Family Pictures – at the Office

family pictures office decorHere’s an office decor question we haven’t talked about in years: when are family pictures at the office “too much”? Weddings, babies, parents, friends — are they ever appropriate?  Here’s a question from Reader E:

I was wondering if you or your readers have any thoughts about office decorations. I am a new mom and I recently brought a framed 5 x 7 picture of my baby into my office. I like having a picture to decorate my office, but I wonder if this makes me seem less professional. I have heard the advice that working moms should not talk about their children too much.

Over at CorporetteMoms we’ve talked about when to talk about your kid at the office, but I think using family pictures as office decor is a different issue.  IMHO, the quick answer is yes: pictures of your loved ones are fine, with the caveats that the pictures be framed if they’re on display (not just taped to your monitor, cabinet, or drawer), tastefully sized (5×7 is fine — gallery-size canvas prints, maybe not so fine) and that in the picture you aren’t wearing or doing anything you’re going to regret colleagues seeing.  I also am a fan of digital pictures, either as a slideshow for your monitor or a desktop background (more on this below).  That said, though, here are some thoughts more in depth:

  • Friend pictures. In my very first job I worked with a fellow 22-year-old who kept a picture taped to her cabinet of her college friends/sorority sisters at some outdoor event, possibly in Europe — everyone was sweaty and in tank tops and looking fairly disheveled; someone was maybe even holding up a glass of beer or something.  I’m sure it brought back great memories to her (and I’m sure I had similar photos at the time!)… but if I were advising either of us today I’d recommend against it. Look for pictures with fully-dressed friends (or at least with some visible landmark or occasion), without alcohol in the mix — and frame the picture.
  • Parents’ pictures.  In my first law office, while I was still single, I had a few pictures of my parents as young’uns, with a baby/toddler Kat.  I thought they were OK because they were framed, and hey, they were facing me (away from the visitor), but enough people asked me if I had a child that obviously people noticed.  I wouldn’t recommend this.  Looking back, I think it highlighted my youth (and, let’s face it, my “I’m a kid!” mentality), and it confused people because they thought it was my child (I look a lot like my mother).  So if you’re going to do it, do a recent family photo where you at least look like an adult.
  • Wedding pictures. When we first talked about making your office decor more personal on the blog, I was opposed to having wedding pictures in your office. At the time, I was planning a small, intimate wedding and had chosen my strapless lace wedding dress because it felt romantic and pretty, which, I reasoned, were OK things to show the 60 people who came to the wedding, but not the slew of colleagues and clients who came to my office.  Then I swung the other way and went a little wedding-crazy — I had a calendar! and a picture! and a mousepad!  So here’s my current thinking: if you’re comfortable with your grandparents seeing you in your dress (which presumably you are), having one or two framed pictures in your office is totally acceptable.  (But: rethink the gallery canvas prints.)
  • Baby pictures.  I love my babies, and I particularly love pictures of my babies.  Like everything else, I think this is a matter of degree — one framed picture of each child is fine.  15 inkjet printed pictures taped all of your monitor are, well, a different matter.  But pictures on your monitor bring us to another issue:
  • Digital pictures. We have a digital picture frame that holds approximately 3000 photos or something insane (16 GB, possibly?) — if I were to have one in my office I’d want to make 110% sure that each and every photo that appeared in that frame passed muster.  (Let’s just say I was… surprised… when pictures of me half-topless and holding an ick-covered, just-born Harry, flashed across the screen when friends were over recently.)  Even better: if your monitor faces you (and goes to sleep when you’re not around), just use your monitor as a slideshow, or for a desktop background.  (I just upgraded to Windows 10, but I think it was available in older options — you can choose a “slideshow” option for your desktop. I put about 20 of my favorites in a special folder to use for the background slideshow, and resized them all to be no wider than 500 pixels, so my screen is MOSTLY black with a smallish centered picture on it. Timing wise, I get a new picture every day.)

family pictures at the office

Readers, what are your thoughts on personal pictures as office decor? Are there any caveats, or do you think anything goes? 



  1. I think that having my wedding picture makes me look like less of a robot and more of a human being. And it makes me happy to look at it, which makes me more productive at work. I also have a framed picture of my dogs, which is a nice conversation-starter (no kids yet). A few colleagues have kid-art framed on their walls, which I think looks really nice.

    • Wildkitten :

      I really like the idea of framed kid-art.

