my internship advisor mocked me and is now freezing me out

A reader writes:

I’m a summer intern in a very relaxed office at a very friendly but large company. There’s a full-time employee who informally advises the team of interns — he’ll check in on our project, offer his advice, help guide us to the information we need, etc.

He’s got a very dry sense of humor and is very sarcastic. Unfortunately, he turns the joking behavior on and off very quickly and it’s hard to tell when he’s being serious. Additionally, he likes to use the naive interns as the center of his humor and ended up playing a prank on me that made me the laughing stock of another department.

After that incident, I swung by his office and told him that I enjoyed the humor he brought to the office but would appreciate if it wasn’t at another’s expense. Since then, he’s stopped talking to me or making eye contact with me at all. Unfortunately, this means I don’t get his guidance the way the other interns do.

Should I just learn to take a joke? Would there have been a better way to approach the situation afterwards? How can I avoid this in the future?

Without knowing all the details, it sounds like you approached it just fine. You stood up for yourself calmly and (it sounds like) without being inappropriately aggressive.

The person who sounds in the wrong here is your coworker. His role as an informal advisor to your team of interns is at odds with his desire to “use naive interns” as the butt of his jokes. If you and the other interns are going to come to him with questions and problems, you need to trust him not to mock you. He’s creating the exact opposite of the environment he should be establishing.

That’s bad enough on its own, but his reaction when you asked him to tone it down took his mishandling of his role to a new level. Refusing to talk to you or even make eye contact now? That’s not an okay reaction for any colleague to have to another, but it’s especially inappropriate when he’s charged with giving you guidance.

And sure, I suppose it’s possible that you badly botched the conversation and were offensive in what you said to him (I suspect not, but it’s possible) — but then his job would be to sit down with you and tell you, “Hey, that’s not a great way to approach these issues, because it comes across as ____. Instead, in a situation like this, you should ____.” That’s what it means to give people guidance. You don’t freeze them out when they handle something differently than you would have liked.

Now, in answer to your other question — should you just learn to take a joke? Without knowing what this joke was, I don’t know. It’s certainly true that some people would benefit by lightening up. It’s possible that you’re one of them. But I wouldn’t use this particular guy or this particular situation to draw those sorts of conclusions about yourself, since he sounds too problematic to use for that sort of calibration.

If there’s someone else in your organization who you have good rapport with (like your direct manager or someone else you work with and respect), you could run the situation by them and ask them for their candid assessment. (And if you frame it that way — as seeking feedback about yourself and advice for the future — it would have the side benefit of alerting someone to this guy’s behavior without actually complaining about it. And that’s a nice side benefit.)

But I wouldn’t let this ass rattle you too much.

{ 210 comments… read them below }

  1. Brittany*

    I hope the OP writes in so we get an idea of what the joke was. I am very sarcastic but I know when to turn it off and on in a professional manner. Hard to gauge without knowing exactly what happened but it sounds like the OP handled it well.

  2. Intern*

    Thanks so much for your answer! So far, I haven’t talked to anyone at work about it but I could definitely get some candid feedback from my formal mentor who also knows this employee well.

    Thank you so much!

    1. Intern*

      Sorry, OP here. I guess I could give more details.

      Have you ever heard of the prank that older kids play on younger kids called “snipe hunting”? You send them out to the woods / a dark field and have them hunt for a “snipe”, an animal that doesn’t exist. Essentially, he did that but for a certain tool we needed. He sent me to another engineering group within the company to ask for a tool from the basement – when the tool doesn’t exist and the building doesn’t have a basement. I was mortified to be standing there with 20 strangers laughing at me.

      My actual phrasing of the conversation was “Hey XYZ, I appreciate the fun you bring to the office, but I would appreciate it if it wasn’t at my expense.”

      1. moe*

        Then ignore my comment below. He’s definitely overreacting (which he would be even if you’d phrased it otherwise).

      2. Anonymous*

        Ooh, that’s a classic. I don’t think they were laughing AT you, but at the situation. Especially if there is a precedent.

        I think the look on my face when the “pool on the roof” gag actually worked was far funnier than anything else!

        I think you handled it well. I can see why you’re being turned out of things, if it’s a different office humor culture. If he’s not really assigned to be a guide to interns, I can see why he would opt not to work with you, since it is not mandatory.

        But you handled it well, and I think you’ll do just fine.

        1. Meg*

          There’s really no excuse to passive-aggressively “turn someone out” of things, or freeze them out, or anything of the sort. Even if the coworker in question is an informal advisor and not a formal manager or anything, it’s completely unprofessional and honestly kind of mean.

          1. Jazzy Red*

            Absolutely! You’ve hit the nail right on the head with your comment, Meg.

            I hate (HATE!) any kind of “joke” that makes people, especially young people, look bad. As Bernadette said to Howard when he said that it was just a joke, “are you sure?”. People use that excuse all the time when they’re being mean.

            And freezing this intern out??? The manager should know about this. The interns are there to learn about business, not to be entertainment for overgrown adolescents.

            1. Jamie*

              This whole just a joke thing – the joke is based on the OP’s ignorance of a tool and the building …so what’s funny is that the advisor knows more than she does? I guess that’s the joke?

              Well, next time one of my less knowledgeable computer users has an issue I’ll tell them it’s because they broke the left flanage and now the FSB is overclocking. And that there is no way it wasn’t their fault – and if I can find a replacement it will be about $500 and I will talk to HR about this because it’s damage to company property.

              And when they start freaking out about getting written up and owing money I’ll laugh and say it’s just a joke. Because my taking advantage of knowing more about computers than they do and making them look stupid is so funny.

              Except it’s so not funny and would be a completely horrible thing to do.

            2. Meg*

              I’m not typically a fan of those jokes either, but I know some people don’t mind. I remember working in a restaurant a few years ago, a coworker told me that part of my sidework was draining the hot water from the coffeemaker (hint: it never stops draining). I laughed at the time, but there are plenty of people who do not appreciate being the butt of these jokes and it doesn’t mean they’re insensitive or, my personal favorite, “too PC”. It just means they have a different sense of humor and that should be respected.

              1. Jessa*

                I am not a person who takes jokes well at all. And I believe they have ZERO place in an office particularly one that makes someone new look bad like that. There’s zero excuse for this garbage and it’s a form of bullying and even if one person finds it funny does not make it right. It just should not happen in an office setting. And to then punish the worker for just not thinking it’s all in good fun?

                There’s a major form of bullying that follows the pattern “uncomfortable, or just plain mean x thing” and “oh just kidding,” when person takes it badly. It ties into a form of gaslighting that makes the person who feels badly think they have no right to feel that way because “well it was a joke you see.” NO it wasn’t and it isn’t and it’s wrong.

            3. Amy B.*

              “People use that excuse (it was JUST a joke) all the time when they’re being mean.”

        2. CathVWXYNot?*

          During my first ever research project as an undergraduate, the grad student who was my day-to-day supervisor told me that the next method he was going to teach me required some specialized equipment, so I should go and ask his buddy in the next lab for a “long stand”. I told him that was an ancient joke and that he was going to have to try harder than that to catch me out.

          A couple of weeks later, he called me from the lab phone after I’d left early one day (to work on an essay – honest!), impersonating the professor we both reported to, asking where the hell I was and saying I had a serious attitude problem. It was an absolutely perfect impression, and I was completely mortified (he did eventually start laughing as I stammered out yet another apology).

          I think I’d have rather had the long stand…

          1. Vicki*

            “Practical” jokes are not funny.
            Jokes at someone’s expense aren’t funny.
            Scaring someone that way isn’t funny.
            Lying isn’t funny.

            4th grade humor stops being funny after 4th grade.

      3. Josh S*

        I love that prank….BUT I also agree with you that humor at the interns’ expense is a bit off. It’s sophomoric, and really doesn’t reflect well on that employee, IMO.

