my boss is furious after my coworker pranked her, the deal with “hustle,” and more

It’s five answers to five questions. Here we go…

1. My boss is furious after my coworker pranked her

Today our boss came to my desk to talk to me, in an open office area of about 40 cubicles. Her back was turned to my coworker. As she was talking to me, my coworker pulled out a fake spider and put it in my boss’s shoulder. My boss turned around, yelled, was in shock, and told her, “How dare you! I am afraid of spiders! If you do that again, I will seriously quit!” Sorry to use the obscenity, she then called my coworker an F’ing bitch (but she didn’t abbreviate it), then stormed into her office and slammed the door. Our team sits pretty close to each other and we all just looked at each other in shock. My coworker who played the prank was shaking and tearing up. So she Skyped and emailed our boss an apology.

My coworker became nervous when our boss didn’t respond and kept her door closed. I advised my coworker to give her time and let her cool down. As the day went on, my boss sent me work-related emails and I assumed she would slowly come around.

Later in the day, our boss wrote a complaint to the owner of the company and the HR manager and copied my coworker, who told me that the email said “how dare you do that” and that this is harassment.

I agree what my coworker did was wrong, but can she get fired? I guess it is possible because we live in Florida and it is an at-will state. What are your thoughts?

Legally, yes, she could be fired, but it’s pretty unlikely that she will be. It’s more likely that she’ll be told not to pull pranks on people in the office again, which is a pretty reasonable outcome.

I don’t fault your boss for having a strong initial response; some people are indeed terribly freaked out by this kind of thing (although certainly her reaction sounds a bit … uncontrolled). But it makes no sense that she’d send a letter to the owner or HR; she’s a manager and has the authority on her own to talk to your coworker and make it clear she shouldn’t do something like that again. She doesn’t need to borrow authority from anyone else, or have them handle it for her … and it’s certainly not harassment in the legal sense. I would have expected her to handle it professionally once she’d had a chance to calm down after the initial shock, and it doesn’t seem like that’s happened.

Read an update to this letter here.

2. What’s the deal with “hustle”?

I’m in the midst of a job search and I keep seeing companies (mostly tech) looking specifically for people who “hustle.” To me, this sounds like a generic buzzword (like “fast-paced environment”) that really means that the company is looking for someone who is aggressive and is willing to work long hours.

I’m a hard-working individual who takes pride in doing good work, and who has a reputation for results. I take initiative wherever I can to increase the bottom line or advance strategy, but I’m not sure I “hustle.” What’s your take? Is “hustle” a real thing?

It’s usually used to mean “will figure out what it takes to get something done, even if it’s hard or doesn’t have an immediately obvious pathway.” It usually means persistence, doing the unglamorous work if that’s what’s needed, and generally being industrious and hard-working.

3. My husband is applying for a job in my sister’s department

My husband is applying for a job in a very small department of a university. My sister works under the same boss who is hiring (in a very different role, but under the same person).

My sister thinks my husband should tell her boss that he is related to her up front – like right away if he gets called/emailed for an interview. She is worried that her boss would see it as a conflict to have two people in the same family working there, and that her boss would be annoyed if one of the candidates she’s spent time interviewing was undesirable because of this conflict.

She says if my husband doesn’t tell her boss up front, she’ll go in and tell him her herself. Added to the mix is that my sister is on a contract there and doesn’t want to annoy her boss, which I totally get.

My husband would prefer waiting until he is actually in the interview – to give him a chance to sell himself before telling her something that might cause a conflict of interest. I can see both sides and don’t know what to tell my husband to do – help!

Your sister is the one who has more at stake — this is her job and her boss, so she gets to call the shots. It doesn’t even matter what I think; it’s her prerogative to manage this the way she wants.

That said, I agree with her. I’d be annoyed if I weren’t told about this up-front, because I might not want to have two related people on my team. (The potential for problems or weirdness is high with that set-up.) That doesn’t mean I definitely wouldn’t interview your husband, but it does mean that I’d want to be able to decide that for myself before investing time in interviewing him. And if I were open to hiring him, I’d be a lot more inclined to do it if the two people involved had already demonstrated that they understood how to navigate that situation professionally by giving me a heads-up about it early on.

4. Reapplying for a job that I turned down over salary

I work in higher ed and last year interviewed for and was offered a job at a different college from where I currently work. I would have loved to take the job, but it added a commute where I have none, and offered less than my current salary, which they weren’t able to move on during an attempt at negotiations.

A friend and former colleague works at this new college and was on the hiring committee. They ended up offering the job to other candidates after me and weren’t able to pay enough for any of them to move over either. The position was just reposted this week, and my friend told me in confidence that the budget had officially been increased to where the midpoint is more than what I’d asked for during negotiations, and the minimum was still more than my current salary.

My friend would like for me to reapply. While I’m interested, it just feels odd to approach it like I’d not applied before, when all parties know it was salary that was a sticking point. Do you have any advice on how I should phrase it in my cover letter or if I’m asked to do another interview?

If it weren’t higher ed, I’d say to just email the hiring manager and say that you saw the position was reposted and that you’d love to talk again if she doesn’t think salary would end up being a sticking point again. Higher ed tends to have more rigid hiring processes, so you may need to actually do the entire formal re-application. In doing that, I’d just mention in your cover letter that you really enjoyed getting to know them and the role during the hiring process last year and that although you couldn’t come to terms on salary then, you’d love the opportunity to talk with them again.