      • My MIL had her house redecorated and professionally framed & hung a bunch of my husband’s & his sibling’s kid art in each of their rooms. I would have never thought of doing this, but it looks amazing- anything put in a nice frame looks 100x better. Plus, you are getting unique, personalized & sentimental one of a kind art– you can’t get better than that! And let’s face it, a lot of artist’s art looks like kids did it anyway. :)

  2. Wildkitten :

    A framed 5×7 photo of your child is perfectly professional. How is that a question? Doesn’t everyone with kids have photos of them on their desk?

    • A few of my kids art projects, a few family pics or five is fine. Maybe a shrine to my progeny? Not so much. It’s nice to look at when I miss them, also a great topic starter with people who come to my office and I think it softens my image a bit. One observation- the senior men at my firm have lots of family photos.. senior women not as many.

      • Meg Murry :

        The men at my office have more photos and decor than the women, period (other than desk tchotches). I’m pretty sure that is because they all have wives that like home and office decorating, and do things like order framed photos for the house and for husband’s office – whereas I (and the other women in my office) just aren’t decorating types.

        I have a couple of framed pictures of my kids in my office, because my mother framed them for me for Christmas. Same with my house. It’s just not my thing – I have no problem with it, it just isn’t something I think to do.

      • TO Lawyer :

        My boss has so many pictures of his kids in his office – I think it’s a bit excessive. I was just in there and I counted about 15-20. I think a couple pictures are fine, 20 seems a bit much.

  3. I agree with JP. Picture’s are GREAT, so long as you have a decent relationship with the guy in the picture and the picture does NOT make you look stupid or sloppey.

    When I was dateing Sheketovits, he insisted on getting a picture of ME and HIM that we could both put in our office’s. I agreed, and he did a selfie that he had a freind print out for us. The onley problem was that 1/3 of my hair was cut off in the picture b/c Sheketovits focused on himself, and Sheketovit’s shirt tail was comeing out of his zipper. So after the manageing partner said that Sheketovits looked like a fool and that I should look better in the picture, I threw out the picture. That was the same time Sheketovits got fired for drinkeing. So ever since then, I have NOT had a picture on my desk. Hopefuly, I will find a guy to MARRY me and I will put his picutre on my desk. YAY!!!

  4. I have one of those collage photo frames with 5 smallish pictures of me and my husband, my dog, my cat, my parents (at my law school graduation) and the whole set of in-laws. It’s basically my whole family. And I wouldn’t have my office without it – it reminds me of the people who love me and why I’m doing what I do every day. It’s mostly facing me, not visitors, but if they want to they can see where I come from. We did have nice photos taken for our fifth wedding anniversary, so I opted for those over wedding photos, I think it does look slightly more professional, but if you’re recently married I think wedding photos are fine.

    • I think wedding photos are always fine. I know 60 and 70 year old partners, married 40+ years, who have photos of their wives as brides on their desks and it’s adorable (but also totally fine).

    • Anon today :

      DH & I had photos taken on a recent trip and I opted to frame one of those instead of a wedding photo because it seemed less “lovey-dovey” – but that could easily be a function of my particular wedding photos and I like it when other people have theirs framed. If I didn’t have the trip photo, I probably would have framed an engagement one. For my desk, I think I just prefer to frame photos of us smiling directly at the camera (or looking away but not right in each others’ faces) in normal clothes instead of all dressed up.

      I think it’s easier for guys to have a wedding photo – usually I just see a framed headshot of the bride, but I wouldn’t just want a headshot of DH (and I don’t really think I have one).

  5. I’m interviewing for an internal position and I’m at the second interview stage. Obviously I wouldn’t mention this unless I”m offered the job, but I have 3 weeks vacation that I must use by the end of march, my company anniversary.

    What’s a good way to bring this up and would you bring it up with HR or the hiring manager?

    • Anonymous :

      Schedule your vacation as you normally would, advise your current manager, and then when/if you get offered the job, you tell them you have (approved, if necessary to mention that in your office) vacation scheduled on X, Y, Z dates.

  6. This goes under the “way overthinking it” header. There is nothing problematic whatsoever about family photos at the office. Yes, you should be reasonably clothed and yes, there’s a limit to number, but scantily-clad photos of ANYONE at the office is not a good thing, and too much of ANYTHING at your desk/in your office isn’t good. But even if you have tons of photos of the kids, I don’t see anyone caring. I guess if you were otherwise flighty or didn’t seem engaged at work and you have 100 photos of your baby on your wall, people might think you’re more focused on baby than work. But if you had 100 photos of your sailboat at work and you were flighty, people would think you were too focused on your sailboat.

