I work in a cubicle in a fairly large company; there are at least 100 people on my floor alone. In my cubicle space, I keep 5 small figurine toys, all lined neatly in a row and facing me. In November, one of them was stolen and I reported it to HR, but aside from sending out an awareness email, not much was done.

Recently, I've noticed that someone keeps touching my stuff again. Examples:

  1. After returning to work on Monday, 1 of my figurines was overturned, the other facing the wall lopsided. In addition, my hand sanitizer was overturned on the desk.
  2. Tuesday, 1 of the figurines was again lopsided
  3. Today, 1 of the figurines was AGAIN lopsided, and all of the figurines were moved from their original neat line

None of the cleaning staff are supposed to be cleaning our desks, so I doubt it was someone who needed to clean the space under the figurines. In addition, everything else in my cubicle is always exactly where it needs to be, including random papers, calculators, and headphones.

Is there a way I can catch the perpetrator somehow? I don't want to have to lock up my figurines in my drawer each time I leave, especially since none of my peer coworkers seem to have this problem...

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. Feb 10, 2016 at 20:27
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    The fact that the cleaning staff are not supposed to clean something has had little to do with whether they actually clean it or not, in my experience. It could be cleaning staff. Feb 10, 2016 at 20:48
  • 5
    @ToddWilcox - You hit the nail on the head. The cleaning staff might be dusting the shelf or the top of the cubicle wall and inadvertently knocking them off.
    – ventsyv
    Feb 10, 2016 at 21:28
  • 1
    Clicked on link for moved to chat... got Riker and Picard wearing funny hats, plus funny looks from coworkers. Feb 18, 2016 at 19:12

7 Answers 7


Seems like your figurines are simply a magnet for others to fidget with. Most likely this is not malicious (except maybe for the missing one). However, depending on your reaction to these things being moved it could also be that an office mate is simply trolling you.

Let's analyze both situations:

Innocent Interest

You could, for example, mention it to your buddies over lunch that you're having this problem, and that you really don't appreciate having people touch your things, then simply let the word spread around.

Putting up a post-it asking people not to touch them is also a possible solution (you could put it up as you leave, so that it doesn't bother you through-out the day).

If the person/people doing this are not maliciously seeking to annoy you then it will most likely be enough to make it all stop. However, what if it is malicious?

Malicious Intent

You should analyze your past response to the situation and try to determine whether you've simply suffered in silence, or if you've shown yourself to be very irritated/annoyed.

If someone finds your figurines annoying, or distracting, they could potentially be trying to goad you into simply removing them permanently.

Alternatively, if someone finds your reactions childish (not saying they are, simply playing devil's advocate) then they could simply be entertaining themselves by trolling you.

So then how do you approach the situation if this is the case?

Do Not Go To HR

Having figurines on your desk is not exactly standard in most offices. As long as there's no company policy against them you're fine having them, of course, however a policy could soon be enacted if an office conflict arises over them.

At the end of the day management doesn't want to deal with your issues over the toys you display on your desk. If you go to them and try to make an issue of it then they may decide that removing the figurines altogether is the simplest way to solve the problem.

Additionally, if you complain to HR and they keep sending out communications on your behalf then your colleagues may start to feel that you're becoming a bother, and similarly lose their sympathy for your situation, and approach management to ask that they be gotten rid of.

What I'm getting at is that you want to avoid making a scene about it.

What Now, Then?

Since going to management/HR for such a trivial issue is not really a good idea, you should do what you can to stop this behavior.

Sticking a post-it asking people to stop touching them (as I mentioned above) could work. Another approach is, as you've mentioned, simply taking them down at the end of the day. You could also try gluing them to your monitor, in order to make them difficult to remove.

I do not recommend trying to record your cubicle. First of all, most companies have very strict rules against that sort of thing. Second, it's actually illegal in many countries/places, and it could potentially get you fired.

However. If you really, really, really are dying to know who's messing with your stuff, then you could potentially try to pull that stunt. I'm not advising it, however I will recommend the following: if you do this, do not let anyone know that you're doing it, or that you have done it. You can use the knowledge of who's messing with your figurines to maybe drop some hints to that person that you suspect them, etc., but never ever mention recording in the office, or admit that you've done so.