        But I’m a bit torn. I can imagine this being the sort of environment where there’s a little light-hearted ‘hazing’ going on. Where every new employee/intern gets tweaked a bit, but that’s the way of inducting people into the “in-group,” after which you’ve made it through the induction ceremony and into the club.

        In a certain kind of environment, that can build a really tight-knit and collegial group. But for interns who may not know what they’re getting into, it doesn’t seem professional or appropriate.

        1. Josh S*

          And to be clear–you completely handled this in a professional and appropriate way. The ‘mentor’ guy is in the wrong.

          It’s possible that this guy is ‘hurt’ because you’ve essentially rejected his induction into the club, and now he’s freezing you out of the club. Which is even more juvenile and unprofessional than what you think it is– this is a JOB, not a CLUBHOUSE.

          If someone chooses to forego the collegial atmosphere, that should be their prerogative and shouldn’t be a negative for them. It certainly doesn’t warrant the type of response you’ve gotten.

          1. Vicki*

            “this is a JOB, not a CLUBHOUSE.”


            If you join a fraternity, a sorority, or any club where this sort of “hazing” is expected, you know what you’re getting into (I hope).

            At work? No.

      4. Lauren*

        omg that’s a horrible thing to do to someone and I’d be annoyed too!

        And no it’s not funny.

        Personally I’ve always found that whenever someone says “can’t you take a joke?” it’s to defend something that wasn’t funny in the first place. Or appropriate.

        1. Yup*

          “Can’t you take a joke?” is one of the easiest condescending remarks to answers truthfully. “Sure. Doesn’t seem like you can tell one, though.”

      5. SarahMarie*

        Wow… it was bad enough when my older brother sent me snipe hunting at 6 years old. I can’t imagine if someone did that to me at work, especially if I were a new employee or an intern. I would be really embarrassed.

      6. Anonymous*

        In hospitality, the young naive chef’s apprentice usually gets sent to a neighbouring restaurant to borrow the “soufflé pump”. Which, of course, doesn’t exist. It’s a reasonably harmless initiation and not everyone falls for it.

        1. Another Emily*

          I’ve also heard of sending people to get ice mix or blue herring steam.

          Personally I find these jokes hilarious and I’d laugh if someone got me, but I’d never do it to someone unless I’d sure they’d find it funny too.

    2. Chrissi*

      I checked Wikipedia for “Snipe Hunt” because I was curious how it got it’s name (because I am a nerdy birder and know that Snipes are a real type of bird). In the definition it mentions that it is often a type of “hazing”. I hate pranks anyway, but I think anything that can be categorized as “hazing” does not belong in a workplace at all. I think the OP handled it well and shows much more maturity than their “mentor”.

      For anyone interested, it is named a Snipe Hunt because Snipes are notoriously shy and difficult to catch and usually hide when threatened. The more you know…

        1. liz*

          Snipe hunting was around long before that movie. I have also wondered were it came from. This was a joke when I was in highschool in the 90s

          1. Joey*

            I’d never heard of it until Kevin, Russell and Carl.

            If you haven’t seen the movie and you’re sent on a snipe hunt here’s the secret- snipes like chocolate.

          2. Kelly L.*

            At food service places, this takes the form of asking people to mop the walk-in freezer.

            1. Mo*

              Or when working in a food court, having someone take a bucket and ask other stores for ice mix because their ice maker was out of mix.

          3. Lizabeth*

            Girl Scouts in the 70s and probably much earlier than that. We’d take campers (usually the ones that won’t go to sleep) for a hike out in the woods at night (midnight or later) with a paper bag and no flashlight, leave them there while the “rest” of us herd snipes to them to catch. And we’d go hide and leave them there for awhile by themselves to see what they’d do. Depending on the age, they either caught on real quick or didn’t.

          4. Elizabeth West*

            A bunch of friends and I got sent on one in college. One friend and I I suspected what was up. The perpetrators took us out into the boonies and told us to walk into the brush and when we did, they took off running back to their vehicles. We ran after them and when they turned around, laughing, we were right behind them with big old grins on our faces. They were like, “Aw, MAN!”

            Good times…good times.

          1. Liz T*

            This sent me into a half-hour TV Tropes rabbit hole. Thanks guys.

            (I’m not at work, don’t worry.)

          1. ThursdaysGeek*

            But they are pretty odd looking, and the snipes in my part of the world make weird noises with their wings when they fly.

        2. Becca*

          The guys on Cheers took Frasier on a snipe hunt after Frasier started dating Diane. That’s how I first heard about it.

          I know realize I am much older than I really think I am.

      1. BCW*

        Is this “hazing” really any worse than being sent to get everyone’s coffee. The term hazing, much like bullying is being stretched to cover so many things now that when there is true hazing (or bullying) people are less likely to react. Lighten up. Yup, I said it.

        1. the gold digger*

          1. Hazing is designed to humiliate someone and make him the object of humor.

          2. Making someone get everyone’s coffee is designed to demean him and put him in his place as the low person on the totem pole.

          1. Joey*

            Or its designed to make everyone have a laugh (including the hazee). The point is its subjective and absent pranks that violate a policy or law the culture dictates what’s acceptable.

        2. P*

          …Are you serious? Yeah, I would say practical jokes at the new person’s expense are worse than being sent to get everyone’s coffee. At least fetching coffee can be interpreted as doing something nice for people – even though it’s stereotypical intern grunt work, it’s not too far off from bringing in cookies for the office to share. Being the butt of a joke just humiliates someone in front of their new coworkers.

          1. Forrest*

            Plus coffee is actually there when you’re sent to get it.

            Unless you’re sent to the wall-in freezer to make it…

        3. Meg*

          Telling someone to lighten up because they don’t share your sense of humor is one of the most immature things I’ve ever read on this blog. The intern is there to WORK, not be the butt of someone’s jokes. And furthermore, it sounded like she handled it completely professionally, and didn’t make a big deal of it at all. It was the advisor who escalated the situation and made it into a Big Deal.

          Saying “lighten up” when someone is genuinely embarrassed is dismissive and condescending, and does not deserve to be in the workplace. The intern has every right to approach this person the way she did.

        4. Mike C.*

          Great, I was waiting for someone to wander in and tell folks just to suck it up and complain about how society is getting all soft. Could I get a side order of “kids these days” with that, or are you all out?

          I went to a pranking college, where elaborate pranks were the norm. The first rule of such things IS YOU CAUSE NO HARM. Telling someone to just suck it up and then proceed to freeze them out is not not appropriate behavior in the workplace.

          1. BCW*

            I’ve already said my piece on the freezing out, that I don’t think that was a good reaction. Nor did I ever say society is getting soft (whether I think that or not is another story). Point being, what people find embarrassing or harmful isn’t universal. To some people doing the grunt work maybe embarrassing, to others its part of being the low man on the totem pole. To some people getting pranked by your peers or bosses is a sign of affection, to others its mortifying. I’m sure at your “pranking college” there were times when people weren’t happy with your elaborate pranks, even though your intention wasn’t to harm them.

            1. Anonymous*

              Usually when people accept internships, they have an idea of the types of tasks they will be doing. If fetching coffee is part of the internship, they probably know that going in and are expecting it. I doubt that “will be subject to hazing” is in the job ad or discussed during the interview.

            2. Lora*

              Eh…Look up “MIT Hacks”. Their pranks are notorious around here, and don’t target people, ever. Typically it’s what interesting thing people can put on a domed building on campus–Pac-Man, Apollo moon landers, subway cars, fire trucks, pianos, airplanes, the Bat Signal. My personal favorite was the UFO crashing into the Stata Center: If you’ve ever seen the Stata Center, it is a Frank Gehry nightmare of stainless steel and concrete that does, in fact, resemble something otherworldly.

