:30
  • 1
    They're $3 in most auto parts stores here in the US. Oct 25, 2017 at 16:39
  • Plus some people, like the hearing impaired or people with panic disorder have a medical need for these as well. They're common. Oct 26, 2017 at 13:34
  • I don't always notice someone behind me talking to me if I can't see them, I think you could easily make a case that the mirror helps you make sure you don't accidentally ignore someone who came up behind you quietly.
    – Mel Reams
    Nov 6, 2017 at 3:01

First thing ... it came up in comments that it might make sense for you to sit at another desk. That's not a bad idea, as it addresses the underlying problem (people behind you) instead of trying to mitigate the effects. It's worth a chat with your manager. If moving is not practical, broach the subject of the mirror.

For what it's worth, I did overhear a conversation around such a mirror that you might appreciate:

Worker 1: Hey, what's with the mirror?

Worker 2: It's in case I have to back up.

Worker 1: [Laugh] Yeah yeah, about that bug...

Point being, it's not weird. In the offices I've been in (largely filled with software people) they pop up from time to time, and attract the odd passing comment like above, and that's about it.

I would suggest that if you get a mirror and someone asks you about it, explain it as a minor convenience; most coworkers don't need to hear about any anxiety you are feeling.


Personally, I wouldn't like the video self-view on the video phone either.

But the mirror on the monitor, I would have no problem with that.

Just make sure it's convex so you don't have to change your viewing angle and strain your neck every time you look at it to make sure no one is there.

If your boss really doesn't like it, you could just use a shiny blurry convex mirror, or maybe place it in a slightly different viewing position in your cubicle. After all, to be effective, you just need to know when someone is in the back of you, not exactly who they are.


In regards to having a mirror on your desk, at our workplace it is common for almost every desk to have a mirror. The mirrors have a small message saying something along the lines of "smile more" as when you work at a call center if you are smiling it can translate through to the customer. You could place the mirror on your desk and simply say it is to remind you to smile more and no one would ask further about it I am pretty sure.


Here are some ways to "hide" a mirror on your desk :

  • put up a little square vase with a flower in it that is made of some silver-shiny-see-what's-behind-you material.
  • We have a slogan at our workplace : "The only person responsible for your safety can be seen below." and there's a mirror below. Maybe safety isn't an issue at your workplace, but then you can change this. Make a photoframe with for example the text " The only person responsible for your hapiness can be seen below." and put a mirror under it.

Talk to your boss about it. If he has a problem with the phone, he may have a problem with the mirror as well. Better to check before putting it up. Tell him you are uncomfortable with people being behind you that you can't see and that it is distracting. There is nothing irrational about this at all. Many people do not like to have people behind them they cannot see. You don't have to mention that you are worried they may be looking at your screen which would make him wonder what is on your screen that people can't see. If he won't agree to the mirror ask him to come up with a solution to fix the problem. You should not have to feel uncomfortable with your seating in an office. I once had an office completely rebuild the cubicles because the original design made me feel unsafe. He may even suggest that your team swap with some other team if this makes you so uncomfortable. It is not in his or the company's best interest to have an employee constantly distracted due to something easily fixable like moving the seats or adding a mirror.

[Frankly I could not work at all under those circumstances because I was jumped in the office once in an open office space similar to this. (30 plus years ago and it still affects my ability to work under those conditions.) If you are female, it is a safety issue to be able to see people coming up on you. Men don't have the same safety issues that women do and rarely consider how unsafe their work-space designs are for women.]

  • 6
    I had to downvote for the blatant sexist remark. Men have unaddressed safety concerns at work too. We're the disposable sex. The fact that you've never even considered that men could feel unsafe or be unsafe at your workplace kind of reinforces my point. Oct 26, 2017 at 0:10
  • 3
    @TheSnarkKnight "Men don't have the same safety issues that women do" != "Men don't have safety issues".
    – user812786
    Oct 26, 2017 at 13:19
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    It doesn't matter though, some men might have the exact same safety concerns that a woman might have in this scenario. If a woman is being harassed and installs the mirror to see if that person is behind them, what's to say the exact same thing doesn't happen to men? Regardless of whether or not this was right or wrong, I don't think it was appropriate to put into the answer. A simple "It is a safety issue to be able to see people coming up on you." would've sufficed. Oct 26, 2017 at 13:35
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    When men are sexually assaulted at the same rate as women then I will change my remarks. I never said that men have no safety issues just that this particular one is more critical to women. And the workplace fatality thing is getting old. Most of those fatalities are not from office work which is what is being discussed here. Yes men die in coal mine accidents, industrial accidents, police and firefighter deaths etc more than women because those are male-dominated fields not because males are inherently less safe.
    – HLGEM
    Oct 26, 2017 at 13:46
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    @HLGEM not true. I DO however respond to misandry, especially when a question is about workplace appropriateness, and you turn it into an opportunity to make it all about how women need mirrors on their desks to keep men from attacking them. Oct 26, 2017 at 18:07

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