5. What are the signs of a successful phone interview?

I completed a phone interview with a hiring manager 10 days ago. I thought it went pretty well – it felt more like a conversation, and the interviewer went into great detail explaining the job tasks to me, as well as other information such as vacation days and working hours.

The location of the job vacancy is in my home country (where I also completed my university degree), and not where I’m residing right now – hence the phone interview. She asked me if I was visiting any time in the near future and when I told her no, but I’d be more than happy to fly over should they need me too, she quickly responded with “no, it was just a question.” Besides that, I was able to answer all of her questions, some with okay answers and some with great answers. She kept saying things like “fair enough” and “makes sense.” At the end of the interview, I made sure to ask her several questions about the role and the company, which she again answered in detail. She then told me that they were still interviewing a pool of candidates and that they try to get back to all candidates within two weeks, and that if I were successful, I’d have one more interview. Before closing, she mentioned that I should email her with any questions that I had, and that I should follow up with her if I don’t hear back in two weeks’ time.

I’ve been worried mostly because they were quick in every previous step of the process. I was contacted one week after I applied for an initial phone interview, and one week after that to arrange for this interview. I also feel like some of the things she said could be interpreted in different ways. So what are the signs of a successful phone interview?

The sign of a successful phone interview is that you get offered another interview. Seriously, that’s it. People have phone interviews that seem to go great and then never hear back again. And people have phone interviews that they’re sure they flubbed and they get invited for another interview. Instead of trying to figure out if they want to keep talking to you (which you’ll know eventually, as this plays out), focus on figuring out if you want to keep talking to them, whether the role and company sound like the right fit for you, and what additional questions you have for them.

{ 511 comments… read them below }

  1. Knitting Cat Lady*


    Boss could have a genuine phobia and been fighting with a panic attack. Might explain the extreme response here.

    1. Blurgle*

      If someone pranked me with a mouse I don’t think I’d handle it much better. Literally I’m shaking after reading this, and I don’t even mind spiders (which you’d know is a good thing if you saw my bathroom).

      OP’s co-worker is at best thoughtless and immature. My God, I cannot believe someone would do that in a professional setting. Spiders are such a common phobia, too.

      1. fposte*

        I was wondering if the boss had participated in pranks before, so that pranks themselves were okayed, and if this one was just an ill-judged one.

        But the boss as described doesn’t sound the prankish sort, and I’m thinking the OP would have mentioned previous prank consent. So I’m suspecting the co-worker just had an attack of bad judgment.

      2. Beezus*

        I have a friend whose fear response to spiders is so strong that, when she unexpectedly encountered a full page photo of one in a magazine, she flung the magazine across the room, flung herself in the other direction, and broke out in hives a few minutes later. Abject terror does funny things to people.

        1. Amber T*

          Something similar happened to me at work. I don’t mind most creepy crawly things… the stupid bugs with a million legs, stink bugs, sometimes we even get snakes in our building! None of these bother me, but I have a legit phobia of spiders. A coworker sent me an email with an attachment (something like “Teapot Presentation 10/19/15”) and asked me to print it out. When I opened it, it was a picture of a giant spider. I actually flung myself backwards and had to walk away from my cubicle for a couple of minutes to calm myself down. (In a fit of immaturity, I replied with a giant clown face in the body of the email. Dual lessons learned.)

          I think what a lot of people don’t realize is that there’s a difference between being scared of something and having a phobia. Lots of people are scared by lots of different things. Phobias are not logical.

        2. Pinkie Pie Chart*

          That sounds like me. I’ve had screaming, fleeing violently in the opposite direction, followed by hysterical crying fits when I see itty bitty spiders. One that was ON ME?! You would have been lucky if you saw me in a week.

      3. Dynamic Beige*

        If someone pranked me with a mouse I don’t think I’d handle it much better.

        I was working a contract position and had no security card to let myself back into the building if I went outside. Ordinarily, this wasn’t a problem, except that one night I heard a noise and caught a mouse. Yes, an actual mouse. I saw it in a snack bag someone had left out on their desk. I quickly picked up the bag by a corner and then folded the top over to keep the very small mouse in it. But then I had a problem: how do I explain to someone I need to be taken outside without showing the staff (who were mainly female) what I had in the bag. Because I didn’t want anyone to freak out and I didn’t know these people so I had no idea how they would react to me holding up a live mouse in a bag. When I approached someone, I hemmed and hawed and danced around it long enough to get them somewhat annoyed then held up the bag to them… and I shouldn’t have been so worried because the mouse was deemed “so cute!” and I was taken outside to release it (so of course it could find its way back into the building). So it was the best outcome, but I was genuinely afraid that I would freak someone right the heck out.

        1. Mabel*

          It seems that you assumed that women are more likely to be afraid of a mouse than men, but I don’t think that’s a safe assumption.

          1. Dynamic Beige*

            Not necessarily afraid… but have phobias or just hate them or think they’re dirty/gross/full of diseases. Aside from my mother, who had “issues” around this sort of thing, perhaps I watched too many Tom and Jerry cartoons as a kid. You just never know how someone is going to react to stuff, whether that’s a mouse or a moth. FWIW, I had a repairman out once who screamed like a banshee and ran quite fast for a man so large when he thought he saw a snake.

            And the reason I had to ask another woman was that I had been working with them and knew their names… I wasn’t about to go busting up to some random dude and be, “here, have a mouse. Deal with it.” I wasn’t 100% thrilled to be holding the bag, the mouse was jumping and it was making me uneasy that it might get out… and then what? Because I would have screamed if it had run up my arm looking for an escape.

