is it unprofessional to use fidget toys at work?

A reader writes:

I’m a young woman in my first post-college position, working for a public institution known for being quirky. My desk is in a large shared office with seven other fairly low-key coworkers, including my boss. I recently acquired a fidget toy and to my surprise found fiddling with it really helps with my focus, especially when reading long documents. Since then, I’ve been using it more often than not.

Will this hurt my reputation for professionalism? Seem juvenile? Drive my coworkers crazy? I don’t think I’m making noise or anything that would obviously be distracting.

Nah, you should be fine.

There’s a growing awareness of how fidget toys can help people focus — people with ADHD in particular, but others too — to the point that some companies, even highly corporate ones, now keep baskets of them set out on conference room tables.

It’s always smart to be aware of the culture you’re working in and note if it seems really out of sync or like it’s distracting the person sitting next to you, but it’s highly likely to be fine.

And even if it did seem like it raised eyebrows, that wouldn’t necessarily mean you should stop using them. It could just mean that you should explain why you use them (“I use this to help me focus; it’s sold for that purpose” provides useful context if someone thinks you’re just messing around for the hell of it), be open to trying to compromise if your focus tool turns out to be someone else’s distraction nightmare (for example, trying something quieter or smaller), and/or consider requesting a formal accommodation if something like ADHD is in play.

{ 184 comments… read them below }

  1. Justin*

    Similarly, in my return to the office, I’ve basically been “headphones on” all the time. So long as what you do doesn’t actively disrupt others, the things you need (I myself have ADHD – officially now) should be okay. Good luck to you.

    Spinners are great but I always lose them, lol.

    1. Ben*

      I’m [arguably] neurotypical but love a duo named Ratatat for work music. I was delighted but not entirely surprised to learn that many ADHD people find them highly effective as focus music!

    2. Mobius 1*

      Get yourself a spinny ring! My fiancee got me one for like fourteen bucks on Amazon (search King Will, I’d link it here but I don’t want this comment to spend forever in moderation lol) to help me stop biting my nails and it’s incredible.

    1. NervousHoolelya*

      It boggles my mind how many fidget devices make noise. I had to toss two of my kid’s fidgets because the noise was unbearably distracting. (I replaced them with silent ones! I want all of us to fidget, but quietly!) I just can’t wrap my mind around how “let’s replace one form of disruption with another form” is a viable business model.

      1. A Library Person*

        I have a fidget cube with each side being a different type of motion. Some make noise, and it can be incredibly satisfying to have that additional element! But I do make sure to only use the silent ones when I am in public, and to try to keep it low-key (i.e., hidden in my hand, or at leg level).

        1. Now In the Job*

          I was coming to recommend the fidget cube! It has the benefit of being small enough that it fits easily in the cup of an average adult hand, so it doesn’t even make visual distractions the way fidget spinners or other toys can.

        2. Kiwi*

          I have a cube and its great now that I’m wfh – though my husband did get confused what the constant clicking was when his days off fell on my workdays!

        3. Allornone*

          I love fidget cubes! If I’m in a meeting, I’ll be sure to fidget with the silent sides so as not to disrupt, but if I’m alone in my office, clicks galore!

        4. NervousHoolelya*

          The fidget cube is one of the two that ended up in the trash. I liked the idea of it, but we got it for my then-10yo to take to school, and he would definitely not have been able to limit himself to the silent sides.

      2. Nobby Nobbs*

        As glad as I am that fidgeting is getting a better rap these days (teachers used to turn my desk around in elementary school to stop its contents from “distracting” me, to no avail), I’m personally very relieved that I’d graduated before the fidget spinner craze. Not all of them make that whirring noise, but the ones that do are a special kind of hell for my ADHD. I think it’s the start and stop at completely unpredictable intervals.

    2. Kate*

      YES. There are some fidget toys that are clickers, and they are terrible for those around the fidgeter.

      There are some great silent toys out there, and I also suggest tiny “sensory” toys or spikey/nubby sensory rings to roll on a finger – they’re very unobtrusive.

      1. Koalafied*

        Fidget rings seriously changed my life. I was actually using one while reading this post! I’m a compulsive hair-puller and they’re one of the few things that will satisfy my brain’s itches enough to stop the urge to pull.

        1. M*

          I feel so seen by this! Koalafied, I’m also using my fidget ring, and it helps my anxiety compulsions (hair and skin picking) immensely!

            1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

              I’m just thinking the same thing. My mother told me not to wear jewellery because she hated seeing me fiddle with it, thinking I’d break it, so I started picking round my fingernails instead. My brother does this too and it annoys me, so I imagine others are annoyed by me.

          1. MissBaudelaire*

            Spinner ring certainly helped me not pick at my cuticles, peel my fingernails, or pick at the skin on my lips.

            I also kept a pen with a squishy top to squeeze on.

        2. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

          Fidget rings help me get away from certain self destructive behaviours I have. I also have a fidget spinner shaped like the biohazard warning symbol, a fidget cube in galaxy print, several thumb stones and a rubix cube that gets some serious use.

          It’s also why I took up embroidery but I can’t do that in meetings. Do do it at lunchtime instead of eating though :)

        3. ErinWV*

          Maybe I need a fidget toy. Your comment makes me realize that for the past 10 minutes while reading AAM posts I have been clicking a chip clip from my lunch.

