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I often find it difficult to stay focused for long periods of time without fidgeting in some way. Multiple studies1,2,3 have shown that fidgeting at work can help productivity. For me, this typically takes the form of paper clips, rubber bands, and pen clicking..

I've considered bringing a fidget cube to work to help me stay focused and productive. However, I'm worried my co-workers may see it as a toy, or worse, a childish distraction. (See Everyone in training plays with a very distracting toy)

I've considered asking my manager, but I'm not sure how to bring up the topic with him. I'm also afraid that, even if my manager gives his approval, my co-workers may find it distracting, or that the stigma against fidget toys could leave a bad impression.

Is it acceptable to bring a fidget cube to work if it helps me stay focused and productive?

  • 3
    We don't know your co-workers. Some might have a problem with it, while others wouldn't care. – Dan Pichelman Jun 30 '17 at 18:06
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    Are you in a cube? Or open area? And, what kind of business? IT? Banking? Undertaker? Cattle rancher? Each environment has unwritten norms that should not be crossed for that environment. – user45269 Jun 30 '17 at 18:17
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    Does it make noise? – Mister Positive Jun 30 '17 at 18:28
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    just buy a good one. I have 2 fidget cubes (one real one knock off) and a fidget spinner at my desk. The cheap ones are loud and distracting, but the good ones are made to be quite but still give tactile feed back. You shouldn't need to ask anyone's permission unless it is a loud cheap one. – SaggingRufus Jun 30 '17 at 18:29
  • I guess a fidget cube (in a "clean" design) would be the least "offensive" toy you could bring. Maybe it is inappropriate to bring to meetings or greet customers with it in hand, but if it is silent and not "flashing bright" it should be okay in any environment. I don't see much difference to having a picture of your family you occasionally look at. And it is much better than developing a nervous tick like tapping feet or fingers. – skymningen Jul 3 '17 at 9:38
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This is going to be company culture and even team specific.

In some of the teams I've worked with, 100% fine, some 100% not. In order to gauge this:

  • Look around at your coworkers desks. Are there toys, gadgets, etc? A senior director who sits near me has a collection of rubber ducks on his desk. It's likely the more stuff like this you see the more likely your environment is to tolerate it
  • The nature of your coworkers. Honestly, you know your coworkers - do you think they would find it distracting? This is easy for me when thinking about teams I've been on - some would be "lol you weirdo" and some are "oh cool where can I get one?"
  • What type of environment does your office have overall? Is it one of the "fun, fast paced" environments? Or a more serious corporate environment?
  • Do you care about coworkers judging your age? You might, or might not, but this will make you appear younger. Depending on your actual age/role this may change how important it is
  • Will it distract others? How is your office laid out?

Ultimately, some people will horribly judge you, some will not care, and some will find it really interesting.

  • Of course it's "situation specific", but it's unrealistic not to point out that in the overwhelmingly statistically prevalent case it would be "totally weird". – Fattie Jul 1 '17 at 15:29
  • @Fattie that probably depends on industry and locale. I don't know where you work, but I don't know any companies that would really consider it "weird". (I'm sure there's plenty, just saying that your view of statistics is probably skewed by your own experiences in the companies you work for. Unless you have ACTUAL statistics, in which case you have the start of a very good answer.) – Erik Jul 3 '17 at 7:11
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I think this varies greatly by situation.

I work in engineering and we are well stocked with toys - fidget or otherwise. I have Engineering Barbie, a beanie baby platypus, a stuffed beaver finger puppet, mind-game construction type blocks, and as I type this, my esteemed colleague is sitting on an urgent system issue conference bridge playing with a finger puppet. We both hold the title Senior Manager, so theoretically we're grown ups.

That said - this style would not have flown in many of my old offices. I always keep a certain few weird things about, and it seems to work with my personal brand - which includes being "the quirky one"... but that may not be the brand you want to pursue.