                1. Jess*

                  This, exactly. I’m interning at public defender office this summer. My supervisor and colleagues are sarcastic and they play jokes on each other. You know who they don’t play jokes on? The brand new interns. Once we had been around long enough to get comfortable (and to start giving them shit back) they loosened up with us. And early on, they were known to check-in with us if they were teasing (“you know that was just a joke, right?”). And they NEVER embarassed us in front of a group of peopel.

                2. Lora*

                  Oh I agree, I was just pointing out that there are pranks which are not hurtful to people.

                3. bearing*

                  Yes, it’s something like the rule that gifts should flow down instead of up.

                  One may disagree about whether deliberate humiliation should flow laterally or not, I suppose, but deliberate humiliation should definitely not be flowing down.

              1. Meg*

                The police car, complete with the mannequin dressed in a cop’s uniform eating a doughnut, remains my personal favorite.

                1. crookedfinger*

                  I had a retired police car shortly after high school…the only prank I ever played was driving up on teenage (alcoholic) parties and flipping up my spotlights on their front windows to see how fast the music/lights went off.

              2. Forrest*

                They may not target people but I’m pretty sure it costs time and money to remove them and students are paying for it through their tuition.

              3. Editor*

                I’ve read about the MIT pranks, which seem to also involve using engineering skills in creative ways. My favorite college prank, though, is the pumpkin someone put on top of the library tower at Cornell University. Days of fun and speculation about an apparently impossible prank, but no lasting damage or real cost to the university.

            3. Meg*

              Yes, but even so, people have different thresholds for humor, and not finding something funny shouldn’t put the burden on that person to “lighten up”. It’s not that hard to apologize for offending someone, even if it wasn’t your intention.

        5. Girasol*

          I started work in a place where the previous new guy warned me about hazing. Even on interview day I heard my coworkers-to-be shout to him, “Boy! Bring me coffee!” I was prepared to face my own turn as hazing target with a better attitude thanks to his help. I never thought highly of my other coworkers, though, whose behavior was more than annoying and in poor taste. It’s risky and stupid to address a fellow from a protected class as “Boy” and order him to play servant. Their poor attempt at humor might have backfired at the company’s expense. They’re lucky he was such a good sport.

      2. Daisy*

        I’ve never understood the snipe hunt thing at all. It always seems like the joke is that they are supposed to be made up, but they’re not (I’ve seen plenty), so what is the point of it? What has the person being pranked fallen for? If the only point is that people who want to be accepted will do whatever they’re told to do, then a) that’s not really a joke, and b) why not tell them to catch any type of bird?

        1. Plynn*

          When my camp counselors brought us (group of ten-year-olds) out for a ‘snipe hunt’ it was super exciting because we were walking around in the dark, all very intent on finding this mysterious creature. There was another counselor hidden in the bushes, making rustling noises. At one point she dove into the bushes and asked us to help while she struggled mightily with a Snipe…

          The point is to create the mythology, the clues, and the whole experience. That way, it’s not so much of a burn on the pranked – it was supposed to seem real.

  3. moe*

    The intern’s “correction” of the mentor does sound a little pushy to me, assuming the paraphrase is accurate. I’d have told him how it made me really embarrassed, and appreciated it if he could keep MY sensitivity in mind — without saying anything about the jokes he plays at others’ expense, or trying to dictate what his interactions with others should be. Not an intern’s place, IMO.

    If you needed to have *that* kind of conversation — if this was truly something that was humiliating all the interns — I’d have tried to find an ally who was at the advisor’s level to have that discussion. I can see why it didn’t go over well.

    1. TheBurg*

      Really? Intern’s response seems completely appropriate to me, especially with the additional details of what the prank was. The prank seems completely uncalled for, especially considering it wasn’t a peer that pulled it, but her advisor.

      1. Laufey*

        moe left a comment above, after the Intern described the prank and the phrasing used then talking to the employee.

        1. TheBurg*

          Ah, thanks! That comment was small enough that I think I just scrolled right by it.

          comment retracted.

    2. P*

      I don’t think that just because someone is an intern (or any other “lowly” employee) they have no standing to talk to a coworker about inappropriate behavior, or need to undermine what they’re trying to say by softening it too much.

      Obviously it would have been inappropriate in this instance for the intern to actually scold him or tell him he needs to stop, but as it was paraphrased sounds perfectly acceptable to me.

  4. Anonymous*

    My thought was that this guy (the informal supervisor) doesn’t really have a good grasp on how to handle this leadership role so he does things like make inappropriate “jokes” to become part of the group and then when called on it he doesn’t know how to respond and he’s embarrassed and that’s why he’s not talking to you. Not excusing his behavior at all, just saying I don’t think this is about you, I think this is fully about him.

    (Especially after reading your comment. That’s not funny, that’s just sad. He’s the problem here and it sounds like you handled it really well.)

    1. Maire*

      That was my thought too; he’s sounds immature and insecure and uses “humour” to get people to like him. Now that you have confronted him about his behaviour he is probably worried that it will go further and so he probably thinks his best bet is to cut all contact with you. I think this is especially underlined by the “no eye contact” thing. That sounds like someone who is embarrassed to look at you, not like someone who is deliberately being malicious.

  5. Joey*

    What Id want to know is whether this is part of the office culture. It sounds like it could be a possibility (I can’t tell clearly) since its relaxed and all of the interns seem to get mocked. If it is then I think the reaction might just be a sign that this is the right work environment for you in which case your reaction would be out of place.

    I will say the prank doesn’t sound like a terribly personal one. It sounds like the type of prank that any of the interns may be subjected to. But, obviously the guys response is ironically a little childish.

      1. Judy*

        When I heard the story, I was thinking about in one of the Discworld books, when the vampire joined the watch. Angua forewarned her about pranks, so she cut a turnip into the shape of a garlic to have ready when the garlic would show up in her locker, and took a huge bite of it in front of the crowd that just happened to be hanging out in the locker room.

          1. JessB*

            You should, @Elizabeth West, it’s a great series – so imaginative, so funny and so interesting.

            I also highly recommend the audio books, read by Tony Robinson (who you might know as Baldrick from the Blackadder series). Tony does all the voices and absolutely brings the books to life.

            I don’t have a comment about the post – everything I was going to say has pretty well been covered – but I just had to encourage you to read the Discworld books!

    1. Ann O'Nemity*

      My department at a previous employer had a deep-rooted joke/prank culture. If you wanted to succeed there, you had to play along or at least suffer through it without any complaint. A good sense of humor and a thick skin were absolute requirements. The experience taught me a lot about how workplace culture can really make or break a job.

    2. Mike C.*

      It doesn’t matter if it’s part of the culture or not. I went to school where it was, and consent and respect towards not causing harm was a huge, huge part of this! You can’t just say, “well that’s how things are” and expect that to cover everything.

      1. Joey*

        Sure it does. There’s places where a prank like the ops is acceptable and others where its not.

        Obviously everyone has their own opinion, but what’s acceptable in the workplace is determined by law, policies and workplace culture. If you don’t agree thats fine, but its going to be a painful existence.

    3. Stevie*

      I have an incredibly thick skin and wouldn’t care if this joke was played on me…so I’m coming at it with a different take than most other posters.
      She says that she isn’t getting the guidance that the other interns are getting after the incident. Isn’t it possible that they figured out she’s not a good cultural fit either and won’t be hiring her after the internship or asking her to come back next summer (depending on what year she is)? Therefore, whether good or bad, they don’t need to invest the same amount of guidance and time into seeing her grow within the organization. She can still get a good reference, but it’s not as crucial to them to see her develop specific skills.

      1. EngineerGirl*

        Utterly unacceptable. If they’ve decided not to keep her they have an obligation to tell her as well as tell her why.

        1. Anonymous*

          Why? On this blog, we hear all the time about how people aren’t obligated/legally required to do things.

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            What you’re legally required to do is often vastly different from what you should do, are expected to do, or would do in order to manage well.