      2. Olivia Mansfield*

        My boss uses the silent kind of sensory fidget toys. I’m a fidgeter, too, but when I was a kid I found that it aggravated the adults around me and they’d tell me to stop it, so I learned to secretly fidget my toes inside my shoes where no-0ne notices.

    3. Office Lobster DJ*

      And even if you think it’s quiet enough, you may want to check in with a colleague or two. Turns out, the whirrrrrrr of my fidget spinner was really getting on my co-worker’s nerves. Whoops.

    4. The New Normal*

      100% coming to say this. I have ADHD and that comes with a lovely Auditory Processing Disorder and Sensory Processing Disorder. Chewing gum, clicking of pens, ticking of a loud clock, and noisy fidget tools all set me off. I bought some of those silicone bubble fidgets for me and my son and literally did it once before I threw it away. A single pop was overload. I would have to leave the office if someone was using one.

      1. Selina Luna*

        My son loves his popper thingy, and I love that it keeps him occupied on long car trips, but I agree that they’re too distracting to use regularly.

        1. onco fonco*

          Yeah, my child started using their popper fidget while I was reading to them last night, and about ten seconds in I had to ask them to put it away because the noise was rendering me unable to process the words on the page. I could not focus on anything but the pop – pop – poppop — pop sounds – just irregular enough to be impossible for me to ignore. If someone did that at work I’d be a mess.

    5. HailRobonia*

      So much this!

      I used to keep a set of tiny magnet balls (you know, the ones that got banned because kids swallowed them…) at my desk and would play with them. The problem is that they click together audibly – it sounds a lot like clipping nails. I was oblivious to how annoying that was until finally a coworker brought it up and I was mortified and apologetic and retired that desk toy.

  2. Sami*

    I use a small piece of Silly Putty- definitely not the whole egg to fidget with. I’ve been doing it for years and it’s enormously helpful. No one really ever realizes I even have it.

    1. BubbleTea*

      I used to use BluTak, it has the added bonus of being a legitimate office supply so no one would blink. Now I work from home and have dedicated fidget toys so I can avoid the weird smell it left on my fingers.

    2. Easily Distracted*

      I used to use Silly Putty and graduated to Crazy Aaron’s Thinking Putty (love all the different colors and ability to get in small tins). Also find a Koosh-type ball very handy to use. Low sound though fairly visible. Thankfully no one at my work has ever made an issue out of it.

      1. Sharon*

        I buy Crazy Aaron’s reject Thinking Putty by the pound on eBay – e.g. the color didn’t turn out exactly as they expected.

      2. Anononon*

        I used to pick at the skin under my nails (not the cuticle but under where the nail overhangs) as a little, little kid, and I remember being given koosh balls as a distraction. :) An early-90s pre-fidget-toy fidget toy.

      3. Moosic*

        I agree with Crazy Aaron’s Thinking Putty! At least for Zoom meetings where no one else can be distracted by my pulling on it. After a year or two it does get stuff in it and become sort of gross, and I try not to think about what sort of chemicals were used to make it. But I will be buying some more because it helps a lot.

    3. Nobby Nobbs*

      I had this vaguely putty-textured artist’s eraser in middle school. Best fidget toy I’ve ever used, years before fidget toys went mainstream.

    4. WomEngineer*

      I fiddle with Post-It notesm. Since I’ve been working remotely, no one sees or hears it. I imagine it looks wasteful, but I’m using my own and it keeps me from picking at zits (most of the time…).

      I also like Crazy Aaron’s Thinking Putty, but it’s so fun to pop that I can’t play with it in meetings.

      Once they call my team back in, I’ll probably buy or 3D print something else to fiddle with.

      1. Birdie*

        I use post-its, too! I don’t really fidget with anything when I’m working, but I do in meetings and work conversations. I think it helps me focus when I have to think on my feet. I used to mostly fiddle with my pen because that’s what I’d have available at an in-person meeting, but since we started working from home, post-its have been my go-to. I don’t really notice that I’ve even picked it up until I’m already playing with it. Most of the post-its I grab are no longer needed, but that’s not always the case. I’ve never thought about getting an actual fidget device, but maybe it’s worth looking into so I don’t accidentally destroy any more important notes, ha!

      1. A Library Person*

        My local public library gave these out one year for summer reading, and this post inspired me to pull mine out from a dusty corner of my desk at work! (No, I did not steal a child’s summer reading prize, adults are allowed to win prizes too.)

        1. A Library Person*

          Uh, in retrospect hopefully there is more than one public library that did this and I haven’t just doxxed myself, or at least my location. Highly recommended, either way!

      2. Moosic*

        I loved my tangle! However I liked to squeeze it an pull it and the plastic would rub together and squeak. So I can’t use it as a fidget toy in public. The one you linked to looks like it is covered though, so maybe that will solve the problem!

  3. Gina*

    I used one at work when I was trying to quit smoking. I needed something to keep my mind and hands occupied.

  4. BlueBelle*

    As long as it doesn’t make noise I much prefer it to other things people do like jiggling their leg or tapping their fingers.