            1. CMT*

              I don’t think women are any more or less likely to have phobias than men. Way to play into gender stereotypes, dude.

              1. JD*

                Actually, I think from the phrasing of “And the reason I had to ask another woman” means that she is a woman and didn’t want to just put the mouse removal on the first man that she saw, but also didn’t want to go up to other women that she only sort of knew and shown them a mouse.

          2. Amber T*

            We had a mouse in our office last winter, and while nobody particularly WANTED to deal with it, one of my big, burly, macho coworkers slammed his door and locked himself in (yes, he locked himself in his office over a mouse) and refused to come out until it was caught. He also sat on his desk with his feet in his chair while he worked. My supervisor was the unlucky soul tasked with attempting to find this elusive mouse. It ended up disappearing and she couldn’t find it, but didn’t have the heart to tell scared coworker, so she lied and she had caught it and put it outside.

            (Dave, if you read AAM, sorry to break it to you, that mouse was never caught.)

            1. Afiendishingy*

              Also , sorry, Dave, mice can squeeze through very tiny spaces so if it got into the building it can probably get into your locked office :(

            2. catsAreCool*

              Dave, if you have a cat, find a place where the kitty likes to sit, get some of the fur the cat has left behind, and put it in places around your office that seem like it would deter mice and hopefully is out of the way enough to not be too bad for people with allergies. Mice sometimes avoid anything that smells like cat.

        2. MegEB*

          … I’m not entirely sure why you felt the need to mention the staff were women, as that doesn’t really have any bearing on the story. I work in an office (staffed mainly by women) who are dealing with a bit of a mice issue and you know, none of us have fainted yet.

        3. Mephyle*

          You were way more thoughtful than I would have been. It is so off my radar that some people are scared of mice that I would have been showing them the mouse and expecting them to join in the cutefest. (Am female.)

            1. AnonyMoose*

              There’s a difference between a large snaggletooth RAT and an itty bitty field mouse. I definitely would not run from the field mouse – and – would probably call it cute. The RAT, however, can suck an exhaust pipe and leave me the hell alone.

          1. Ad Astra*

            Yeeesh. I’m cool with the mice that live in cages at the pet store. I am not cool with street mice who take up residency in my house or office.

          2. LCL*

            Me too. Though did get a huge fright when I saw a mouse out of the corner of my eye at one of our installations, because I thought it was a tarantula. Yes that was overreacting, tarantulas don’t live here.

      4. Elizabeth West*

        They freak me out too, and I would have been pissed about this, but there’s no way I’d have done what the boss did. I would have maybe had a private conversation with the coworker later and told her hey, this is not okay to do at the office. It’s not really worth firing an (assumed) otherwise good employee over.

        Off-topic, but I saw a spider on my bedroom wall this morning. I didn’t get it. I don’t know where it is. I guess I’ll have to burn the house down.

        1. DrPopcorn*

          I just assume all spiders cease to exist once I lose track of them, otherwise I’d spend far too much of my life worrying about what might be crawling around in my vicinity. So in my book, there’s no need to burn down your entirely spider-free house. The spider can’t be in there if it doesn’t exist!

          1. Jessica (tc)*

            I love hearing what you have to say, ThursdaysGeek! I’ll admit that I’m one of the spider-phobic, but it’s possible to block specific images on the internet these days. ;-)

            So, please, do not remove your avatar! It’s on me to deal with my phobia the best way I can, because the spiders in my house and around me don’t remove themselves just because I’m scared of them. And there are many times where I’ve clicked on a page and *bam* spider in my face! It happens, and I just have to frantically deal with it, just as I do in real life. I mean, I freak out, can’t even speak coherently, and generally act like a goofus when they appear (I can admit that when there isn’t a spider near me), but yeah…that’s for me to deal with. (And, often, my husband. But he signed up for the duty. You didn’t.)

          2. a spider-phobe*

            A hundred thousand heart-felt thanks for removing it. It’s always upset me every time I’ve seen it on this site. Thank you so much for deciding to take it down.

        2. AnonyMoose*

          Ewwww, have you ever woken up from sleep and notice a raging spider bite on a body part that is COVERED? Not cool, spider, not cool. ::shudder::

          I gotta get away from this thread, I’m getting the eeby geebies.

    2. Not The Droid You Are Looking For*

      My initial thought was less generous, I wondered if she sent the email as a CYA for using that kind of language with an employee.

      But yes, she could have been dealing with a panic attack. I had never understood the difference between fear and phobia, until I watched a dear friend have a panic attack because there was a garden snake in her yard.

      1. The Artist Formally Known As UKAnon*

        I think this is strongly possible. I mean, I cross the room, hyperventilate and throw conkers desperately at a money spider, anything bigger and I’m close to just setting the house on fire through my tears of panic. I would have *freaked*. But, I also know that that sort of language is just a no (as is pretty much the rest of her response, which has just ended all authority she might have with her team) and I think CYA may be the driving force here now.

        1. Brightwanderer*

          I first read that as “monkey spider” and thought it therefore must be huge, hairy, and absolutely worthy of a good conkering. :)

            1. Jessica (tc)*

              I…wouldn’t search for anything including the word “spider.” That’s just asking for trouble! ;)

              (Also, my family always told me growing up, “Spiders can’t jump.” So…the first time I was running from a spider and it jumped at me…that was the day I stopped believing my parents about pretty much everything!)