        2. Stevie*

          But isn’t it a little different with internships? An internship isn’t a guarantee that you’ll have a job later – it’s a 10 week contract between you and an employer. They may hire lots of their interns full-time after they graduate, but that doesn’t mean they *have* to either. And most interns aren’t legally required to continue with a specific company either.
          They would definitely be obligated to tell her if they were terminating the internship early.

  6. BCW*

    Well after hearing the joke, eh I don’t know. Personally, I probably would have found it funny if it was done to me. As someone said, I don’t think they were laughing at YOU thinking you were an idiot or something, more about the situation. My guess is that whenever they have a group of interns, they pull this prank on one of them. I know whenever I’ve been in offices and there were pranks done, it was done to people who it was thought would take it ok. Now, I’m not saying you over reacted. Its fine if that’s not what you find funny, and going to him was ok. BUT I do agree that you maybe should have phrased it about how you felt and not about how he should act in general, because there are probably other interns who would have found it funny as well. He may even feel bad about it, and his way of handling it is by just over correcting too much in the other direction.

    1. BCW*

      Oops, didn’t see where you mentioned that you did make it about you and not a general statement. So disregard that part. I do think though that there is a possibility that he does genuinely feel bad about it and just is over correcting

    2. Plynn*

      I think it’s great that the OP/intern was assertive enough to talk to the manager afterwards, and I think what he/she said was perfectly appropriate. The manager freezing them out is not okay.

      That said, I don’t think this was inappropriate prank. It was pretty gentle – there’s no way that they could have known there was no basement in the building, or should have known that the tool didn’t exist, so it wasn’t based on knowledge that you ‘should’ know but don’t.

      Hazing/pranks have a (justified and earned!) bad reputation, but there is another side to them – it’s kind of like saying “today you are this side of the joke – you don’t have this insider knowledge, but someday you’ll be on the other side, getting joke.”

  7. Brett*

    “Engineering group”
    In my experience, engineers can have a very different sense of humor that is definitely a bit too targeted and biting for most people. At the same time, their humor is never really meant to be personal, even when it has a target. My sister married an engineer and it took me years to even understand when he was joking or serious; even longer to get his sense of humor. Now I find him hysterically funny :)

    Sounds like this guy is a technical mentor, who is assisting because of his technical expertise rather than his leadership and certainly not his social abilities. Maybe, instead of freezing you out, he is just flat out embarrassed that his joke did not go over well, that he misread the situation, and that he screwed up. Embarrassment would be especially consistent with not making eye contact.

    If that is the case, some reassurance that he has not made a mortal enemy out of you and that you have recovered from the embarrassment his prank caused you might be enough to put everything back to normal. (Like, for example, inviting him along when you head out for lunch.)

    1. Lora*

      Hey, I resemble that remark!

      I don’t send people on snipe hunts. I do write snarky things on markerboards.

      At my last job, other departments would ask us for something huge and complicated and impossible that they didn’t really understand the scope of, and we’d reply that they wanted unicorns. Our department’s office area was decorated with SO MANY UNICORNS. Huge colorful ones we printed on the plotter, unicorn banners, hand-drawn pictures of unicorns pooping cupcakes and barfing rainbows.

      Our least favorite reactors were also named after the Seven Wonders, as we had seven prototypes. They were smallish, table-sized tangles of clear tubing, pumps, snarls of wire with gauges stuck all over. Not much like the Hanging Gardens…

    2. Ask a Manager* Post author

      If that is the case, some reassurance that he has not made a mortal enemy out of you and that you have recovered from the embarrassment his prank caused you might be enough to put everything back to normal. (Like, for example, inviting him along when you head out for lunch.)

      This is well worth trying.

    3. CoffeeLover*

      I agree with Brett on everything. He sounds embarrassed to me and a coffee to subtly smooth things over would go a long way.

      I would add that if you work in this type of environment, then Intern may well have “overreacted” in the eyes of coworkers. If every other intern is being pranked and you’re the only one that complains you could be the “sensitive one”. Working in these types of departments/companies can be a lot of fun or it can be hell depending on your sense of humour. It’s all about finding the right fit.

    4. Judy*

      Joke I saw when I was an engineering intern:

      One of the engineers was VERY particular about his phone book. To the point of grabbing it off of other people’s desks and saying “It goes HERE”. He went on his honeymoon, and it just happened to be when we got new phone books. All of the phone books in the building happened to end up in his cubicle.

    5. EngineerGirl*

      Of he’s one of those boys in a mans body and is now pouting.

      But a conversation is in order no matter what.

      1. Anonymous*

        “Of he’s one of those boys in a mans body and is now pouting.”

        Gender equality is supposed to go both ways.

    6. Brett*

      Engineers are up their for prank complexity, but I think police and fire departments take the cake for sheer over the top pranking.

      We have a captain with a reputation for pranking so bad, that people lock their unoccupied offices when he is in the building. I should add that this captain has an -extremely- stressful position with subordinates who deal with high stress situations (even for a police department). The pranks are very definitely a way to blow off steam. Basically his pranks are a way of saying to others, “You are too tightly wound right now. Take a break.” He considers it perfectly acceptable for others to yell at him when he pranks them (no matter what their rank).

      Scotch tape over the phone earpiece is really common; but people will actually go to the extent of taking the receiver apart and putting the tape on the inside. No chair ever stays at the same height setting for long. The most complicated prank I ever saw involved one employee taking a surreptitious awkward photo of another employee while that employee was in a moment of significant stress… and then having the photo printed on two coffee mugs, one for each of them. It took him weeks to get exactly the photo he wanted, and pull it off without the other employee knowing.

      My desk is actually a small arsenal of office warfare toys, including annoy-a-trons and sonic grenades; purely for deterrence. :)

  8. Kay*

    But I wouldn’t let this ass rattle you too much.

    Have you ever glanced over a sentence, only picking out a few words and found yourself wondering “What the hell is an ass rattle?”

    1. CollegeAdmin*

      +1 on the “ass rattle”

      I am often guilty of reading things too fast – this morning I was working on something that referenced “building bridges” with the career center…I read it as “burning bridges” multiple times and was baffled as to how that could be a solid career program.

      1. Heather*

        Yup. For rattlesnakes, the song doesn’t go “shake your tail feather,” it goes “shake your ass rattle.”

    2. Lalaith*

      Yup. I first read it as “rattle your ass” and then “ass-rattle”, as a verb, before parsing it correctly. Can this be a real term now? I kind of like it :)

    3. Chris80*

      I totally read this as “ass-rattle” too, and I definitely think I need to start using that term now! (Gosh, don’t get all ass-rattled about it!) I did finally realize how it was supposed to be read after re-reading it, though.

  9. COT*

    I wonder–could the employee be avoiding the OP because he’s embarrassed, not offended? That doesn’t make his reaction ideal, but it’s a possibility to consider.

    OP, I think your plan to ask your office mentor about the situation is a great one. Above all, don’t take it personally. This is far more a reflection on your coworker than on you.

  10. mollsbot*

    He overreacted, I think you responded well.

    I was working at a mental health clinic a few years back. One April 1st a call comes in for a doctor, someone named Dr. Bear. The doc is in session so I take a message. After he sees the message the doc tells me to give Dr. Bear a call and relay some other message to him (it was very common for doctors to have me be middle man for their phone tag). Well, when I call it’s the zoo that picks up. The doctor that I’m relaying the message for isn’t known as a goofster or prankster so I say to the zoo receptionist “Is there a Dr. Bear available, I have a message for him from Dr. Moe.”

    “Oh honey, you’ve been pranked, this happens all the time.”

    **Facepalm** He got me pretty good. My office was known to pull pranks around/on April Fools. It was a great day to break up how serious all other days were.

  11. EJ*

    I’m sure I will take a hit for this…but I think the OP does need to lighten up about this one. This was a pretty harmless prank, and I agree that people were more than likely laughing at the situation, not the OP.