    1. ThatGirl*

      Yknow, it’s funny – my husband does not exhibit many signs of ADHD, but he does have anxiety, and he used to jiggle his leg a LOT. Like he was barely aware he was doing it, until someone gently pointed out that he was shaking the couch/table/whatever. And he also uses fidget toys for that sort of thing.

      1. MissBaudelaire*

        Don’t have ADHD, do have anxiety. Fidgets are a great outlet so I don’t do those obnoxious behaviors. Because then I thought about how people hated them and I’d get more anxious and then do it *more*.

        I had a friend in high school who love to sit next to me and then complained if I was swinging my legs or tapping my pen on my palm. Like… quit sitting next to me, I am not going to be perfectly still.

      2. MissCoco*

        my partner jiggles his legs. I joke that he rocks me to sleep, because I usually fall asleep while he’s wiggling the bed as he reads. Interestingly, he doesn’t find hand fidgets satisfying the way I do, and prefers his tried and true leg jiggle.

      3. KittyCardigans*

        My deskmate and I both jiggle our feet/legs pretty consistently, so we don’t worry about disturbing each other! It’s pretty convenient. For other locations at work, I used to use liquids on the table as a measure of whether I was being obtrusive or not, but we aren’t allowed to drink inside because of COVID, so there usually aren’t any liquids on the table to jiggle anymore.

  5. Momma Bear*

    As long as fidgets are quiet I don’t see the problem. Many people twist in their chairs, click pens, and do other distracting fidgety things already. Maybe you will encourage coworkers to get their own fidgets to improve their work life.

    1. The New Wanderer*

      I’m a chair twister, fortunately in our in-person meetings in the past the chairs were either fixed or I would sit in the back so as not to distract others. Now that I have video meetings on occasion I have to watch out for it. I’m still WFH full time and mainly knit to help with focus while on meetings – harder but not impossible to do on video below camera level and I don’t click the needles.

    2. Absurda*

      I don’t click my pen, but I do fidget with it. I take it apart, put it together again, fiddle with the various parts. Leads to a lot of broken pens. I also fidget with paperclips, unbending and rebending them. I think a fidget spinner would be easier on the office supplies.

      1. Unkempt Flatware*

        what brand of paperclip will let you bend and unbend it without breaking? I need them in my life.

    1. Hapless Bureaucrat*

      Yeah. There are some really discreet or professional-looking fidget options. I also tended to use my earrings, necklace, or bracelet and had a collection that provided good quiet fidget opportunities. (Past tense because with the pandemic I just borrow from my child’s fidget stash.)

      1. Student*

        Putting in a plug for the old-fashioned version of fidget toys – worry stones. You can get them in an array of colors & shapes now, including jewelry versions. I find them quite helpful, and I’m a lot less self-conscious about using worry stones in public compared to actual fidget toys.

    2. ecnaseener*

      Yes yes yes. Spinner rings are great (and cheap) — i wore one every day pre-plague. Quiet and super unobtrusive, no more motion than just gently rubbing your finger.

      Plus mine is a pretty rainbow design and people would compliment the look and then be delighted when I showed them it spins :)

    3. i will do it anon*

      My spinner ring really helped me! On etsy there are various kinds available which are more or less decorative and have lots of different textures also – I flew under the radar for a long time wearing 3 fidget rings and my college class ring, and only ever got asked about the class ring!

  6. ENFP in Texas*

    We actually would bring stress balls or other fidget toys and put them out on tables during our all-day, multi-day strategy meetings. A lot of our participants used them.

    As long as it doesn’t make noise or otherwise disturb other people, it shouldn’t be a problem. But if it’s something that rattles, clicks, or otherwise makes noise, PLEASE do not use it in an open office or in a meeting.

    If you’re in doubt as to whether or not it makes noise, consider getting a squishy stress ball/shape to use as a fidget toy (just don’t bounce it on your desk or the table).

    1. Here we go again*

      Stress balls were really common in the office 20 years ago my mom had some at her desk. A fidget isn’t much different.

  7. James*

    There’s really no difference between a fidget toy and spinning a pen between your fingers, except you can’t write with most fidget toys and you’re less likely to drop them. And pretty much everyone fidgets. I once had a senior VP ask to have a chain maille ball I had on my desk, so he’d have something to fidget with (since that’s what I was using it for and had two spares I let him have it).

    Go for it. Don’t make a big thing of it, but go for it.

    1. Caramel & Cheddar*

      “There’s really no difference between a fidget toy and spinning a pen between your fingers”

      Exactly! If someone works somewhere where they think there definitely is a difference, you can get fidget pens that have fidget-y things built into them.

      1. Sparkles McFadden*

        My boss used to spin his pen when he was concentrating and I got second-hand relaxation out of it.

    2. Kyrielle*

      Yep. I would much rather be in a meeting with someone subtly using a fidget tool/toy, than be in a meeting with someone flipping pens/pencils/whatever in the air. (I’d add scissors to the list, but those got taken from him as soon as he picked them up in position to be flipped, so they never got flipped.)

      1. Anononon*

        Oh man, at least once I’ve fidgeted a pen into the air while waiting for my cases in open court. Fortunately, no one’s been hit.

    3. HailRobonia*

      I used to teach English in Taiwan and some of my students were outstanding pen-spinners. I told one that she would definitely be on the team if there was ever a pen spinning event at the Olympics.