      2. Knitting Cat Lady*

        Yeah, CYA is likely at play.

        I’ve had panic attacks. I’m mostly incoherent and incapable of higher thought processes, until I calm down. I can’t speak either.

        Prankster!Employee showed a serious lack of judgment.

        Boss dealt strangely with the aftermath.

      3. Stranger than fiction*

        That occurred to me too. And, I’d have a similar reaction if someone pranked me with a snake, but after I had calmed down, I wouldn’t be so pissed at the coworker, because I’d understand it was intended as a harmless joke. So, I definitely think the email to HR and the owner was over the top. I think the coworker probably already learned a hard lesson that you don’t pull these kind of pranks unless you know who you’re pranking well enough to know they wouldn’t react that way.

      4. Anx*

        I have a phobia, although it’s based on disgust and not fear.

        I tried therapy and it helped a little, but I sometimes just cannot control the physical response. Lots of people don’t like blood or are afraid of needles, but once they see my fainting routine, they get that my phobia is not just run-of-the-mill needle issues.

    3. Purple Dragon*

      It does sound like the reaction is at the panic attack end of the spectrum to me – but I could be projecting – if someone did that with a cockroach to me I would have shattered glass with my screams and probably made the entire building blush with my language.

      I’m wondering if the behaviour afterwards is because of embarrassment ? I know I’d go defcon-1 in the moment but then be extremely embarrassed afterwards and wouldn’t really be able to look the people in the face for quite a while.

      I’m also completely flummoxed as to why someone would do this, but I’m not a fan of pranking.

      1. Sherm*

        I enjoy pranks, but I’m flummoxed, too. If I were to prank my boss (and I don’t think I ever will), I certainly wouldn’t want to scare my boss and make her freak out in front of a bunch of people. I would instead do something like TP her car :)

      2. Nina*

        +1 to the boss being embarrassed. Even though her reaction to the spider is completely understandable, you don’t want your coworkers to see you flipping out like that. I know I would be mortified if I had a panic attack in front of my coworkers. I think that’s why she’s escalating this to HR, although that really isn’t necessary.

        1. mull*

          Calling someone a “fucking bitch” is completely understandable in this context?

          Maybe the rest of the world doesn’t need to be put in a position to manage everyone else’s anxieties.

          1. fposte*

            I can see it, in the heat of the panic moment; remember that’s the mode wherein drowning people climb on top of their rescuers and push them under. But you apologize for it later.

          2. neverjaunty*

            Deliberately putting a plastic spider on somebody’s shoulder as a prank – i.e. with the intention of getting an upset reaction because they thought it was real – is the exact opposite of managing someone’s anxieties.

          3. Marcela*

            Uf, you would discover a full rainbow of Spanish insults if I get a spider over me. You’ll be surprised how fast I can jump and move at the same time, but I don’t think I can help making those noices, even I don’t swear in daily life.

            1. Jessica (tc)*

              I can’t formulate words when I see a spider, so I just yell out, “aaaaghggllldddgaldlhghghgghh!!” and point in the direction of an in-person one. Ones on my computer or the television or in a magazine or whatever? Then things are just thrown away from me, and I freak out and make my husband change the screen/channel/whatever. If it’s one me? Everything goes. I just pretty much make random screeching noises and smack myself or shake my clothes while turning in circles. It’s…not a pretty sight, and I know it’s stupid immediately after I’m sure there is no spider in my hair, clothes, etc.

              Here’s the thing: I am sitting here, completely calm, able to talk about it. I know it’s irrational, but that’s what a phobia is. I don’t know why it is this way (no one else in my family cares), but they all just deal with the spider for me. That’s love, by the way. “Yes, I will take this wolf spider away from you, so you do not have to see it any longer.”

          4. Tara R.*

            Yeah, but maybe the world should have some basic decency and not take actions which will decidedly trigger peoples’ anxieties, and live with the conseqeuences if they do. This is on the same level as the guy who was sneaking up behind someone on the open thread and scaring her– if he’d gotten punched in the face, it’d be on him.

            1. fposte*

              If he’d gotten punched in the face as a reflex, yes. If he’d gotten punched in the face after the startlee said, “Dammit! I hate that!” then no–you don’t get to punch somebody just because they startled you. It’s not clear where the OP’s boss’s response was on that continuum, but if she really did get a sentence out before she cussed out her staffer, I’m thinking it’s more of a conscious choice–adrenaline-influenced, sure, but still conscious.

              1. Tara R.*

                I once screamed “WHAT THE F*CK IS THE MATTER WITH YOU! SH*T!” at an 12 year old who jumped out at me at camp. I mean, I was only 13, so it’s not quite as bad as it sounds. But I legitimately had no idea what I was saying– my heart was pounding, I was shaking, and I had no thoughts beyond pure fear and anger– but I reacted with a full sentence, and I was no more in control of myself by the time I got to the end of it. It took me another good 10 seconds to actually start thinking again, and probably the only reason I didn’t continue to swear was because I had no vocabulary for profanity at that point.

                And no, I didn’t apologize to her. She wanted to scare me, and that’s what she got– a scared me.

                1. fposte*

                  Sure. As I said, it depends on the time frame. I will say that if you’d punched somebody *after* that sentence, the court wouldn’t be likely to be on your side, though.