    Sure, the coworker should grow up, and the OP had every right to raise it as an issue with him. But taking a prank like this one in stride can do much more for interrelationships in the office than taking a moral high ground. That said I wouldn’t condone serious or hurtful pranks – this was minor.

    Junior me would have done exactly what the OP did and confront the coworker. Experienced me would turned beet red, then consciously smiled, and told the engineering department and the coworker ‘ha! Good one!’ And moved on. I also would have shared the story around myself in good fun, to lessen the feeling of being laughed at. Nobody can laugh at you if you’re laughing at yourself.

    1. College Career Counselor*

      I disagree. If you’re going to use humor in the workplace, it’s best (especially with new people, ie, interns) to use the self-deprecating kind. Here’s the situation the “mentor” faced: you’ve got an intern running doing what you say, and you’re taking advantage of this person’s naivete, desire to learn and general eagerness. So you take advantage of all those good qualities to make this person feel like an idiot in front of 20 professionals in another department. That’s just mean-spirited and stupid and helps give the intern a reputation as a dupe or very gullible.

      Workplace humor should not destroy trust between colleagues.

      1. JMegan*

        >>So you take advantage of all those good qualities to make this person feel like an idiot in front of 20 professionals in another department.

        I agree – I have a hard time seeing it any other way. I know it’s very common (my grandfather had it pulled on him when he started working in a factory a million years ago), and I know it’s meant to be “all in good fun,” but I just can’t see the humour in abusing someone’s trust like that, even in a relatively small way.

        Then again, there’s a reason I went to library school rather than engineering school! Some office/industry cultures definitely lend themselves to this sort of thing more than others. Even so, I would be absolutely mortified if it happened to me, and incredibly uncomfortable if I were asked to participate in it at someone else’s expense.

      2. Kimberlee, Esq.*

        There’s no way that that prank is going to give the intern a reputation as being a dupe or gullible. It also doesn’t even make them look like an idiot; how would the intern know that the tool doesn’t exist, or the basement doesn’t exist, without checking? (Can you imagine a bunch of people laughing viciously at an intern because they don’t know things they have no way of knowing? I’m guessing people thought it was funny, because those types of pranks tend to be funny, and are usually – though not always – funny to the “victims.”)

        It’s just a 100% harmless prank. I agree that the intern had every right to say they don’t want to be pranked, but their saying so (and possibly marking themselves in a fun-loving workplace as a total stick-in-the-mud) might have actually harmed their reputation at the organization.

        Yeah, the reaction by the mentor is over the top. But he’s probably miffed, and he’ll get over it (especially if OP is concilliatory, as others in the thread have suggested).

    2. the_scientist*

      I don’t really agree.

      Having a sense of humour and being able to laugh things off is important, but some people are shy (myself included) and don’t like being made the centre of attention or getting “caught out” in a prank in front of a large group. Maybe the intern was able to laugh it off at the time, but if it makes you uncomfortable you should be well within your rights (even as a lowly intern) to say “hey, that was a good one, but it makes me really uncomfortable to be put on the spot like that”.

      And regardless of how the intern approached it, the employee is the one who’s behaviour is way out of line. Freezing out and refusing to make eye contact is BS.

      1. Kristen*

        Excellent point along my thought lines. As a very shy person, I can laugh at myself but still be uncomfortable because the issue is being called out in front of strangers/a group, especially when you might already feel awkward before them as an intern (that might just be what I remember from my intern days though).

        1. ArtsNerd*

          I believe a 19-year-old version of me might accidentally burst into tears at this kind of prank. I had enough hazing from my siblings; I don’t need it in the workplace. (I wasn’t bullied, but could also see how that could also be a bad trigger for someone who was.)

          1. Jamie*

            19 year old me wouldn’t have cried – I’d have been freaking pissed.

            40 something year old me would be freaking pissed, too, but I’d handle it better. I am SO glad I don’t work in a place where this kind of stuff is part of the culture.

          2. ArtsNerd*

            I DO think it’s frequently appropriate to give your coworkers a hard time – and I do it almost daily – but only once you’ve built an actual rapport and get a feel for their boundaries.

          3. Jesicka309*

            I had a version of this when I was 15 and at McDonalds. It was raining, and the flags (country and company) were hanging in the storeroom. I accidentally knocked them down.
            The assistant manager was shocked, and said it was an offense to leave our national flag on the ground! He then made me hang the flag back…whilst singing the national anthem. I was so mortified I burst into tears.
            I learnt later that the boys did this is every trainee they had through – as they brought the flags in each day, they had to sing the national anthem, because “it’s the law!” This guy tried a version of this on me…but didn’t expect me to actually fall for it!! It’s kind of funny in hindsight.

    3. A Teacher*

      I also disagree but then I’m someone that gets bright red with a super red chest when embarrassed. I already hate being the center of attention, to me its an introvert thing, so something like this would be mortifying.

      As a high school teacher and adjunct college professor, I’d considered it passive/aggressive hazing and you can bet you’d pay for it in my classroom in that you would face every possible consequence I can think of. Hazing isn’t funny especially at someone else’s expense and it quickly turns into bullying.

    4. Ehh...*

      I’m kind of with you here. I’m not saying “learn to take a joke”. I’m saying there will be times in your career where you won’t appreciate the situation you find yourself in that will unfortunately pale in comparison to this. I suspect if your mentor waited until you were a little more comfortable in your role and with your group, you wouldn’t have taken it to heart as much.

      1. Anonymous*

        There is a big difference between someone with power using that power to specifically belittle and demean (because of the lolz amirite!) and finding yourself in a difficult situation even one you caused where you created a problem or you find yourself in a morass created by others.

      2. Rana*

        If one’s a supervisor, one shouldn’t be putting subordinates in that sort of position in the first place. Period.

    5. Malissa*

      I hear you.
      Younger me would have been absolutely mortified at that. It’s something would have had me guessing whether or not I even wanted to come in to work the next day.
      At my last job I had a lady to whom April Fool’s Day was better than Christmas. She played pranks on everybody. All day long. It really did wear on me and I was tired of my phone button being tapped down at the end of the day. I could have gotten offended, but instead I waited patiently. April first came around again and her desk got covered, and I mean covered, in toilet paper. There must have been at least 12 rolls unrolled on a 6X8 space.
      I had 5 more quiet beginnings to April after that.

      1. Elizabeth West*

        Best office joke I ever heard of, I read in a book about homicide detectives (non-fiction).

        Two detectives, night and day shifts, shared the same desk. The day guy was very persnickity about the desk and would complain if anything was moved (even in the course of using it). So the night guys did something like this (doing my best to remember):

        First day- an empty Styrofoam cup on the desk. Day guy is all mad because night guy is leaving his trash

        Second day- cup full of paper dots from the hole punch. Bottom cut out. Day guy picks up cup–FOOF! Paper dots all over the place.

        Third day–there was something else cup-related here that didn’t do anything, but I can’t remember what it was. (The point was to throw him off.)

        Fourth day- string appearing to be tied to something dangling down from the light fixture. Day guy follows it up, finds a cup balanced on the light fixture, goes “Aha!” He climbs up on the desk, lifts the cup to remove it, and
        No bottom. Paper dots all over the place.

        I must do this before I die. :)

  12. Lily in NYC*

    Honestly, I think the hazing was a bit immature but in my opinion, he did it because he’s fond of OP, not because he was trying to make her a laughing stock. My office is full of pranksters and if someone here handled it like OP did, they would be seen as oversensitive and not fitting in with our office culture. I’m not saying OP doesn’t have the right to be annoyed, but I can also see why the manager is giving her a wide berth – he feels chastized over what he views a harmless joke.

    1. Angelina Retta*

      “I like you so I’m going to humiliate you” sure okay that makes perfect sense. He should feel chastised. He deserves to be chastised. It’s not appropriate.