      They tried to teach me, but alas I am too clumsy. They were very amused by my attempts.

      1. James*

        I’m clumsy as well, but I still do it. Turns out breaking your hand a few times affects manual dexterity.

    1. Not So Little My*

      I love calm strips. I like the new pebble texture better than the sand texture, but it’s up to personal preference.

      1. NotRealAnonForThis*

        ::giggles:: I have a strip of each on both my laptop wrist-rest and my cellphone back. I fiddle with whichever works at the moment.

    2. gev*

      I wanted to love the calmstrips but they feel like nothing to me. Guess my 6 months of farmwork 13 years ago resulted in more calluses than I thought.

  8. Boadicea*

    I was expecting the opposite answer, for some reason. :) But I’m very glad of this – I’m stealth-autistic (ie: autistic but few people actually know this), and it’s funny – I’ve never wanted something like this in a face to face meeting, but over Zoom I do a lot better when I’m messaging with something in my hands. And no, commenters, it’s not making any noise or flashing LED’s! What kind of a monster do you think I am?!

    1. Felice*

      I have a mini-Slinky that I fidget with while I’m working. I don’t think anyone has ever minded, and quite a few people comment positively when they see it. During the pandemic, people on Zoom meetings have said they thought it was a great idea. I usually try to keep it below camera range, but occasionally it can be seen. It makes a little noise because it’s metal, and if someone said it was bothering them, I’d stop and switch to something silent.

    2. GlitsyGus*

      I play with this cube of multi-colored magnetic balls in zoom meetings and it helps SO MUCH. It does make just enough of a sound that it’ll probably be my WFH toy after we go back to the office. I’m sure I’ll be able to find a quieter counterpart.

  9. RW*

    I have a friend who has several pieces of really cute fidget jewelry- think rings with spinny parts, etc. If you didn’t know, you’d have no idea what it was- if you’re feeling nervous about professionalism or just want something you can always have with you, etsy has a lot of really cute options. To be clear, other options, including clearly defined fidget toys are totally fine, but if it’s making you feel weird this might be a good avenue to look at!

    1. Felice*

      I don’t want to dissuade anyone from using rings as fidget items! And at the same time, if I saw someone fidgeting with a ring or other jewelry, I’d think they were really nervous, but somehow a fidget toy seems more acceptable. I don’t know why I think that. Maybe because I take my rings off and on when I’m nervous or uncomfortable. And I don’t feel nervous or uncomfortable when I play with my mini-Slinky.

      1. BlueKazoo*

        I use fidgets exactly because I’m anxious and uncomfortable. So you would be right. And I’ve found that if I don’t have one, I will inevitably begin fidgeting with whatever is near me. It’s truly an unconscious way of managing anxiety. My mother was an early adopter of fidgets 20+ years ago because she couldn’t stand me picking up her nick knacks all the time.

      2. Seeking Second Childhood*

        Interesting you say that about fidgeting with rings — my teen has a fidget ring. An outer band spins against the inner band.

      3. Birch*

        Maybe it would help to reframe thinking of someone being nervous as a bad thing? People finding ways to use tools like fidget toys as an outlet for their anxiety means that it’s less likely to come out in other (distressing or harmful) ways and they’re more able to do the work effectively. I think as a society we are starting to be OK with “negative” emotions and seeing them as just part of life (and work), rather than insisting that people have to hide their humanity.

  10. BRR*

    I have a fidget pen and it’s a lifesaver. The quality of the pen itself isn’t great but I like that it’s discreet.

  11. Andy*

    If you worry about fidget toys, learn some “pen spinning”. Google the term and learn basic tricks.

    The pen is “professional” and no fidget toy. Once you get good, it will serve the same function. Aaand it looks cool.

    1. Ann Non*

      Nooooo I hate pen spinner people! So annoying and distracting to me. I would much rather watch someone with a fidget toy.

  12. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

    Look hard enough, and you’ll find someone who will tell you that breathing is unprofessional.

    You’re fine. Go forth and fidget in peace.

    1. Mental Lentil*

      Yes to this. I was once told that I was breathing wrong.

      You mean you can hear me?

      So how am I breathing wrong?
      -You just are.

      People. People are the reason I’m not a people person.

      1. Sparkles McFadden*

        I feel like I came here just to read this. I once was told I was carrying a cup incorrectly and that sounds sane compared to this.

        I am not a people person either. We should form a club. There would never be any meetings.

    2. Web of Pies*

      Yeah I’m fine with the fidget, but LW should reeeeeally proceed with caution because you’re spot-on about how easy it is to find someone who will object to it, especially since the writer is young. I’m a bit surprised there wasn’t a stronger “depending on your office culture” vibe to the answer.

      I once got in trouble for drawing during a meeting FOR A JOB THAT REQUIRED DRAWING because I “wasn’t paying attention” sooooo.

  13. Sunflower*

    There are pens where you twist to extract/retract the ink and they are quiet to fidget with. Having a pen in meetings is not noticeable so that’s plus.

    1. Anon for this*

      Somehow I end up with ink all over my hands if I fidget with pens haha. I mean it happens anyway some, but not as noticeably usually.