    I have a framed photo from my wedding and a framed photo of my boys as newborns on my desk, plus 3-4 snapshots pinned to the board over my desk that I rotate as the boys get older. But it’s not something that I ever really thought too much about.

    • Diana Barry :


    • Anonymous :


    • Meg Murry :

      On one hand, yes, overthinking it. On the other, sometimes it’s good to see these things, especially for people new to the working world.

      For the original letter writer – if having 1-2 framed photos of your kid is going to make you somehow less competitive/mommy track you at your job, maybe this isn’t a good job for you.

      For young professionals just looking to decorate your first office/cubical/desk in an open plan – friend photos and pictures of you with your family are just fine. But try to avoid having it look like “I took down the decorations off my dorm room walls and put them up here on my cubical walls.” There was a young woman I worked with at my last job – it was her first job out of school. She was really nice and worked hard, but she already looked really young, and was working hard on breaking speaking patterns that made her seem young and unconfident. One other thing she had that didn’t help was that her cubical decorations were very “dorm room” – right down to the pictures in frames with her sorority letters painted on them and a pennant from her college – so if you stepped into her cubical to talk to her, it slapped you all in the face screaming out “I am super young!”

      • But I’m not sure that it’s so bad for young people to seem young. My assistant is young. Really young. And he’s pretty eager beaver, “gee gosh so happy to be here” too, in a really young way. I’d say it works to his advantage. My co-workers and I tend to go out of our ways to recommend reading to him, or to find him new opportunities or things to learn. I think if he always projected maturity and being not-young, we wouldn’t be so eager to help him because he wouldn’t seem like he needed it. He also happens to knock it out of the park whenever he does a project for me. As you move up and get more responsibility sure you need to project more maturity, but that’s because you will actually be more mature. Youth in itself isn’t a problem I don’t think. (And yes I’d say all of this if my assistant were female, too.)

        • Meg Murry :

          Very true. Youth is not always a bad thing (especially when coupled with enthusiasm) – I have a young employee now who’s energy and enthusiasm for learning new things is great. But it’s something to be aware of for people who are looking to project a little more gravitas, or who otherwise look much younger than they are or are trying to hold their own as project leaders.

          I think it’s one of those things that is fine in and of itself – but young cubical decorations + young hairstyle + + “is my water bottle professional?” + a few other minor points can all add up.

          OTOH, now that I’m old and firmly established in my career in a casual industry, I just decorated my bookshelf with an array of Unikitty in various facial expressions -so my advice comes with many, many, many grains of salt and levels of no longer giving any f*cks.

  7. I am just back from maternity leave and everyone coming into my office keeps asking for pictures of my little one. I haven’t printed any yet, but need to!

  8. Anonymous :

    Also in case anyone is looking back, Kat your wedding dress was not remotely inappropriate for coworkers!!

  9. What about pet photos for those of us who are happily unmarried and childfree?

    • Anonymous :

      I have photos of my friends and family around my desk. I’m really in to the push pins on my cube walls. YMMV but I don’t think it’s any weirder than my coworker having her wedding photos. (which isn’t weird at all)

    • I would so much rather talk to someone about her cat than her kids. I will ask about a photo of your cat and we can trade cat stories, but I am not going to ask about your kid.

    • If you had a photo up of your cat or dog i would smile and ask you about your pet.

      If you had 70 pictures of your cat or dog I would think you were a little strange.

      • Anonymous :

        One woman I (and almost everyone else, too) have to interact with for a necessary periodic IT thing has 70+ pictures of cats in her cube. Like, it’s wallpapered with photos of every cat she’s ever owned, I think.

        But a handful of pictures of your pet, totally normal. I always ask people about their pets!

    • Wildkitten :

      I have 5 photos of my dog up. My dog is awesome.

      • Wildkitten :

        And sometimes she comes to work and everyone loves her as much as I do. She’s cooler than I am and people like her more than they like me, so I think it helps rather than hurts to associate myself with her.

    • I have a bunch of pics of my nieces and cats. NONE ARE FRAMED! They’re just pinned to my cube walls. Is that unprofessional? haha

    • We have family photos taken every year with our dogs (my SIL is an amateur photographer so it only costs us a gift card to her favorite store) so I always have the most recent “family photo” with my husband and dogs and a photo of me with my niece framed on my desk. I love my dogs, and it has been a huge conversation starter (they are very large dogs).

