Last week in “A Caution”, I shared the story of a practical joke gone wrong… and advised that the best way to execute a prank in the workplace is not to execute one at all. This week, I’ll be explaining that advice in more detail as I share four important things to consider before attempting to play any prank on anyone, anywhere!
1. You can’t control the timing. Everyone knows that when it comes to a sense of humor, timing is everything. While you have control over this factor when zinging someone with a one-liner, more often than not, practical jokes won’t allow you that luxury. For example, at one place where I once worked, a staff member hid a rubber snake in a bin of washers. The intended victim came across the inanimate critter and made the quite reasonable mistake of assuming that it was real. (So far, so good.) Unfortunately, aside from nearly wetting her pants, she also let out a string of expletives that would have made a sailor blush… and did make several customers turn quite rosy. The truth was, thanks to its poor timing, a joke that could have been a real hoot proved an embarrassment both to the staff member who got nailed and to the company.
2. Does this cause property damage. I think all of us have heard about someone super gluing their boss’ gear to his desk or nailing someone’s boots to the floor. While these hijinx are amusing on television, they are often less so in person. Again, there is a timing issue (if your boss is reaching for his pen, it’s likely that he intends to use it), but there is also that little issue of property damage. That antique oak desk won’t look quite the same, even after the super glue has been removed and those boots won’t be quite as weather proof after the nail has been taken out. If your prank has the potential (even the slight potential) to cause permanent harm, don’t pull it. Remember, “In everything, therefore, treat people the same way you want them to treat you.” (Matthew 7:12) You’ve worked hard for the things you own don’t want people taking risks with it, so don’t take risks with their property either.
3. What may be funny to others often isn’t funny to the victim. Okay, it’s confession time. I used to be a superb practical joker. I could nail just about anyone given the time and opportunity. Unfortunately, one of the drawbacks to such visual pranks is that they are often performed at the expense of someone else. One of my least noble moments was when I pulled a miniature nickel out of my pocket and, displaying it to an employee who wasn’t all that bright, moaned about having forgotten to remove my change before I washed my laundry. “It really shrunk it?!” she exclaimed. Of course, everyone laughed. Everyone, that is, except her. In getting a giggle from others, I took advantage of someone who Christ loved enough to die for. Any joke that makes sport of someone, even unintentionally, isn’t worthy of a follower of Christ. All of us were made in the image of God and deserve to be treated as persons of value.
4. Pranks tend to multiply uncontrollably. Maybe you’ve heard of the law of escalation. Basically, the principle is that someone plays a prank, then the person who got nailed with the prank has to get even. While this can sometimes be funny to watch (I once had a coworker who claimed he could outdo me in the realm of practical jokes and the two of us got into an all-out war, each prank becoming more and more outrageous until we discovered that most of the pranks had been played by other staff members who were getting a hoot out of pitting us against one another), they can often degenerate into competitions over who can be the nastiest or most destructive. Don’t wait until the game gets mean to call it quits – don’t start playing to begin with.
While practical jokes can be great source of humor and even serve as a form of stress relief, the negative aspect of such hijinks often outweigh the positive benefits. With that in mind, the best rule of thumb for pranks in the workplace is this: don’t. No amount of fun is worth the risk of damage to people, property, your job, or your reputation.