  14. John Smith*

    One guy in my office used these to help him concentrate. Didn’t bother anyone at all….. Except the manager who one day walked in to the office and without saying anything snatched the device from the guys hand and put it in a drawer. We were mortified and thankfully someone retrieved it from the drawer moment later and told the manager loudly that if he wanted to be a playschool teacher, he could get a job as one. Said manager lasted a year, sadly.

    Fidget away, but please use quiet ones (I’m looking at you, pen clickers!) :)

    1. Anon for this*

      Ugh. Glad a coworker stepped in. The last thing I need w/ my anxiety is for people to draw attention to it. Also, I have PTSD so suddenly touching me (or grabbing something) is really not okay. Respect my bubble please unless we are friends.

  15. Please Remove Your Monkeys from My Circus*

    I used participate in a monthly committee meeting which involved a large number of social workers and occupational therapists. They always had fidgets on the tables—markers and paper, playdoh, pipe cleaners, etc. The first meeting, I absentmindedly made balloon animal-style creatures out of the pipe cleaners. Within a few cycles of this meeting, people started using the breaks to amass pipe cleaners on my table and slip me notes with requests. During one particularly long meeting, I made a three ring circus. The committee has long since disbanded, but I still miss those meetings.

    1. ENFP in Texas*

      I love this! And stealing this idea for future reference!

      (This IS my circus, and these ARE my pipe cleaner monkeys!)

  16. BurnOutCandidate*

    I keep two Rubik’s Cubes (a 3×3 and a 4×4) on my desk as fidget toys. (Yes, I can solve both.) I also have a LEGO container I can pull out when necessary for fidgeting or just taking five minutes to think about and be creative with something else.

  17. Elizabeth the Ginger*

    At the school where I teach we refer to fidgets as “fidget tools” rather than “toys” to emphasize their helpful role. It’s also a helpful way to frame it to kids who want something because it’s fun even if it distracts them: “it looks like this one is a toy for you and not a tool. Let’s try something else.” (Obviously this is different from adults who are much better at telling when something is helping or hurting their focus!)

    1. Blaise*

      Thank you for this!! I’m a teacher too and have resorted to just calling them “fidgets”, which I also don’t like, just because I WILL NOT call them toys. This is much better, and something I’m adopting for sure!

    2. Voodoo Priestess*

      Yes! My son is ASD and has sensory tools as part of his accommodations. His teachers say “That is a tool, not a toy. You’re using it as a toy, so it’s time to put it away.” We fully support this!

  18. Amethystmoon*

    It might depend on where you work and if you are permanent or a temp. Back when I was a temp, I noticed that we were treated very differently than permanent employees and essentially had no leeway on anything.

  19. JelloStapler*

    I work in higher ed and pre-pandemic had a bunch of fidget toys on my desk to students while we talked. My teammates often played with them too if we were chatting. I think as long as you are focusing and “present”, you’re good. I have only put them away due to germs.

    1. After 33 years ...*

      We offer new and returning students choices of these tools as welcome gifts. Pre-Covid, it wasn’t uncommon (or unwelcome) to see students using these tools while in class or seminars. Like “Elizabeth the Ginger” above, we also call them “tools” (often, “focus tool”, “concentration tool”, “stress release tool”), rather than toys. I have my own favourites…

  20. Keyboard Cowboy*

    +1 to talking about it with your team. I was kinda suffering in meetings after I switched teams because I had established “knitting is OK in meetings” on the old team but not yet on the new team, and then offhandedly mentioned that it would help me out to knit for fidget, and every single person on my team said “no, that doesn’t bother me at all, and in fact I’m kinda jealous, I never got to learn to knit and it seems like it’d be really useful” – and that was that!

    1. Felis alwayshungryis*

      I could never knit in a meeting, and am truly impressed at people that can genuinely focus on both. I’d be fine, fine, fine, then make a mistake and be like ‘Oh, F^&# sake. F&*% this, you piece of s^&#.’ (I actually like knitting, but I need full focus on it.)

      I guess if it was just back-and-forth, like a scarf or cardigan body or something, but definitely couldn’t be working on anything that required counting stitches!

      1. i will do it anon*

        I usually use a fidget ring for in-person meetings and knit or crochet under camera level for Zoom meetings! I got lots of practice paying attention to something else while knitting because I listen to a lot of audiobooks while crafting, so that became less of a concern for me over time. Also, I put the pattern on the screen during Zoom meetings, so it still looks like I’m looking at the meeting when I am checking on the pattern.

        1. Clumsy Ninja*

          I crochet in meetings and during church sermons – but it has to be a mindless pattern so that I don’t have to count. Keeps me focused way better, though!

    2. HailRobonia*

      I was raised by an avid knitter and if I saw someone knitting in a meeting I would think that’s awesome… though there is a good chance I might get hypnotized watching you (I have fond memories of just sitting on the couch watching my mom knit. I wanted to learn but, as a boy, I knew that my dad would Not Be Supportive of it).

      1. Felis alwayshungryis*

        It’s never too late! Ravelry is an amazing resource with a very supportive and inclusive community :-)

      2. Gumby*

        Sigh. Sorry that was your situation. It brings to mind this quote – “there’s no boy things and girl things. There’s only fun things and not fun things and everyone who says different is stupid.” (…and maybe I am off for a re-read of that particular fanfic.)

