I am the type of person that likes trinkets, small games and puzzles at my desk. Typically I have small brain teasers, a couple of Rubiks cubes and a small Chess board. I also have various other strange and amusing items and oddities (tasteful of course).

I recently got in a debate with a colleague who thought that such things were a sign of immaturity and demonstrated lack of professionalism. He claims that management sees these things and loses faith in their ability to advance and overall will take these people less seriously.

My counter argument is that Rubiks cubes and various difficult puzzles demonstrate a passion for solving problems and quirky intelligence. This person stands out from the pack and others treat them differently in a good way.

While my boss thinks it is great that I proudly display my puzzles and has no qualms about introducing me to visitors and prospective clients, I can still sort of see his point.

It has been my personal experience that much management in many companies don't like people who are "too unique" or demonstrate "too much personality", and would rather have a cubicle farm full of unassuming cogs. Others might think that this person is playing with games and puzzles all day instead of getting actual work done.

In all is this something that should be frowned upon or encouraged and why?

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    How about just "I like puzzles"? I don't know that it's an either/or... – jcmeloni May 1 '12 at 12:43
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    I would suggest that this is a false dilemma. It is not necessarily a sign of either. – IDrinkandIKnowThings May 1 '12 at 12:47
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    The challenge with these sorts of questions is that most perspectives on specific behaviors are highly subjective, and will roughly follow the culture in which you work, and the kind of people you have as your supervisor(s) and manager(s). It's sort of impossible to answer this without just subscribing to one of the two proposed views, neither of which are right or wrong. The best answer to these sorts of questions, I think, is that you should try to find a place that reflects the culture in which you want to work, and that not much else matters. – jefflunt May 1 '12 at 12:58
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    @maple_shaft I don't know that's the case just yet; for this question, how about working with the assumption that "it depends" and instead ask how to maintain a games-playing, puzzle-loving exterior while working within an office environment? (There's still "it depends" but would lean more toward the practical & answerable, and still lets us managers answer "authoritatively"). – jcmeloni May 1 '12 at 13:16
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    @maple_shaft Want to delete and try a do-over? – jcmeloni May 1 '12 at 13:22

This is very much dependent on your company culture.

I have worked for companies that required any personalisation of the workspace to be work related. The only exception was professional family photos. This meant that any "cute" things at the desk needed to be related to work, and preferably company themed.

I have also worked at companies that forbid any customization of the work space, and one place where we were allowed to have no more than 2 visible items

Perhaps not coincidentally the companies with the most restrictive policies towards cube decorations also tended to have significant dysfunction in the work processes.

If you are considering implementing these types of restrictive policies please consider the following:

A 1% positive increase in a worker's relationship with the boss is equal to a 30% increase in salary(when comparing job satisfaction). Psychologists and researchers from around the world, including studies by Ed Denener, Martin Seligman, Daniel Goleman, Stephen Post, Ruut Veenhoven and John Helliwell have all concluded the following:

  • Creating conditions under which workers feel happy about their work results in greater productivity and other positive work behaviours.

  • Happy individuals are more likely than their less happy peers to have fulfilling, positive relationships, superior work performance and robust health.

  • Happier people tend to get better performance evaluations and higher pay.


Most companies I have worked at allowed their workers to personalize their cube as they saw fit so long as it did not create problems. Including things that interest you is a way of sharing a piece of yourself with your coworkers. So long as your interests are not disruptive, I think it is a great way to help improve the work atmosphere.

However if you have a coworker that has a problem it may be disruptive for them. Perhaps a discussion with your coworker could help you understand his concerns. If his concerns are strictly for your professional development, I would thank him for his concern and emphasize you would prefer to have a happier work environment to slightly greater career success.

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