April Fools' Day on the Job: Good, Bad and Ugly Pranks

Ah, April 1 -- day of cubicles covered with tinfoil, phones glued to their cradle and Photoshopped screensavers of co-workers walking into a jail cell or strip club.

In this era of grim business news, you might think such an April Fools' Day joke is the perfect antidote.

However, your boss may feel differently.

A telephone survey conducted by staffing firm The Creative Group found that 68 percent of advertising and marketing executives polled regarded April Fools' pranks "unsuitable for the office."

"Given that so many companies are stretched thin right now, there's less tolerance for activities that are viewed as time wasters or distracting," said Donna Farrugia, executive director of The Creative Group. "You have to be careful. You don't want these things to backfire."

Rather than spend the next 1,000 words telling you not to cross some imaginary line of office decorum, let's take a look at some real-life April Fools' Day pranks, from the good to the bad or the downright ugly. Then you can decide for yourself whether you want to be an April fool or a potentially unemployed tool.

Fun With Technology

Humor and social bonding is a key ingredient in the workplace. But, Farrugia warned, "You want to laugh with people, not at people."

One way to avoid singling out an individual co-worker for humiliation is to punk a swath of them simultaneously. Just ask Jill Knapp, who played this joke on her less-than-tech-savvy colleagues several years ago while working as the manager of information systems for a large radiology practice in Mesa, Ariz.:

"We were going through some technology upgrades, so users in the company were expecting to see some changes. On April 1, I arrived at the office very early, and I printed up memos and placed them on the chairs of about 15 employees. I made sure to choose people who would handle it well.

"The memo said: 'Congratulations! You've been chosen to pilot our new automated computer login tool. Your computer has been fitted with a microphone and speech-recognition software. You'll never have to remember your password again. To use the system, simply turn on your computer, press Control+Alt+Delete to get to your login screen, and then say your username slowly and clearly. Do not say your password! If for some reason you are not automatically logged in, try saying your name a bit louder. If this still doesn't work, say your username three times quickly to restart the system; you'll be logged on right away.'

"As users trickled into the building around 8 a.m., the chorus of spoken (and soon shouted) usernames swelled. People finally figured out it was a prank about 40 minutes later. It was a masterpiece, if I do say so myself. I thought the office administrator was going to bust a gut from laughter."

The Unnecessary Roadblock

Of course, your masterpiece might fall flat if it inconveniences or frustrates your co-workers. Jennifer Guild, a communications professional in Richmond, Va., will attest to that. Last April 1, she fell prey to a common printer/copy machine prank while on a tight deadline at work:

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