    3. Aggretsuko*

      You lucky! I’ve been turned down for knitting and as for fidget toys, nobody better catch you/see you with it. Though that was in the beforetimes, so I knit while working from home at least.

    4. allathian*

      One of my teammates knits in every meeting, unless she’s presenting. She did that when we were in person as well. It’s never bothered anyone, because she participates as much as everyone else in spite of that.

      I love WFH, because I can play silly puzzle games like Candy Crush (muted) on my cellphone during presentations. I don’s play when I’m on camera, but if you’re presenting, you can’t see the audience anyway, so there’s no point to being on camera and it just takes a lot of unnecessary bandwidth.

    5. Gem*

      Crafting in meetings has made a huge difference to my life, especially as its easier to do when I’m wfh. I either knit (I’m making little stuffed ghosts at the mo). Or cross stitch something small. I find it gives me just enough to do that I don’t get distracted from being under stimulated in a meeting where I’m just there to gather info

  21. Spicy Tuna*

    Fidget toys are this century’s stress balls. Way back before the earth’s crust cooled, my first “real” job handed out stress balls all the time so we could take our frustration out on the balls instead of customers!

  22. lost academic*

    I see a lot of comments on “If you do X you should be good” and that’s good advice but this is, in my experience, a strong “know your office culture” thing. My previous corporate culture was very pro fidget toys especially for in person trainings, but our office partners (2) were vocally antagonistic towards them and it was immediately evident that their use, even the company branded ones, was not acceptable in meetings. So were the usual things like pen spinning, etc. Just because it should be fine overall doesn’t mean you won’t pay a price.

    (Yes, they sucked for a lot of reasons.)

    1. Dwight Schrute*

      I don’t know what I would do in a meeting if I couldn’t fidget in some way. If I’m not spinning a pen I am clicking the pen, shaking my legs, slightly rocking back and forth, tapping my hands or something. I physically can’t be still in meetings and I suspect my other options would be more distracting than spinning my pen or playing with a fidget toy

  23. Office Lobster DJ*

    One of my favorite fidget pieces is actually just a small piece of quartz, irregularly shaped with a bunch of different faces and textures. Along the same lines, something like a worry stone is pretty unobtrusive.

  24. prismo*

    I smiled opening this, as I am currently using a fidget toy in my office. :)

    I bought a multipack of toys that are a marble inside of some mesh about five years ago, and they’ve been great for work. They’re silent (the most important thing!) and fit well in one hand so I can play with one while using my mouse. I don’t have ADHD but I do have anxiety, am a generally fidgety person and am prone to finger-picking, so the toy gives me something better to do with my hands and helps keep me calm. Fidget away, LW!

  25. hayling*

    Wow, reading this post has made me realize how much I fidget during meetings. I’m always snapping a hairclip, or folding and unfolding a receipt, or clicking a pen. I am definitely going to look into all the options suggested above!

  26. Alton Brown's Evil Twin*

    Worry beads have been a thing since forever. I’ve seen variations on that even in my first job, a very straightlaced defense contractor in the 1990s.

  27. MechanicalPencil*

    In school and after, I figured out that twirling a pen was my version of a fidget toy, and since I was taking notes anyway, no worry about losing my pen (or pencil). Only problem came when people got distracted trying to figure out how I twirled the pen…oops?

  28. Selina Luna*

    When fidget spinners first became popular, I was the “cool” teacher for a while because I didn’t immediately confiscate them from students. A colleague tried to get on me for this, but I looked them point-blank in the eye and told them that “[student] has a well-earned B in my class. Before the fidget spinner, he struggled to crack a D. How’s he doing in your class?” They asked if it was disruptive, and I said the same thing I say when administrators ask me why I let kids wear hats: it’s not disruptive unless I call attention to it.

  29. anonymous73*

    +1 to no big deal, as long as it doesn’t make an excessive amount of noise to the point of disturbing your neighbors. And that goes for anything…listening to music without headphones, listening to VM on speakerphone, having a very loud discussion, etc.

  30. Mike S*

    I have a hoberman sphere on my desk, which is large for meetings and the such. When I was at a Fortune 100 company, I had a VP introduce herself to me. She had picked it up on the way to meet another team to occupy her hands. When she got there, they all recognized it, so she felt the need to return it and apologize.

  31. Anon for this*

    I really wish fidgets were more accepted. I get looks and questions from kind but busybody people. And mine are quiet. Just bright colored because I lose them constantly if they are discreet.

    There are not many upsides to a residential mental health stay, but it was refreshing how nonjudgmental people were about my fidgets there. A lot of my nervous less healthy habits disappear when I always have something in my hands.

    One thing that doesn’t fly anywhere but home are chewy fidgets. So…I end up chewing the inside of my lip and it’s painful after awhile. Such is life though.

    I have pretty intense PTSD and it’s just not well understood. I’m on leave now, but really am worried about how I will find a accommodating workplace in the future. I don’t need things that are intrusive. People struggle to stay in their own lane and understand thee wet you don’t need to know why other people are doing something if it doesn’t impact you. /rant over

    1. Caboose*

      Ooh, I’ve got a good solution for stealthy chewy fidgets! Your preferred texture/level of resistance may vary, but I adore the, er, nipple(?) on Camelbak waterbottles. They put up a bit of resistance, but not much, and it looks SO much more acceptable than pretty much anything else you could chew on at work– it just looks like you’re drinking water (and as a bonus, you generally do end up drinking water anyway!).