                2. Tara R.*

                  Yeah, I guess I can see that point. I think reflexive violence happens immediately, but verbal reflexes can drag on a bit longer. And the boss didn’t do anything physical here.

        2. Not So NewReader*

          I agree, she knows she over-reacted so she went to HR as maybe a self-check or for back up because of her fears overwhelmed her.

      3. Three Thousand*

        I was trying to understand the strong reaction to spiders, but I realized if someone did that to me with a cockroach I would probably have nightmares. I guess I fear uncleanliness more than predation.

      4. WriterLady*

        I’d have the same reaction to a cockroach or a spider being pranked on me. I remember once a coworker had given me this birthday treat and I left it on my desk a few days (accidentally forgot/too lazy to clean it up) and that attracted a spider. I freaked out and had to get someone over to kill it. So I can kind of understand the freak out reaction – the swearing and the silent treatment seems a bit much.

    4. Marvel*

      I don’t know. Speaking as someone who DOES have a genuine phobia and has had panic attacks about spiders before, I would never call someone a “fucking bitch” at work, panic attack or no. (…Well. Okay. If they dropped a REAL spider on me, all bets might be off.) And even if I did, I can’t imagine not immediately going to apologize after I cooled down, ESPECIALLY if the prankster had already apologized to me. As a manager, I would see it as my responsibility to have a calm conversation with them after the fact in which I would 1) apologize for my reaction and 2) explain why I had the reaction I did and why such pranks are a bad idea in the workplace. To do any less shows, in my opinion, a serious lack of judgement.

      I think a lot of people have this misconception that having a panic attack = being totally out of control and not responsible for one’s actions. It doesn’t. A panic attack doesn’t make you call someone names or needlessly escalate things when the person was already repentant.

      1. Sketchee*

        Still I also have panic attacks and am aware that other people don’t react in the same way that I would, so it’s hard to say from her particular reactions comparing them to yours. Different people

      2. I'm a Little Teapot*

        +lots, as someone else who has had panic attacks. *In the moment*, I’d freak out, maybe swear at the coworker or something, but the boss’s behavior later is not the same thing at all. That was the boss being deliberately vindictive.

        1. Sans*

          Yup. I can understand the initial reaction if she has a phobia. But after receiving an apology and having time to calm down, she would have made a MUCH better impression as a manager if she accepted the apology and also apologized for the language she used. Sending a crazy letter to HR (harrassment? really?) shows nastiness and vindictiveness.

        2. Not me*


          You can definitely be out of control the moment it starts (ever been caught off guard by this? not fun), or before the panic attack ends, but like you said, the boss’s behavior afterwards was deliberately vindictive.

        3. ImprovForCats*

          This, from another member of panic attack club. You aren’t necessarily accountable for how you act at the moment of trauma/trigger/panic (the only time in my life I’ve ever sworn AT someone, as opposed to a situation/recalcitrant object, was panic attack related) , but you are responsible for how you behave afterwards.

          (Speaking solely for myself, it makes me much more uncomfortable to take away that accountability–it makes me feel even more anxious and out of control, whereas apologizing/explaining if necessary makes me feel like I’ve taken back ownership of the situation.)

      3. The Artist Formally Known As UKAnon*

        +lots more. Exactly this! Nobody comes out of this well (except, of course, OP)

      4. Tate*

        I disagree. When I was younger and deathly afraid of dogs, there were several incidents where people decided they were going to “cure” me by letting their dogs jump on me while assuring me they wouldn’t bite. After the panic subsided, I was angry and I did indeed let loose with some naughty words. So it may not have been during the actual panic attack, but I do get her reaction.

        SN: People make me sick pulling pranks like this. Fear is irrational and everything is not funny.

        1. LBK*

          I don’t know that she could’ve maintained control right in that moment, but writing a letter to your manager and HR? That is way too deliberate and after the fact to still just be a freak out flight response. And even if somehow that was still a heat-of-the-moment decision, it’s really unprofessional to continue to pursue it – presumably at this point she’s calmed down and can backtrack her actions.

          1. Sunflower*

            I agree here. I understand the initial panic right after the incident but all these steps the boss took are way too deliberate. I’m having a hard time understanding how someone could think this was a better response rather than having a chat with employee- esp when it’s extremely clear that employee was upset and sorry about what she did.

          2. ThatAspieGirl*

            The only way the whole HR thing could be even a “gray area” is if the boss not only had arachnophobia, but also had mentioned it to the lady who pulled the spider prank. But that wasn’t mentioned in the post, so it’s doubtful that was a thing that happened.

          1. Charlotte Collins*

            I love dogs and I still don’t want them jumping up on me, unless we already have that kind of close relationship. (Same as I don’t want people hugging me unless we know each other really, really well, and it’s an appropriate time for hugs.)

            1. MashaKasha*

              Back in my college days, (not in the US), I had ONE nice skirt that I wore everywhere, including to my friend’s place whenever I came to visit when we were both home on break. Friend’s cocker spaniel always thought it’d be a great idea to jump up and put her paws on my skirt whenever she got home from a walk. It happened a lot during one break, which I think was in late winter, because I remember it being muddy and sleety outside. Each time Doggy would try to leave her muddy pawprints on my skirt, I’d step back and tell her not to. My friend’s conclusion? I must be deathly afraid of his dog! smh When I became a dog owner parent many years later, I always took extra precautions to make sure my cutesy-wootsy doggie-woggie wasn’t annoying the crap out of people one way or another.

          2. Blurgle*

            People honestly think that surprising people with a phobia will help them “get over it”.