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    Gluing them to the monitor... And what when helpdesk staff will decide to upgrade his monitor? He might be punished for destroying equipment.
    – Mołot
    Feb 10, 2016 at 22:32
  • Comments are not for extended discussion; the conversation about the legality of video recording has been moved to chat and any further comments about that topic here are subject to deletion. Feb 11, 2016 at 20:42
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    I think "a magnet for others to fidget with" is almost certainly correct, given that the figures were only moved around, not missing or rearranged in any unusual way. An alternate recommendation: Keep figurines at work only if you don't mind others playing with them. Keep anything rare, valuable, or fragile at home, and embrace the fact that other coworkers are intrigued by the ones you choose to keep on your desk.
    – recognizer
    Feb 11, 2016 at 22:31
  • Many organisations have security cameras inside the working areas. You could request the facilities folks to let you see the footage if one of them covers your desk area. Jan 10, 2023 at 3:36

It seems that this is a real problem for you. However you have it in your power to remove this problem all together. You can do that by simply taking the figurines home.

The figurines are not necessary or even beneficial to your job performance, and it seems now have become a hindrance and problem for you at work. You spend a good portion of your life at work, and having something in your control, that is causing you anxiety and aggravation, seems almost a form of masochism. You can take control and remove the temptation to fiddle with, play with, or harass you with your decorations. Sure its not the ideal solution for you but your management is unlikely to side with you over the situation since it does not involve work products. So it can solve your biggest problem by removing the source of anxiety and aggravation.

Alternatively you could put the figurines and any other personal items in a locked desk drawer when you leave. Again sure it is not the ideal solution but it would allow you to keep the figurines at your desk, and avoid any problems with people fiddling with them when you are not there.

Another thing to consider is that your figurines, and your seeming OCDesqe behavior around their placement, could be causing anxiety and aggravation among your coworkers. In this case your having the figurines there is now not only affecting your happiness but also those of your coworkers. Taking them home will solve that problem as well.

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    I would say if they are valuable in any way, and especially if they couldn't be easily replaced, they should be taken home or locked away at night. +1 Feb 10, 2016 at 20:49
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    +1 your workplace is your employer's space. If you expect complete control over how things are aligned on your desk, you're expecting too much. If you have items of sentiment that you care about, it's good to keep them where they're safe.
    – Kos
    Feb 10, 2016 at 21:25

You say that you don't want other people touching them or messing with them. I'm going to make a small assumption that you generally don't do much with them, either (or at least could stand losing the ability to do so). They are primarily there as a decoration to spruce up your desk and give it a little personality and brighten your day. That's great, and it's great that your company is okay with this. So it's completely understandable that you don't want to take them home.

So rather than getting rid of them, why not go all out and make it a real decoration? Put them in a display case of some kind. Maybe something like this one:

Model display case
(source: displays2go.com)

(The style of the case is really unimportant. Choose one you like and that's in your acceptable price range.)

This sends a subtle but clear "hands off" message without a gaudy post it note while still keeping your figurines at your desk and in view. It avoids the potential drawbacks of going to HR, trying to confront people, or spying on people. It makes it much simpler to put them away somewhere when you wish to. (You move one case instead of a full set of figurines.) It would also solve the problem if cleaning staff is responsible, and if you choose, you could glue down your figurines inside to avoid a jostle or move from tipping them over.

If you don't want to buy a case, you could also just glue them to something you own and can take with you. A piece of wood or cardboard should work.

If you do want to fiddle with your figurines sometimes, find one that you can open easily (The above one says it has a lift off top, so that would work.), but avoid doing it regularly or in front of other people as this would diminish the "hands off" effect.

If this doesn't work, then you clearly have someone who doesn't respect your property. In that situation, as unfortunate as it is, it would be best to simply take them home. Leaving them at work where this person has such easy access to them would be too high a risk that something would happen to them.

For the sanitizer and other daily supplies like that, just make a habit of keeping those in a drawer to begin with. It doesn't have to be locked if you're not worried about people stealing the items.

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    +1 for creative way to resolve the problem without blowing it out of proportion and without having to admit defeat!
    – user12985
    Feb 11, 2016 at 3:45

I'm not sure that you can learn with confidence who's touching your figurines. The other answers already explain some of your options but none of the (safe) steps you can take will guarantee anything.

If you post a note, whoever plays with your toys may or may not stop. If someone is trolling you, they may or may not care about your dislike to playing with the toys and may not stop. If you use a camera, you could get in a lot of trouble, depending on company and local law.