    2. Dwight Schrute*

      I second the water bottle straw top for chewing! I had a camelback for a while and loved chewing on the bite valve. I also chew pens if I don’t have anything else to chew. It’s saved the inside of my mouth

  32. NYWeasel*

    I recall awhile back a similar question about knitting, and with working remotely I’ve managed to sneak knit a few times, and WOW, my concentration was exceptional in those meetings. Lately I’ve been fidgeting with the peel from my daily mid-morning orange, which has the added benefit of a lovely scent. I haven’t gone for a fidget device though bc I suspect I’d get too caught up in looking at all the sides.

    1. Phlox*

      I’ve done hand quilting during the pandemic during meetings sometimes. Its definitely a know-your-office type okay because my eyes do have to be on my needle, not the laptop screen. But for announcement/big group meetings when my attention starts to wander (ooo email, Twitter etc), sewing and being in the meeting means I’m so much more focused on the meeting.

    2. A Library Person*

      I had some classes in library school where a good 75% of people were knitting. And this was all in-person, too. I never actually thought about it as a fidget/concentration aid, but I suppose it makes just as much sense as a fidget cube. Though I do think it can arguably be more distracting (in person, of course; on Zoom knit away!).

    3. Loredena Frisealach*

      There was a period when I was on very long conference calls, without video, where I was not the primary participant but needed to chime in occasionally. To keep from losing focus I needed a fidget, and I took to using my spinning wheel while on these calls. It was really easy to keep in motion, or to quickly stop w/o an issue (hand spinning wasn’t always a good moment to stop, crochet could take too much concentration away from the meeting).

  33. Guacamole Bob*

    I have a couple of fidgets that I use at my desk, though I don’t tend to take them to meetings. I went for metal ones made from parts that look like bike chains and key rings (listed as bike chain fidgets on Amazon), and I think most people don’t even notice them sitting on my desk near my post its and pens and stuff. If you’re bringing in large colorful pop-its or something you’re likely to get a lot more people noticing or commenting.

  34. Just like a carrot*

    Chiming in that I love my spinner ring! I’ve found fidget spinners calming to use while talking to my supervisor sometimes (we used to both do it at the same time because I gave him one), and found myself clinging to them for my life during company meetings about stressful Covid stuff. But it’s so much easier to subtly fidget through stressful meetings and even through my commutes when I have a ring on already. I bought mine from a website called Stimtastic! (Not affiliated with them in any way, I just vibe with their business model and want to support them.)

  35. BootsAndADress*

    My dear boss brought us a selection of fidget-y things to try during an all-staff meeting in The Before Times, and it turned out to be the only meeting I’ve ever really stayed engaged in all the way through.

  36. NYC Taxi*

    As long as it’s silent and you don’t bring it to meetings, then I’m fine with someone using it at their desk.

    1. MeowMixers*

      I don’t bring mine to the meetings because they have rolling chairs and I rock those back and forth. You probably should reconsider letting people do that though because it’s less distracting and it helps a lot of people with ASD or ADHD to concentrate better.

    2. ecnaseener*

      Meetings are actually an environment where people tend to need a fidget tool the most. Of course you should only use unobtrusive fidgets in meetings so as not to distract others – but a blanket ban makes no sense. Anything silent with little or no visual motion should be fine.

    3. Dwight Schrute*

      Why the ban in meetings? I don’t see why someone shouldn’t be able to play with one if it’s silent and not requiring a ton of movement

  37. lilsheba*

    I gotta admit I’ve had spinners and cubes for a couple of years now, and used them when I was in an office because I don’t care how “professional” it looks. I have to do what’s comfortable for me. And I’m quirky.

  38. LizB*

    As a kid before I knew fidgets were a thing, I would tear or cut a little strip of paper and roll it up like a scroll, then continue rolling it between my fingers to help me focus. Still one of my favorite fidgets. About a quarter inch wide and two inches long is ideal.

  39. Short’n’stout*

    I’m with all the people who need them to be silent, but I also get really tensed up when there is movement in my peripheral vision, especially repetitive movement. So, please keep them out of my line of sight.

  40. Nightengale*

    So my workplace is obviously not representative because we work with neurodivergent kids. (I am also neurodivergent but people at work don’t necessarily know this.) So we are pretty fidget enabled. I have a collection for the kids to try during their visits, a fidget tasting menu of sorts. I also keep a few at my desk for long and terrible insurance phone calls and a few others at home where I do telehealth.

    Let me put in a plug for the boink (or called here the “mesh marble fidget”)

    It is a marble sewn into a flexible tube. It is silent. And if dropped on the floor, it stays right where it fell, unlike a stress ball that might roll off into someone else’s space.

    1. JobHopper*

      Thank you … for helping this music teacher. One 4th grade class is full of kinesthetic learners and 75% boys. (ADD or ADHD perhaps, too).
      We NEED this, and quiet is GOOD.

  41. CW*

    I don’t think it is unprofessional at all. I have see my coworkers, former and current, have one at their desks and it has never been an issue. And as someone who gets fidgety due to anxiety, I totally understand. If I were a supervisor I wouldn’t have an issue with them at all.