            PSA: It always makes things worse.

        2. Allison*

          That’s just awful. I know immersion therapy is a thing and it does work on at least some people, but it should only be done by a licensed therapist who knows what they’re doing, and believes that it’s a suitable treatment for the patient.

          1. Charlotte Collins*

            Also, immersion therapy isn’t done without the consent of the person being “immersed.”

        3. KMS1025*

          Pranks have always struck me as passive aggressive nonsense. How is it funny when pranks are always at someone else’s expense???

          1. Mental Mouse*

            Well, there are pranks and “pranks”. It’s one thing to pull an MIT-style prank like filling someone’s office/cube with balloons. Tossing vermin (real or fake) at someone is another story — that’s just being cruel even if they don’t happen to be phobic.

        4. catsAreCool*

          “People make me sick pulling pranks like this.” This!

          And trying to “help” someone afraid of dogs by letting their dogs jump on you? What kind of person thinks that would be a good idea? I love dogs, and if someone who was scared of dogs *wanted* to get more used to them, I’d suggest that the person spend some time around (maybe not even petting the dog at first) a quiet, gentle dog, maybe an older dog.

        5. Marvel*

          See, I don’t think we’re actually disagreeing. I can see the reaction in the moment, even if it does read as a bit extreme to me. It’s the behavior after, in my opinion, that reveals the true colors of the manager in question.

      5. Knitting Cat Lady*

        I’ve had panic attacks.

        I’m totally incoherent and incapable of higher brain functions. I’m in fight of flight mode.

        Coming down restraint and the brain to mouth filter are a few of the last things to come back.

        As long as there’s adrenaline in my system I swear like a sailor.

        For me a panic attack actually means a total loss of control.

        1. Marvel*

          I get this, although personally, I still think calling someone a “fucking bitch” warrants an apology after the fact–lack of control over one’s actions doesn’t make those actions okay. I’ve said a lot of things while in various states of mental unhealth that I’ve had to apologize for later.

      6. Mimmy*

        Completely agree. I don’t have panic attacks per se, but I am prone to sensory overload, and that sets me off. All rational thought and higher brain functions are toast. Once I’ve calmed down, I always apologize. People who know my situation get it already.

        The OP’s boss definitely reacted strongly and I get it. She probably knows she overreacted but went about it the wrong way by going to HR rather than having that honest conversation with the team. I can see maybe going to HR or her own boss for suggestions on what to say / how to say it, but I hope she ultimately decides to talk to the team directly.

    5. Sketchee*

      I literally immediately came to the comments section to say the same thing. If it’s aa phobia, discussing the incident is the last thing she would want to do. It’s perfectly responsible and professional to ask for help in a situation where you don’t feel able. Especially since spiders would not be routinely involved in the job.

      1. Colette*

        I’m not sure there’s a workplace around where you can be guaranteed you’ll never encounter a spider. If you can’t do your job hours after a fake spider is present, that’s likely a sign you need help dealing with your phobia. To me, the issue isn’t the initial response (although I’m not thrilled with the threat to quit or the use of “bitch”, which is fairly gendered language) – it’s the failure to effectively deal with the situation after the fact.

        I’m also not sure going to HR would be less of an issue if she’s doing so to avoid talking with the object of her possible phobia. She’s still going to have to talk about it – possibly more than talking directly with her employee.

        1. Boo*

          To be fair though, I think there is a big difference between being unable to work because a spider is present, and thinking that one is on your shoulder. That would freak out a lot of people, never mind one who is already phobic.

          1. fposte*

            And now I’m reminded of the news reporter who was doing a live on-air piece on location when a cat jumped on her shoulder. Even if you love cats, that’s going to startle you. (She was a trooper and just kind of widened her eyes for a moment.)

            1. Afiendishingy*

              OMG. I love cats but there’s no way I wouldn’t yell YARRRG JESUS F$&)ING CHRIST in that situation. One of many reasons I wouldn’t be a good TV reporter I guess.

      2. LBK*

        It’s perfectly responsible and professional to ask for help in a situation where you don’t feel able.

        Where are you seeing that that’s what happened here? Swearing, threatening to quit and writing to HR are not “asking for help”. Maybe going to your boss and saying “An incident happened that I’m not really comfortable revisiting” would be okay but penning a screed like that is unprofessional no matter your mental state. A medical issue isn’t a free pass for bad behavior.

        1. I'm a Little Teapot*

          “A medical issue isn’t a free pass for bad behavior.”

          Yes, this. And the idea that it is (or should be) is actually pretty harmful to people with mental health issues, because it makes people think that working with us requires them to subject themselves to anything – thus making other people less likely to want to work with us.

          1. LBK*

            And I think it discourages people from getting treatment. Having others work around your needs doesn’t help you get better in the long run, and you won’t always be able to control your environment that way.

          2. Bwmn*


            I also think that it also ends up lumping mental health issues in with “my crazy (often bad) boss” which isn’t helpful in greater stigmas around mental health care. Where I currently am, our director has been behaving in some odd ways and making odd choices regarding the department. For people generically unhappy with her management style (which I think are legitimate complaints), there’s become a growing rush to also pathologize her as an explanation for her decisions. She may very well have some mental health issues at play – but to go “she’s being a bad manager because I think she has X diagnosis” is very problematic to me.

            The choices she’s making may put her at risk for a nasty professional fall out – but ultimately those choices are her responsibility. Even if the choice is that she has xyz mental health concerns and she’s treating or not treating them in abc ways.