    • Anonymous :

      I don’t have any pictures up, but several of my unmarried and/or child-free coworkers have pictures up of their families (parents, siblings, etc), pets and nieces/nephews.

      The woman who sits across from me has several framed pictures. One of them is in a “Girls Night Out” frame and it’s her and a bunch of others at a bar, with drinks in hand. She is in her 50’s. :/

      • Senior Attorney :

        I had a photo calendar made for Gentleman Friend for Christmas and also had a copy made for myself. We have both hung them in our offices. Many of the photos involve alcohol. And I’m in my 50s and he’s in his 60s. Heh.

  10. I’m in senior management and I have probably 10 family photos. They are on the shelves of the upper unit (hutch) of my credenza behind mesh doors. I don’t see any issue with this. They are all 5×7 and framed.

    I would say no to photos that take up your work space or having tons of photos thumb tacked to your walls. And new moms and dads should try not to go crazy with a million baby pictures all over the place, though believe me I know the temptation well.

  11. My family picture at work situation:

    One the window sill behind me: Framed 5×7 engagement picture, framed 5×7 picture of toddler, double framed 5×7 of toddler and new baby, 5×7 plaque wedding picture, framed 3×5 of hubby, me, toddler, framed 4×6 of the cats.

    On my bulletin board that’s next to my computer (that nobody can really see but me): various snapshots of toddler the daycare sent home, toddler’s 1st Santa picture

    On my desk right below my computer monitor: this year’s Santa picture with baby & toddler.

    Know your office, you do you, it’s probably fine.

  12. Umm, looking around my office right now, I see framed 5×7 school photos of my two boys, and … a blown glass bird I inherited from my mother (a Toikka bird, for anyone who knows Finnish design), a small jade hippo I got on a trip to China, and a set of light-up tetris blocks from, that my kids got me for my birthday a couple of years ago. And that’s just on one credenza.

    I guess it depends on how formal and/or public your office is. I don’t meet with clients in my office, but even if I did I would be more concerned about the stacks of paper everywhere than about my tchotchkes. IMHO, a messy office is unprofessional; a personal office is not.

    On the other hand, it occurs to me that I would question the professionalism of a lawyer with a large collection of, say, beanie babies on the windowsill. So, obviously there are limits.

  13. Anonymous :

    Just wondering as an intern, still in college do you think postcards of where I have traveled are appropriate? They are cheap but they add a lot to a cubicle of nothing. I also have some fake flowers on the walls of the cubicle, thoughts?

    My young item is a stuffed animal of a bear/bull combination as I work in the financial services industry… All the coworkers I have call it mr. Market..

    • No. You’re an intern, don’t decorate. Fake flowers? In finance?!? Take them down you aren’t a secretary.

      • KateMiddletown :

        “You’re not a secretary.” Harsh. Clearly this person is in the early stages of their career and is still learning!

        Everyone has questions about this because it has a lot to do with your image. It’s okay to spend a little time on decorating/personalizing your office, but it’s not okay to spend a lot of time on it? It’s okay to have pictures of your wife if you’re a 60-year-old man, but potentially not of yourself as a child? Let people ask questions… jeez.

    • Postcards are fine. Just don’t move in too much – your goal there is to get out and into something permanent.

  14. I have a framed photo of my kids on my desk, and another of a cousin in the military. I rotate the kid photo and I try to pick silly photos. I also have one framed artwork. As someone mentioned, it’s humanizing. It would be remarked on if I didn’t have a photo as a mother. Especially because many of the other women in my office have covered their walls in children’s artwork. It’s cool to see, but they are telegraphing that family is a priority. They don’t travel. They don’t get put on special projects. They don’t get promoted. They are fine with that, but know the message you give.

    Put up artwork that can be a conversation hook. I have travel photos (landscapes), pictures of an activist I admire, work from the local art college, etc. I want to give visitors a conversation starting point that it’s “how’s your family” because I want to be seen as a worker, not a mother in the office.

  15. KateMiddletown :

    Do all of your frames match? My diploma frame matches my desk-ish in a cherry-walnutty brown, and my one piece of art is framed in a custom made black wooden frame. My kid pic is in a silver fun frame I got from the contemporary art museum. In my mind, frames match what’s inside… but they don’t really go together in my case. Any thoughts on this?