Workplace pranks are an inevitable part of working life, and whether you’re on the receiving or giving end, there are definite DO’s and DON’Ts to keep in mind. After all, no-one wants to be seen as the killjoy or take a long hike down to HR to begin a sentence with “look, all we meant to do was…”
DO – Ensure you have the right kind of working environment
The difference between a random act of abuse and a prank is how well you get along before and after the prank is pulled. It’s all about context and understanding - your significant other is forgiven (in most cases) when they pull some food off your plate. Doing the same thing to a co-worker will lead to an incredibly dry email regarding ‘workplace interaction policy’ being sent out.
So here’s a few questions to consider before you reverse the image on your colleague’s monitor.
- Do I know this person well enough to know their reaction?
- In their place, would I feel like this is appropriate?
- Will the boss nod disapprovingly like a blackhole of humour?
DON’T – Haze
For the uninformed, hazing is a process of humiliation or abuse that someone goes through to be initiated into a group. Think American college movies. Think pledges. Then rethink your life.
Hazing could be considered a prank in the same way physical assault could be considered ‘rough and tumble’. It’s not designed to be fun – it’s like the weak man’s version of being a Spartan. It doesn’t prove anything, it’s not productive, and it’s almost definitely going to end in a law suit.
There are way better ways to initiate someone into your workplace. Have them deal with the worst customer to build comradery, or send the intern to buy some elbow grease or tartan paint. The end goal of an initiation is to make people feel closer and accepted.
DO – Be clever
If you’re going to do it, do it with grey matter. Popping a balloon behind someone’s head is something a five year old could think up. Whoopee cushions are just…terrible. Gossip and lies are for high-school girls, and rough-housing is for bullies who need a release.
Now, while we DO NOT ENDORSE THIS IN ANY WAY – take a look at the works of Jim from The Office. You don’t have to replicate it. Just take away from the spirit of it.
They take planning, and effort, and care. And that’s what makes the difference between a story beginning with ‘remember that time…?’ and ‘there was this one a**hole…’
DON’T – Mess with people’s food
‘Hangry’ isn’t an expression used because English speakers like mashing words together. They use it to describe the feeling of irritation, annoyance, and blind rage that accompanies being hungry. That guy sitting next to you might seem like a perfectly reasonable human being, hell, look at him – he’s wearing a tie and a suit!
Take that same man’s food away for a day and see how quickly he uses that tie to garrotte you.
Our reaction to food and the safety/access of our food supplies is primal. Sure, you can just walk down to Woolies to grab another sandwich, and you may consciously understand that. Unconsciously, however, your brain is thinking ‘BAD PERSON TAKE AWAY FOOD, ME NO LIVE’. It’s the kind of reaction that led to the French Revolution, and I doubt a revolution is in anyone’s pay-grade.
The other small factor to consider is death. Below is the humble peanut:
Terrifying, isn’t it? This thing can kill people.
Our waiters in the audience will know that people will lay claim to being allergic to a million different things, whether it’s broccoli or potatoes or ‘things that are too brightly coloured’. But just like them, you have to be careful, because the risk/benefit is never worth it when mortality is involved.
DO and DON’T – Reactions to pranks
It’s ok to laugh at yourself, and it’s perfectly ok to be pissed off about something that’s clearly gone too far. While that line may not be clear to everyone, being the person who gets people in trouble for a harmless joke is going to sour the atmosphere in the whole office. Conversely, letting yourself get walked all over when something has upset you isn’t going to earn you any respect.
Sure, pranks by their very nature are juvenile, but being a working adult doesn’t mean you can’t either enjoy the fun or take the necessary actions against harmful behaviour.
However you feel, always trust your gut reaction.
Let the pranks begin!
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