      1. Forrest*

        I think Lily means in the kindergartener sense, like when boys/girls pick on their crush.

        1. Lily in NYC*

          Nope, I just meant that he is fond of her as a coworker, not that he has a crush. I don’t know – I guess I am just surrounded by jokesters – my family, friends and coworkers all gently tease each other and we only tease people we like. You can be sure you’ve been accepted into my family when my dad plays one of his silly pranks on you. I feel flattered when someone teases me – I can tell when it’s really just a joke or if it’s bullying. There’s a big difference.

          1. Forrest*

            That’s what I was getting at. Its immature but people get the idea of school yard crushes.

            I wasn’t saying that you thought the mentor had a crush on the OP. Just that he demonstrated being fond of her like a little kid would.

          2. Limon*

            Yes! gentle teasing can be very loving in an established relationship. But you have to be so careful with people not clued in, you have to smile and let them see that it is an affectionate thing. And you have to act kind as well, to reassure them. So many people are not brought up in a loving/teasing environment and take it as potential humiliation and even abuse. Know your audience!

          3. Rana*

            I can tell when it’s really just a joke or if it’s bullying.

            I think that’s the root of the problem – it’s not always easy to tell. I’ve been bullied – or seen people bullied – and had it waved away as “just teasing” or “just a joke.” Other times I’ve reacted to what was intended to be good-natured teasing in ways that made me look grumpy (and thus foolish). And I know several people who use “I was just joking” as a way of covering themselves up when caught out for saying something mean or stupid.

            Basically, I find trying to figure out what people mean in these situations to be really tiring and frustrating, and I really prefer to not have to be put in that position. There’s no way for me to “win” – either I end up having to put up with abuse, or I end up looking like a grumpy stick in the mud. Neither of those is “fun.”

      2. BCW*

        People usually do these things to people they like. Maybe to you it doesn’t make sense, but thats the reality.

      3. Lily in NYC*

        I don’t think that joke is remotely humiliating. I’m allowed to have a minority opinion on something, right?

            1. BCW*

              wow, apparently you can’t detect sarcasm or have an understanding of what lol means. And my point was not relating how the site is moderated. I think Allison is very open to other points of view. Its more to the other commenters who think theirs is the only right opinion. I can say “I disagree because …” and I’ll get back “You are wrong because” See the difference?

              1. Cat*

                I think that any expression of fact on the Internet is de facto caveated with an “in my opinion.” I mean, I know it can be nicer to state it straight out and I sometimes do, but the fact is, none of us are All-knowing Police of the Universe and anything we say is actually just what we think.

              2. Forrest*

                I mean…isn’t the point of this site to discuss things? I think its expected that one would state something in order to get responses (or else they wouldn’t say anything.) But you can’t control the feedback you get. That’s why (general) you needs to be 1) open to other ideas and 2) be aware that there’s a reply button under your comment once you post it.

                Holding a minority opinion sucks, I get that, because it means you’re going to have to defend/discuss more than people who hold majority opinions and sometimes you just want to say your opinion and then run off. But…sigh, its the internet.

      4. Pussyfooter*

        When I worked in a paint shop, we stored our personal items in a room separate from the working area. Periodically, someone would slip resin “rocks” into someone else’s bag…the more rocks you got in there before they found out, the funnier.
        It is possible to play a prank without being mean spirited, or “humiliating” anyone.

        That said, regardless of how the Supervisor meant it AND the effect it had on the OP, refusing to talk to someone at work is entirely out of bounds behavior. Refusing to talk to someone you are supposed to be teaching???? …sound of head exploding*

    2. Anothermous*

      The way an adult responds to “Hey next time you do that I’d prefer not to be the butt of a joke” is by saying “Oops, I’m sorry, it won’t happen again!” not by sulking and avoiding eye contact like a 6 year old. The intentions of the mentor don’t matter. The OP clearly stated her boundaries on that sort of thing and the mentor apparently can’t handle that, so now he’s moping around. He’s the one who needs a thicker skin. He needs to grow up.

      1. Kelly*

        Seriously. I wonder if King Baby does this with co-workers instead of interns. I think he gets off on the power dynamic, or else he wouldn’t be sulking and avoiding the OP.

  13. BCW*

    I think the bigger problem is that humor itself is such a subjective thing that its hard to gauge what is and isn’t ok. Out of 10 people, 9 can find a joke or prank funny, but if one is hurt/offended/saddened/embarrassed it becomes an issue. Throw in the fact that many people refuse to look at intent and only look at how someone felt at the end, all of a sudden you are facing a hostile work environment.

    I completely think people have the right to not find something funny or to not like to be the target of these jokes. At the same time though, sometimes people do need to lighten up a bit and just go with the flow of the office culture. If after a while you want to make it known that you aren’t a fan of those things, I think thats fine. But when its done right away, it makes you look overly sensitive.

    I also think to say that people who do these things are childish and immature is fairly judgmental as well. Sometimes its fun to just lighten the mood places. I have friends who are ER doctors, and on occasion they will prank each other. I don’t think that makes them childish or immature or bad doctors. It just means that when they have to be serious at all times, sometimes a little distraction is nice. I joke with people all the time, but I doubt any of my co-workers would say I’m immature or not a good employee.

    1. A Teacher*

      Hazing isn’t okay–it quickly becomes bullying. Then maybe I’m coming at it as a high school teacher that sees too much of these “harmless pranks” on a daily basis. As an educator, do you seriously want me to tell high school kids they need to “lighten up and take an embarrassing joke?” I mean I’m a career class teacher that is helping to shape the future generation and all.

      1. Joey*

        The kind of hazing done by kids in school is far different from the kinds of hazing thats typical in office environments.

        1. TychaBrahe*

          A snipe hunt is *exactly* the kind of hazing done by kids, if not in school then in summer camp.

        2. A Teacher*

          Disagree. Kids set each other up all the time to “be funny” in class and then the victim is the brunt of an unwanted joke. Again, as an educator training your future coworkers and employees, should I say “learn to take a joke or learn to stand up for yourself?” A bully is a bully and an unwanted prank on someone else is making you the bully.

      2. BCW*

        I was an 8th grade teacher, and while I get it, its not black and white. A group of 3 friends taking their other friends book is a joke. When they do it to someone they don’t like, the same thing is harassment. Or if the friend decides that it was funny one day, but that they were already mad at the other 3, the same thing may not be funny. To lump it all together is just not realistic. I joke with friends all the time. I’m not hazing them.

        1. Limon*

          A a teacher, I require one thing in the classroom: respect.

          Respect of ourselves, each other and the important work we are accomplishing. If anyone deters from that, there are consequences. Most students seem ok with this simple rule.

      1. EngineerGirl*

        This. It’s about power dynamics. When one person pranks a person with less power it can quickly become bullying.

    2. Anothermous*

      No, you learn individuals’ boundaries and you respect them. If someone in your office “can’t take a joke” then you leave them out of the joke. If 9 out of 10 people enjoy the joke you can damn well joke with those 9 people and leave the 10th alone. Everyone has the right to set their own boundaries and have those boundaries be respected.

      1. BCW*

        I agree. But I guess my point is, everything up to that point may have led you to believe that they would be ok with it. Maybe this person has seen other jokes done to people and thought they were funny, but they just can’t take a joke themselves. So if you find out they aren’t ok with that, yes by all means don’t do it again. But don’t get all bent out of shape the first time either. Many times, because of these difference, people don’t know that they’ve gone too far until they do. If they repeat this behavior, they are a jerk. If its a one time thing, and they stop when asked, its fine.

        1. Forrest*

          There’s are many ways to put a stop to jokes after the first time without “getting bent out of shape.”

          I think it would be even more confusing to ignore multiple jokes before cracking. 1) You’re more likely to get bent out of shape since you’ve been holding it in and 2) people have an unclear understanding of your boundaries – after all, you didn’t say anything before.