        2. Mental Mouse*

          What many of you seem to be missing is that experiencing a major phobic attack can be traumatic in its own right. Literally, not metaphorically, traumatic, with long-lasting aftereffects. From the account, especially the talk about quitting, it looks very much to me like that’s what happened here.

      3. fposte*

        And again, not all phobias. I’ve always been perfectly happy to to discuss my phobic responses, and I know other people who do the same. (For some of us, it’s getting us to shut up about them that is, no joke, part of the problem.)

    6. JL*

      I agree it would explain (and excuse) the initial response, but I don’t understand the follow-up. Writing to HR, after the fact, once the boss had time to calm down, makes no sense.
      A few hours to calm down, and then a very severe email to the employee, as well as a warning to never do that again would make sense. The escalation to HR, as well as the claim this is harassment are illogical.

      1. Not So NewReader*

        Because it’s illogical, I am thinking that the fear is still driving some of the boss’ behaviors.

        1. Tate*

          Thank you–I really think that’s what some people in the comments are missing. Maybe after she had a night of sleep to calm down, she would have apologized or realize she kicked up the escalation a little too much. Personally, I would have gone home for the rest of the day if it were my particular phobia.

          I remember when there was a post here about a woman who had a balloon phobia and the comments were overwhelmingly sympathetic. People are afraid of a lot of things that don’t bother me, but I understand that not everyone will react the same way as I do either.

          1. manybellsdown*

            I’ve got a phobia of … helicopters. Even toy ones. I know it’s bizarre. I’m afraid I’ll be walking through the mall some day and one of those toy kiosks will swoop a toy helicopter at me and I will smash it. And then be out $300 or whatever those cost, probably.

            1. LBK*

              Huh, and I thought balloons were the strangest phobia I’d heard of (not to belittle you at all! just interesting the way the mind works and what it convinces itself to be afraid of).

              1. fposte*

                I don’t quite have a phobia about balloons, but I think I get it–they’re a ticking bomb of startle response.

                1. LBK*

                  Yeah, it made more sense once the person in question explained that aspect, but it was still pretty odd (and admittedly kind of amusing) to see an adult physically cower at the sight of something generally considered innocuous and even joy-bringing.

                2. fposte*

                  Did I mention that somebody at college used to tease me by throwing balloons into my dorm room and running away?

                  Which in my head falls under the category of “acceptable prank,” come to think of it. It was pretty clever, and I wasn’t phobic–just kind of jumpy and “Yaaah!” about balloons, and I actually quite liked them at a distance.

              2. manybellsdown*

                I don’t think it’s TOO strange to be afraid of a real helicopter. They’re dangerous blade-whirling death vehicles. It’s amazing how many movies have up-close helicopter crashes in them, though. Ugh.

                But yeah, the toy ones … even I think it’s silly, but I can’t stand them. All whirly and darting and where is it gonna go next on my head I don’t know!!

              3. Kalli*

                (Late comment)

                Helicopters are really common triggers for PTSD in war vets, especially with regards to the sound. It’s not reading as strange to me at all.

            2. Joline*

              I have a phobia of the Canada goose. Which is not ideal when living in Canada.

              I can usually control it pretty well. If I see they’re there I can apparently calmly walk by them (people don’t see the quickened heart beat and held breath). If I turn a corner and come across one, though…I have been known to yelp and scurry away.

              1. manybellsdown*


                We were watching an episode of Smallville once and Clark Kent is running up to a helicopter. And I’m getting all freaked out saying “He’s gonna die!!”

                My husband is like “Hon, that’s Superman. A helicopter is not going to hurt him.”

            3. catsAreCool*

              I understand the helicopter thing. If a small remote control plane or helicopter came toward me or even veered a little too close, I’d be ducking and covering my face, even though I’m not afraid of helicopters in general (doesn’t mean that I want to fly in them though).

            4. Jennifer Needs to Pet a Thneed*

              If that toy shops asked you to pay for the damage, I’d be having some serious conversations with the management of the company. It had to get awfully close to you if you were able to smash it, honestly.
              I’m seeing it as like those department stores where people used to squirt perfume at you with no warning. It’s died way back, thank all deities, and I wouldn’t be surprised if someone, somewhere, has had a life-threatening asthma attack after being sprayed.

              1. Mental Mouse*

                Athsma or allergic attack. And I’m fairly sure that exactly such incidents (with accompanying lawsuits) are exactly why they stopped doing that,

      2. EmmaBlake*

        I agree. Honestly, I find the boss calling the employee an “f’n b*tch” more severe than the prank. I don’t care what she did, it is never appropriate. I think the employee has more of a case with HR than the manager, and frankly given what the manager said, it amazes me that she went to HR.

        1. Not So Sunny*

          I agree. If it were me, I would have maybe raised my voice asking “What the hell is the matter with you that you think this is funny?” But the F-ing bitch thing, no. That’s misplaced.

        2. MegEB*

          Yeah, I’m with you on this one. I don’t have any phobias that are nearly as strong as the manager’s clearly was, so I don’t want to speak to that, but a manager SWEARING AT AN EMPLOYEE like that is absolutely grounds for an apology on her end. Phobia or not, she is an adult and responsible for her actions (even if she has to wait until her panic attack subsides). And the email to HR calling this harassment is a bit bonkers, tbh.

