April Fools?

Apr 1st, 2012 | By | Category: A game, Career advice, challenges, office pranks

April fools day has been around since the 1500’s. That is when the first of the day of the New Year shifted from April 1 to January 1. News spread slowly and many people didn’t get the word. The jokesters of the day would send out party invitations for celebrations on April 1. Those who took the invitations seriously were considered fools. In keeping the tradition alive, many people spring April fool pranks on their unsuspecting friends. Most of it is just harmless fun, and a friendly battle of wits, but some pranks can be malicious and have ill intent.

This year April fools fell on a Sunday so we were all spared the prospect of being fooled at work. Usually the pranks at work are within the bounds of good clean fun, with no malicious intent. Maybe a little embarrassing to be fooled, but usually the prankster immediately announces it to be an April fools prank. However some take the pranks outside the realm of innocent. These pranks are inappropriate for the office, and in poor tastes when done at the social level.

Pranks fall into a thin ice area where you know you have gone too far when you fall through the ice into the freezing cold water beneath. Although not a an April fools prank, nor a workplace occurrence, the case now in the headlines where a college student set up a camera to broadcast his room mates activities. The roommate was so embarrassed he committed suicide. While an extreme example, it illustrates the damage that may be inflicted through pranks. The problem is where do you draw the line? Many of the videos on U-tube, Americas Funniest Videos, and Candid Camera are based on recording peoples surprise and reactions to pranks. So what is the appropriate level for the office?

There is no metric to measure pranks or their effect, so one measure would be how embarrassed would you be if someone pulled the same prank on you. Paraphrasing the golden rule, treat others the way you want to be treated. This seems to be a good guideline except humor like beauty is in the eyes of the beholder. As we move deeper and deeper in the swamp of political correctness, the areas of humor at another’s expense less and less appropriate. It seems no matter what you say it offends someone. Does this mean we should be devoid of humor in the workplace?

An office without a sense of humor is a tedious place to work. The camaraderie and collegial sprit a office has the higher the morale, but when humor is used to mask mean and unwarranted attacks on individuals or groups it is out of bounds. In out current diverse social climate it is very difficult to apply the golden rule as a guideline because cultural differences often transcend our own social moors. Having worked in an office with coworkers from several other countries, it soon became evident that using slang and telling jokes was not a good practice. In addition, to not understanding, there was a feeling of mistrust. Something like, when a group converses in a language you don’t understand.

So what are we to do? Is humor in the workplace now becoming taboo? In my opinion you just have to pick your audience. If you want to pull a prank on someone think before you do it. Will the person understand that it is a just in fun, and will they appreciate the humor. If the answer to either question is no, find another mark.

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