Based on your description, it seems to me that the figurines are valuable to you (regardless of their monetary value). If this is the case, there's no guarantee at all that they're safe - if you get upset when someone messes with them, just take them home. That's the only way to keep them safe - if another one gets taken at your office, your company won't do anything to recover it.


Just to point out another possibility: it may not be the people you expect it to be. Most offices have a cleaning staff. Many make doing at least a quick dusting if desk surfaces part of that process. Objects on the desk, especially small "unimportant" objects, may be moved in that process.

If this is happening on specific days, that becomes more likely.

If so, then even if you explain that this bothers you they may have conflicting instructions. And given turnover in such jobs, you may need to re-explain frequently.

If this is the issue, the display case suggestion may help, since that lets them just dust the case. You could also find a way to clamp the case in place, or at least "spike" its desired location with a masking-tape outline so if it does get moved it can be moved back. Plus having the other benefits mentioned in those answers.

But I tend to agree that if there's something too valuable to risk handling, or which you can't tolerate being moved occasionally, it may be wiser not to bring it to work. Much as we like to think of our workspace as our own, it's really the company's. Especially in a cubicle or open-plan setting, which is another argument against those.

(Rant about the death of actual rooms with doors withheld as a public service. At one point I seriously considered moving my desk into a closet since that was the only alternative available to noisy open plan.)

  • Mmm, this wouldn't surprise me. (For example, I heard of a member of contract cleaning staff being sacked for using a company computer to log onto their Facebook page…) If practical, putting valuable items away in a drawer for the night might be one solution (especially if the drawer could be locked).
    – gidds
    Jan 5, 2023 at 21:37

Curiosity is human, so you probably want to figure out what is happening.

You can use a camera - you can use any dashcam with a recording time of 16 hours or more - once you're done you can install it in your car so it's not a lost investment. You might also be tempted to use an old smartphone, but many security camera apps use WiFi bandwidth and might be spotted by network admins.

This will not result in admissible evidence, and will almost certainly get you in trouble if found out. But it will allow you to know what's going on. The ease of mind provided by knowing it's not one of your coworkers trying to harass you can indeed be more valuable than the risk of being told off for installing a makeshift camera in your cubicle. I wouldn't do it, but it sounds like it's bothering you enough to consider this option. It's your call.

When you find out what's going on remove the camera, permanently.

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    This advice could get the OP in serious trouble in many countries. Feb 10, 2016 at 19:41
  • @NeilSlater - I think fighting for your figurines is worth it.
    – user8365
    Feb 18, 2016 at 11:23

I think you should go and talk to HR again but this time you have to frame the problem differently.

First, start by saying that you realize that your figurines are not important, but if someone is touching them who know what else they are doing. They might be going through your desk looking for sensitive documents for example. In any case, such behavior should be dealt with promptly otherwise it can set up bad precedent.

Then say you are sure it's simply a case of innocent curiosity and that you would love to show them off to whoever is interested and thus clear up this misunderstanding.

By saying those two things you escalate the issue and make it more worthy of attention while you also give HR an easy out once they figure out who has been doing it.

HR are people too, they don't want to get in confrontations with people over something that's not worth it (at least in their view). Giving them an easy way to resolve the issue will remove a major reason for them to not to want to investigate the incident.

  • Why would you say "I'm sure it is innocent curiosity" when you know nothing of the sort? Also, if someone could get their hands on sensitive documents just by rummaging through your desk something is very wrong with your security precautions. Things that are sensitive in nature should be behind lock and key
    – Kevin
    Feb 10, 2016 at 22:04
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    @KevinWells Because the HR person will be thinking "Oh, these stupid figurines again... What am I supposed to do about it? Get in nasty confrontation over them? Fire someone? It's just not worth it" If you give them assurance of sort that you won't make big stink over it, they'll be more willing to do something about it.
    – ventsyv
    Feb 10, 2016 at 22:11
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    I think your comment explains why the HR department is not a useful tool in this situation, what would they do about it? By going to them twice you have already made a big stink over it, so why would they believe you that it isn't important to you?
    – Kevin
    Feb 10, 2016 at 22:14
  • Useful or not, that's the proper way to deal with issues at work.
    – ventsyv
    Feb 10, 2016 at 22:19
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    I disagree, he already involved HR in the appropriate way, and they did what they felt was appropriate. By going back you them again, he would be asking them to take more extreme measures, which I think is unnecessary and inappropriate given the situation
    – Kevin
    Feb 10, 2016 at 23:08

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