So, reasons to avoid bringing toys:

  • You are in a place with lots of customers or other external stakeholders physically present. While cognitive theory is nice, it's easy for it to look too casual to the uninformed observer.

  • The toy is annoying - fidget toy makers don't always consider how annoying loud clicking, or bright lights or fast moving parts may be to non-fidgeters. Even spinning a coin like a top or playing with a slinky can be unbearable to someone trying to focus.

  • You have a job with lots of engagement with others - especially people you don't know well. For sure, fidgeting is still cognitively useful even when you're talking to someone. But it can come off as being disengaged or disinterested. So, the less well you know someone, the less you should consider fidgeting to be a good option.

  • You have an office culture that thrives on being stodgy and prim and proper. Banking, big government, IBM - you could stick out like a sore thumb and that's not good if the company has a habit of amputating sore spots.

If none of this applies to you - give it a shot. Gauge your coworker's reactions, and react accordingly. If you don't like that they seem to be put off by your fidget toy, bring it home.

  • One point: In the vast majority of situations, you will be "the freak who brought a toy to the office". For sure, there are a number of exceptional situations, like 1 company in 1,000, where that would not apply. One point though: at the end of this answer it suggests "try it and see". Unfortunately, if you "try it to see" you'll still be forever "the freak who brought a toy to the office". It's hard to believe it wouldn't be crystal clear from your setting whether it would be seen as whacky or not; in that case (the overwhelmingly statistically normal case) doing it once is as bad. – Fattie Jul 1 '17 at 15:24
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I'm worried my co-workers may see it as a toy, or worse, a childish distraction."

There are co-workers who look down on those who don't use vi as their editor of choice. Would you change your preferred editor to satisfy those workers? What if a co-worker didn't like your car or choice of bank? If your fidget device isn't actually distracting co-workers and they're not forced to use it, then there's no advice to give you here. You're the only person who can draw the line of what you're willing to suppress about yourself at work to conform with others and what things you're willing to accept/not care that co-workers won't hold in the highest of esteem.

Is it acceptable to bring a fidget cube to work if it helps me stay focused and productive? This depends on your work environment. But we can provide guidelines to help you in reaching an answer:

  1. Will use of the fidget cube cause a distraction to your co-workers? If so, it's not acceptable - like almost anything else that would cause a distraction.
  2. Does your company have explicit rules or informal code of behavior that requires a formal workspace? If so, a fidget cube is likely out of place in such an environment and should be left at home.
  3. Are you customer facing in a position where your use of the fidget cube could come across as unprofessional or lazy (given that unlike your co-workers who have idea of your work product and see you through the day, a customer may only observe you during a moment of fidget cubing)? If so, you'd need to consider the impact on the workplace.

Pretty much, your course to evaluate this decision is the same as anything else you may bring in to work - what's the impact on co-workers, customers, and company policy/culture?

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While I think the concept of the fidget toy is silly, I don't really see the issue with it. It really isn't any different from a stress ball that people have at work except it is more visible and less subtle. If it's one of those spinners that everyone has, I would probably avoid spinning it as hard as you could just because watching someone do that 100 times a day out of the corner of my eye would get annoying.

I can definitely relate to needing something to fidget with. I keep a stress ball for that and as you mentioned, the good old pens. I would bring it in and let your manager know about it. The last thing you want to do is bring it in and toy with it just for your manager to walk by and assume you are not being productive. So let him know that you need something to help your fidgeting and productivity, but if it gets distracting, you are willing to put it away or limit your usage of it if requested.

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    What makes the fidget cube silly if you understand the usefulness of the stressball? The cubes work on the same principle. – Erik Jun 30 '17 at 18:26
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    @Erik I understand the practicality of it, that doesn't mean I can't find it silly. You can understand why someone makes a choice, that doesn't mean you agree with it. To me, a stress ball is simple and doesn't have all the different gizmos to it and therefore more acceptable to use. – ggiaquin16 Jun 30 '17 at 18:31

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