          There’s also a difference between joking around and playing pranks. I like joking around and I can be pretty sarcastic. But I find pranks to just be designed to embarrass people. Sure, if two people enjoy pranking each other, I wouldn’t think anything of it. I would think a lot differently about someone who pranks people lower than him on the pole or someone he doesn’t know well.

          1. BCW*

            Sorry, guess I wasn’t clear. I do think the first time something bothers you, its fine to say something. I just think taking a bit of time to calm down, like the OP seems to have, and then talking about it is the way to go. Not just getting super angry.

  14. Forrest*

    Ugh, I hate practical jokes. I find nothing appealing about grown ups wasting time making other grown ups uncomfortable.

    Its a work place, not a frat house.

  15. Jen*

    Ugh. I hate that joke.

    The majority of the time, this is the first time that an intern has worked in a professional environment. They’re nervous and eager to please and have a lot to learn – to target them specifically from those things and call them out to look foolish is crappy. I was terrified of looking stupid or out of it during my internship – if someone had specifically exploited that, I would have been really annoyed.

    I would say to keep your eyes and ears out at the internship to see if there are others who could serve as guides to you. At my first internship, my manager pretty much ignored me, however, there was an entry-level employee who reached out to me to help me out a few times. I ended up developing a rapport with her and she ended up helping me with my resume and gave me a tip on another entry-level job elsewhere once I’d graduated.

    Is there anyone else there who has a job title you’d want some day? If so, reach out to them to see if you could possibly have an informational interview with them some day. Making another connection at that place is going to help you out in the long run and ensure that the internship gives you a good job contact.

  16. Jane*

    I would be upset if someone in a position senior to me did that to me. I don’t think I’d have the guts to confront that person, which is why I’m lucky I’ve never had this sort of thing happen to me. I’ve played jokes on peers that I know very well and am good friends with before and have had them play jokes on me but never anything involving anyone senior to us. It’s always in a light-hearted spirit with no chance of anyone being embarassed in front of a manager, anyone senior to us, and with no involvement of anyone not in the tight-knit circle of friends. I agree with the general premise that from time to time it can be fun to joke around at work, but work is still work and it’s not the place for this type of thing, especially when you do not know the person on whom the prank is being played well enough to know if they would be embarassed. For some people this might have been funny or if the audience were not another department maybe that would have made a difference, but it’s just way too risky and the payoff is what – a laugh? Doesn’t seem worth it to me if the consequences are alienation and discomfort.

  17. LCL*

    Remember the poster a few months ago who worked in a very snarky, sarcastic environment and was asked to tone it down? And that poster was trying, but didn’t really get what the problem was? (Dingdongs merrily on high, & etc)

    I hope that poster turned out OK. And I hope they are still reading this blog and can see a concrete example of how sarcasm in the workplace can backfire.

  18. Lucy*

    I have a very dry sense of humor and I rag on people sometimes, but I hate this kind of a prank. If done to me, I probably wouldn’t have said anything, but I don’t think it’s bad that the OP did. I think she handled it well.

    1. Windchime*

      I think she handled it well, too. I don’t really see anything funny about embarassing an intern–someone who is most likely new to working in the professional world.

  19. AF*

    I’m agreeing with a lot of folks. I’m concerned that there is only one “informal” advisor for interns at this company, and that he has nothing better to do than prank the interns. Ordinarily I wouldn’t suggest this, because the intern/OP should learn to handle it within the professional environment himself, but I’m wondering if it’s appropriate to mention something to his professor/academic advisor who is overseeing his internship on the university end. If the jerky advisor is behaving this way, he may give the intern a bad review at the end of the internship. The OP may want to protect himself in that case. The professor might also have some insight into whether the OP handled it appropriately, but if it is a real concern, it could also affect the school’s relationship with the company. It sounded pretty harmless, but the reaction the work advisor had with the OP sounds childish, and I’m concerned that, as someone else said, if this reflects on the company’s culture, it might not be a good learning environment for interns.

    Also, totally agree with Anothermous about being sensitive to someone who “can’t take a joke” (and I agree that this is super condescending). Everyone’s personality is different, and there might be a reason why the OP reacted the way he did. Grown-up professionals apologize when they’ve hurt someone’s feelings, regardless of the circumstances. It’s called respect.

    OP, best of luck to you with the rest of your internship and please keep us posted! Glad you found AAM so early in your career!

    1. Leslie Yep*

      “Grown-up professionals apologize when they’ve hurt someone’s feelings, regardless of the circumstances. It’s called respect.”

      +1. I’m gonna need that in needlepoint.

  20. AF*

    Sidebar, but isn’t “Ass Rattle” the name of Robin Thicke’s new single? Just kidding :)

  21. jfq*

    An important question:

    Did the OP laugh at any of the other pranks or jokes on the other interns?

    The recounting of what he or she said to the mentor (“Hey XYZ, I appreciate the fun you bring to the office, but I would appreciate it if it wasn’t at my expense.”) makes me think possibly yes, especially because the clarification in the comments reads differently from the original post (“…I enjoyed the humor he brought to the office but would appreciate if it wasn’t at another’s expense. “)

    And while everyone gets to have his or her own opinions about humor, especially when one is the target of humor, what constitutes “taking a joke” will also be subjective, and failing to fit in on that score can have consequences. True, “taking a joke” can be used as an excuse to justify broadly recognized and even legally objectionable behavior (e.g., sexual harassment), but short of that, company cultures can reasonably differ. Seriousness, and more specific to this issue, self-seriousness may not be the default position in every workplace, nor do they need to be.

    1. fposte*

      That’s an interesting point–if the OP has looked approving of such things in the past, I could see her co-worker being really startled to find out she was displeased when it happened to her.

      And while I think it would be fine if the OP let this roll off her, it’s also fine for her to request to be left off the prank rota; what’s not fine is the co-worker’s response. I hope it is because he’s embarrassed, and I like the idea upthread of reaching out to him to move forward.

    2. Leslie Yep*

      So, I get where you’re coming from but there’s also a power differential that needs to be brought to the fore between the “adviser” and the inters; they might not feel comfortable not laughing whether they think it’s funny or not. Since it seems like this “adviser’s” default position when asked to stop is to sulk and just generally be a brat about it, I can imagine even permanent staff giving a little customary chuckle at his antics just to keep him from freezing them out too.

      The objectionable behavior here, too, isn’t really the prank; it’s that when the OP made a totally reasonable request, the guy acted like a child. No matter what your company culture, this is unacceptable.

      1. fposte*

        Agreed that the employee should be behaving better, but we really don’t know whether he’s avoiding the OP out of resentment or out of embarrassment–we just know he’s avoiding her.

      2. Anonymous*

        In a relaxed engineering group, the intern needs to grow a backbone. The power differential isn’t as large as you might think.

        1. Rana*

          It sounds to me like the intern already has a backbone; the OP went and spoke to the guy about the problem, right? That the whole point here – that the guy is himself overreacting.

    3. Emma*

      I believe we call that “gas lighting” – the pranker, who’s behaving like a low-level emotional manipulator here, trying to shame the recipient into not being upset at their unacceptable and provocative behavior by saying such things as “sheesh, it was just a joke! lighten up!”

      Is OP a woman? I’m just curious, after reading this great op-ed by a fellow who dissects the institutionalized gas lighting of women. You can google “A message to women from a man: you are not crazy” for the write-up.

  22. Jamie*

    If one of my kids came home and said this had happened at work I’d tell them it probably won’t be the last tiresome suck monkey they work for.

    If one isn’t being targeted personally it’s not humiliating or worth quitting over…it’s just totally not funny.

    That’s the crime. It’s not a joke and it’s not funny. It’s just stupid.

    And the freezing out after a totally justified request to stop with the OP? Looks like this guy needs workplace guidance more than he needs to be giving it.