  42. MeghanJK*

    I’m a SPED teacher and I keep a ton of fidgets in my room. They’re used by students and teachers alike. I even keep a couple on my desk for my personal use.

  43. DiplomaJill*

    Yes I learned this trick with my first boss who couldn’t pay attention to what I was saying. A set of fidget desk decor did the trick.

  44. Asahi Pepsi*

    My husband uses his wedding ring to focus – it has a deep, irregular groove through the center with two different textures on each side. He twists it around and follows the wavy groove with his finger. Works well for him.

  45. Eefs*

    What a great idea! I don’t have adhd but I realised today my hands are constantly doing something. I’m constantly adjusting my mask, biting my nails and scratching head or pulling at my hair. I’ll probably invest in one!

  46. Delta Delta*

    I use Pilot pens and i fidget with them. I hold the pen upright in my hand so I can slide the cap upward with my thumb. I then run my thumb next to the metal clip thing. I roll the cap around my thumb so the metal thing ends up on the other side of my thumb. Repeat. For hours. Quietly fidget away, everyone!

  47. MeowMixers*

    I use multiple fidget toys depending on the circumstances I am in.
    Bike chain with rubber bands – normal desk toy.
    Infinity folding cube – when no one is around. Makes a nice clacking noise.
    Mini koosh ball – Most silent. Great for working at my desk when others are in deep concentration.
    Cell phone ring on the back of my phone – Meetings. No one notices and most usually have their phones out anyways.
    Spinning Ring – Church, Lol.
    Mesh Marble Fidget – My cats stole it.

  48. CurrentlyBill*

    I recently started keeping my hair brush at my desk for Teams calls. I find now it ends up in my hands much more often during meetings and while reading documents. I’m not actual using it, just absent mindedly playing with the bristles (WFH so now office mates to be disgusted by my contact with my own hair).

  49. RebelwithMouseyHair*

    A fidget toy is usually quiet. My son is a fidgeter and I think a toy would do him good because his fidgeting is often noisy (pinging the pen top or tapping his fingers, which is annoying for those around him. Due to start working in the office next week after WFH since he was hired last winter, and I’m thinking he might just have got even noisier working alone.

  50. SloeGin*

    Oh great question – I attended some professional development training at my work, and the facilitators had a couple of things to play with. I liked the ‘Tangle’ best – a curved rope of connecting segments – and am now the owner of two. I find them very good for when I’m worried, and stops me biting my nails/clicking pens etc. I do take mine into meetings – though we’re only recently returning to the office and in person meetings, so I’m not sure on the acceptability of it, but I just leave it in my lap and I don’t think it makes a lot of noise!

  51. Emily*

    I use a fidget pretty much all day at work, it helps me so much with my ADHD! I highly recommend the kind with two bike chain links connected with split rings (like the ones on keychains). It’s easy to flip around in multiple ways, and they often have rubber bands on them which adds a nice textural difference. They’re great for work because they’re small, silent, unobtrusive, and you can fidget without anyone realizing if you have it in your pocket!

  52. Dwight Schrute*

    This post has inspired me to order a variety of fidget toys so thank you! I ordered a pack of rings, a cube (I wfh so noise is fine), and a box with Rubik’s cubes, infinity cubes, the normal spinners, putty, etc. I’m excited to figure out which style is my favorite

  53. Voodoo Priestess*

    I love the amount of support for this.

    Hey Alison – could we get a post on how to be more inclusive for neural divergent (ND) and/or people with mental health issues? Things like fidget tools are incredibly helpful for ASD, ADHD, anxiety, PTSD, etc. Everyone benefits when interviews are transparent and work expectations are clear. For people with ASD or ADHD, small changes in communication can be the difference between getting a job or not, or thriving versus struggling. My husband has a lot of veterans in his program and he has had training for accommodating PTSD. All of these things are small, yet hugely impactful.

    I would love to know more about how I can help be more inclusive toward ND people and also learn about things I need to look for to help my kiddo.

  54. BlueKazoo*

    I’m really enjoying this thread! Personally, I’m a bit selective about fidgets. Texture matters a lot. I don’t like metal ones very much, too hard. I prefer something softer and squeezable. Which usually are more obvious and don’t fly some places. Tbh, part of the appeal is visual too. I like bright colors and cute things.

    Work can be so sterile. And I do get that work is work. I wouldn’t take them into client meetings! But, day to day, allowing me reasonable coping tools equals a less anxious and stressed out employee. Which I think benefits everyone.

  55. Former HR Staffer*

    we actually put out a pile of fidget toys in the middle of tables when we do corporate training. nearly everyone grabs one and it helps them focus in sometimes long, boring training classes.

  56. That One Person*

    Amusingly I think my mum’s company gave out fidget spinners with the company name on them. I remember back when I’d visit her office as a kid a lot of people had desk toys/puzzle type things (like the curled nails you could link and unlink) so if anything it feels like people are starting to realize it doesn’t hurt to keep idle hands busy during other things. Just avoid anything flashy/noisy and don’t get too ferocious over playing with the toy and you should be fine.

    Ferocious as in playing so fiercely with a fidget toy that even the silent ones turn into unintended noise makers!

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