April 1st falls on a Saturday in 2017, which means that most of us will be safe from office pranksters this year. But anyone who’s watched The Office knows that workplace pranks aren’t always reserved for April Fools Day.
Most organizations have at least one year-round office clown—that person who takes incredible delight in covering coworkers’ monitors in post-its, saran-wrapping chairs, or bringing in veggie trays disguised as pizza. And if their practical jokes are lighthearted and victimless, they can actually create a sense of comradery, relieve stress, and help build engagement at work.
But office pranks can easily go wrong. There’s a fine line between good healthy fun and just plain mean. Humour is subjective, and what one person finds hilarious, someone else might see as grounds for a lawsuit.
To keep everyone in your office on the same page when it comes to pranks (and prevent bullying and harassment allegations), we’ve put together an Essential Guide to Office Pranks. Before proceeding with practical jokes, use the guidelines below to ensure your office shenanigans will be received the way you’re hoping.
Is this the right audience? Is the prank something that would be appropriate with friends or family, but may be questionable with coworkers? If you’re not sure, save it for home.
Does it embarrass someone? If a stunt singles someone out, is intended to wreak revenge, or otherwise demeans or “others” an individual, it’s not appropriate for the office, period. The funniest practical jokes have people laughing with each other, not at each other.
Does it cause permanent damage? A good prank can be undone in less than 20 minutes, and won’t leave behind any permanent destruction of property. If the joke will take all day to reverse and leaves behind permanent stains, dents, or damage, it would be wise to dial it down a notch.
Can someone get hurt? If safety is a potential concern, think twice. Hold off on any jokes that may result in a trip to the local ER.
Could it be misinterpreted? If you aren’t 100% sure your mark and any witnesses will take the joke as it was intended, rethink your plan. Sometimes it’s hard to be sure how pranks will be received, so if there’s any doubt, just don’t do it.
Is it in line with your culture? Some organizations are all about practical jokes, and participation in pranks is expected and appropriate. In other environments putting your office mate’s stapler in Jell-O or filling a cubicle with packing peanuts is neither expected nor appreciated. Be sensitive to your surroundings, and judge whether that variety of humour is part of your workplace culture.
Would Human Resources approve? We’re not all sticks-in-the-mud over here. Contrary to popular belief, us HR folks like to have a laugh just as much as the next person. If it brings people together, results in a morale boost, relieves some tension, and fits within the guidelines above, we’re all for good clean fun. So, proceed (using caution, judgment, and knowledge of any relevant legislation or office policies)!
We’d love to hear your stories, so feel free to share with us – what are the best and worst office pranks you’ve been witness to or pulled off?