    When I run into people like this I’m just thankful I don’t live with them.

  23. jfq*

    Another point:

    This is not the intern’s boss; he’s an “informal” adviser. More information on his actual working relationship would help, but part of the reason he’s ignoring the OP may be that he simply does the informal advising for fun. If it’s not part of his main job duties, or maybe not even an actual job duty, then perhaps he just doesn’t see the OP as worth the potential trouble.

  24. Brton3*

    Unfortunately, some bullies never grow up. And bullies don’t become bullies from an excess of self-confidence or self-esteem. If he needs to pick on interns and then gets threatened when they ask him to tone it down, he probably needs your sympathy more than anything else.

  25. Sydney*

    OP, I’m sorry that you felt humiliated, and it does sound like he’s simply embarrassed his prank went awry. I suggest trying to smooth things over by inviting him for a group lunch or bringing him a coffee or something. I don’t think you should “lighten up” and I think you handled this perfectly. Not everyone likes to be the center of a prank and pranksters *should* know this and be sure to target someone who enjoys the ribbing.

    My biggest takeaway from this post is that I should’ve gone into engineering. I love these types of pranks, especially when they’re on me, but clearly I’m not in the right industry where this is the norm.

  26. Amber*

    That type of prank is used often in the army. A few examples:

    * Send the new soldier to find a box of grid squares.
    * Send the new soldier to find blinker fluid for a humvee.
    * Have the new soldier let the air out of all the vehicle tires because they are filled with winter air and they need to be replaced with summer air.

    Yup, your tax dollars at work.

  27. jesicka309*

    This reminds me of a scene from Game of Thrones, where King Robert torments his Lannister squire, and sends poor Lancel Lannister off hunting for a ‘breast plate stretcher’ (whilst calling his mother a whore!!!)
    Well, King Robert dies in a hunting accident (drunk off wine that Lancel was plying him with). Lancel ends up having sex with Robert’s wife (his cousin, but daaammmmmnnnn).
    So just remember, OP, if this guy is still getting you down, another option is to stage a drunken ‘accident’ and nail the intern coord’s wife!!! :)

    **Disclaimer. Totally joking here. Please don’t committ murder because you saw it on TV!**

    1. Emma*

      I thought of the breast plate stretcher scene too! Haha. However, at least as far as poor Lancel was concerned, King Robert didn’t pull the prank in front of the whole royal court!

  28. Cassie*

    I hate pranks – absolutely hate them. Especially in the workplace. A couple of coworkers (guys) will occasionally hide each other’s stuff, like chairs or whatever. This reminds me of when my classmates in the 6th grade would play keep away with another boy’s tennis racket. Have we not gotten past that stage in life?

    Or they’ll put an empty box upside down over a monitor (so it looks like the box is the monitor). I would be mortified if they messed with my cubicle and my boss happened to see what they did to “improve” my cubicle.

    1. Editor*

      I’ve heard accounts of pranks I thought were hilariously funny. One person I met told about her last day at a former job (where she was a known practical joker). She sent one woman running out of the bathroom because she put some gadget on the toilet that, when someone sat down, produced a deep bass voice saying, “Hey, stop blocking the light. We’re trying to work down here!”

      The thing is, although I can imagine how embarrassing and how hilarious it was, I would never pull something like that at work. And I don’t think I’ve ever pulled a practical joke on someone else like that, either. I have been the victim of practical jokes and didn’t like them, but my real aversion to practical joking came about because of frequent lectures from my fourth-grade school teacher who didn’t want anyone yanking chairs out from under people in the process of sitting down.

      In the case of the toilet, one victim thought the prank was funny, but even though she was laughing, she noted that the prankster had “almost killed me — I had control-tops on.” I did laugh, picturing myself or someone else hobbled around the knees or ankles by spandex, but it also reminded me of the warnings in fourth grade about how “you could break someone’s back doing that.”

      Ixnay on the work pranks that affect someone physically or make them the butt of the joke.

  29. sai*

    Oh god, reminds me of how many jokes that were made at my expense in my first job…am one of those nerds, high IQ, Low EQ etc etc and to add I had a horrible accent and didnt have any knowledge of local language, coming from another state in the country, I was made fun of for everything and my emotional response made it even worse…I really really wish I had handled things as mature as the OP has done – kudos to you chin up and keep doing the good work, you might end up with a job here..!

  30. WFBP*

    I’ll never forget my first week on the job, I came back from lunch to find a note put on my desk to call a Mr. Lyon and a number and get some sort of information from him about a bid, can’t remember the specifics now. If you haven’t already guessed, the number I called DID have a lion…the zoo was really nice about it, I’m sure they get pranks like that all the time.

    I never took much offense because in my industry, you knew you had made a good impression on people if they took the time to razz you a little. The ones that never made it far were the ones no one bothered to bring into the fold in a joking way.

    I understand being mortified, and I understand jokes get a little dbaggy sometimes, but being able to laugh at yourself is a great life skill. I wouldn’t things like that bother you too much in the future, unless it’s meant to be mean. As for your situation now, I would def address it with your other mentor, because this guy sounds like he’s in the 3rd grade.

  31. BCW*

    So not to stir the pot anymore, but I have an honest question. Based on comments and things, many people seem to think that saying lighten up, or take a joke, or you are overreacting aren’t good. So I’m curious, do any of those people think there actually is a time when people do over react, or do you honestly think any reaction is justified because the person is entitled to feel how they do? If you do think that people are over reacting, how can you tell them that without sounding condescending? I will honestly say that I’ve worked in quite a few situations where there have been reactions that didn’t warrant the action that elicited them (similar to my take on this). So for all of you who say that its condescending to say something like “calm down” what is, in your opinion, the “proper” way to handle this stuff.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      You apologize and mentally note that that person can’t take what you think of as a joke, and adjust accordingly when dealing with them in the future. You don’t need to correct their thinking.

      If you’re very close, you might discuss your differing takes, but probably not with a coworker. You just note it and move on. But you’re welcome to then think of that person as overly sensitive, even bizarrely so, if that’s what you conclude. Some people are, after all. It’s just not your job to fix them.

      1. BCW*

        I’m not even talking about just jokes though. I’m even talking about correcting a form or something that is part of their job. I guess I don’t think if I’ve asked you repeatedly to do something a certain way, and you don’t, that I should have to apologize because when I asked you again you took it super personally because I mentioned that its the 4th time I asked.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          Oh, definitely not — I thought you were talking about jokes only.

          If someone takes it personally because they’re being corrected in their job, that’s a whole different issue. But the answer isn’t “lighten up” — it’s “I need you to do this correctly, and not respond unpleasantly when I give you feedback that you haven’t.”

  32. Intern*

    OP Here.

    Thanks to everyone who responded. I appreciate the input.

    Update: I have a “mentor” (i.e. someone who has no authority over me but is there to give me insight into the company) and I’ll ask her for advice. She’s worked with this guy for 12 years and knows him a bit better. I don’t plan on reporting this to higher management, since he’s not formally responsible for anything and I don’t feel like it’s worth bringing up in my exit interview.

    I also realize that I could have made it more clear that I’m not the pranking type by not laughing at his jokes earlier in the summer. Looking back, I’m sure he saw me finding his humor funny and took it as a sign that I would find the prank funny; in reality, I was laughing because I felt like I needed to fit in with the other interns (who think he’s a riot). Next time, I’ll try to be more genuine in the office so people don’t have false expectations of how I’ll receive things.

    Thanks for all the input, guys!

    1. BCW*

      Sounds like you have a good plan. I think this was a good lesson in general for a lot of people. When you go along with jokes and things of that nature, you are essentially showing that you approve of it, and open yourself up for those things to be done to you.

      Now that you made that part clear, I think even more that the guy is just embarrassed because he thought you’d be fine with it.

      Good luck!

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