          I understand being caught up in a panic attack, I really do. And I completely understand unintentional swearing and intense emotional responses that you haven’t completely thought through. But she should have calmed down, and either later that day or the following day, gone to the employee and apologized for calling her a bitch (!!), and told her in no uncertain terms that pranks were not allowed in the workplace. Nobody is absolved from their actions because they have a phobia, or an anxiety disorder, or anything else that might affect their emotional response. I’m honestly really surprised that more commenters aren’t more disapproving of the manager’s actions here.

        3. neverjaunty*

          “I triggered my boss’ severe phobia, she had a panic attack and called me a nasty name, and I’m the wronged party”? Not really getting this.

          The real issue seems to be that the boss is covering up her embarrassment AFTERWARD by overreacting.

          1. Natalie*

            There are a lot of suppositions here – we don’t know the boss has a phobia (“I am afraid of X” is not the same thing as “I have a phobia of X”), we don’t actually know the boss had a panic attack, and we don’t know that the pranking co-worker knew anything about the boss’s fear or phobia. Without those suppositions, it’s entirely possible that the pranking co-worker is completely right in feeling like they were wronged.

            1. BuildMeUp*

              I agree, and I think that based on the mention of all their coworkers being shocked at the boss’s reaction, it’s unlikely that any of them had knowledge of a potential phobia on the boss’s part.

        4. SherryD*

          I agree, calling a coworker or employee a “f—ing b—-” is way out of line. If it flew out of her mouth when startled, that’s understandable. But you apologize once you’ve calmed down.

    7. Katie the Fed*

      I think you get a pass on the initial adrenaline-fueled response in situation like this (as long as you don’t physically hurt someone).

      But you don’t get a pass on acting like a petulant child the rest of the day. You deal with the employee and move on.

      This reminds me a bit of the teacher who had such a strong snake phobia that she won’t allow any students who have pet snakes at home in her class (I’ll post the link in my response). That’s going too far – at that point you need to get help for your phobia.

        1. Three Thousand*

          Yeah, how many students with pet snakes does she actually have? Or was this rule put in place preemptively?

          1. fposte*

            It’s apparently preemptive–she asks that such students identify themselves so they can be moved to other classes. This all comes from a letter that went home in the intro packet to her class, and apparently the letter has been part of her intro for years there.

            The school sounds really behind her, with a little side dish of “we didn’t approve the letter,” and I’m kind of scratching my head. The teacher also doesn’t want snake books in her class–and she’s teaching third and fourth grade, where snakes are about the coolest stuff you can have, scientifically.

            This is way beyond a reasonable accommodation to me (and may also end up with some disparate gender impact), so I hope there’s some behind-the-scenes discussion going on there.

            1. Charlotte Collins*

              How on earth would she know if the students have a pet snake?

              Although, this sounds kooky enough that I think I’d be happy to have my kid moved out of her class, since what kind of science would they be learning?

              1. fposte*

                If she doesn’t know, she doesn’t care. But a third grader with a pet snake is unlikely to be covert enough about that fact for it never to come up in her classroom.

        2. Katie the Fed*

          you’ll have to wait until the link to the article gets posted – it’s stuck in moderation :)

          1. Kyrielle*

            Or Google ‘teacher snake phobia’ which finds a lot of hits regarding the incident. :)

            She had youngish students and didn’t want them to talk about their snakes – if it’s like my son’s class, pets are topics of assignments sometimes – so I can kind of see how it’s an issue, but…at the same time, how do you do that? (What if they get a pet snake at Christmas because they begged?)

          2. Three Thousand*

            I totally missed that this was an elementary school teacher and was picturing a college instructor making rules about pet snakes. I think that’s why it sounded more baffling than it was.

      1. Winter is Coming*

        My son’s first grade teacher had a tarantula in the room, which I wasn’t aware of. One panic attack later (after the open house), I asked if she could possibly cover it up for the next in-class meeting with parents and seat me as far away from it as possible. She was very gracious about it. Frankly, I’m extremely proud of myself for sitting in the same room with the damn thing for 45 minutes. I could barely breathe the whole time. Plus it’s horribly embarrassing because many people that don’t have phobias just don’t get it, and just think you’re acting like a child.

        1. Windchime*

          I totally understand this and I would have made the same request. My mom won’t even go into a pet store because she knows that way, way, way in the back there are snakes. She has an immediate panic reaction to snakes; it’s quite alarming. Whenever she sees them in the year, she jumps and runs, screaming for the house. This is followed by several minutes of uncontrollable tears. For her, it would be impossible for her to be calm and rational during this period of uncontrolled panic. If someone put a (fake) snake on her shoulder, she would probably have a (literal) heart attack.

    8. Angela*

      I have a fairly intense spider phobia. I have very little control over my actions during the initial panic. However, continuing to be upset later? I don’t get that. I’m always extremely embarrassed by my reaction and apologetic to those who had to witness it. Of course, my spider phobia is well-known by pretty much anyone that’s been around me for any length of time. You’d be amazed how often you see spiders when you are extremely terrified of them. And, yes, this includes pictures. I can’t even look at picture of a spider without my pulse starting to race. I could see the reaction if the co-worker knew about the fear and still thought she was being “funny”. I’ve had a few people think it was “fun” to prank me until they tried it and realize that I panic to the point of not breathing.

      “Fun” story: My fear also caused me to take off my shirt in a room with my in-laws when a spider dropped from the ceiling onto my shirt. I can laugh now (and cringe), but at the time, it was just pure instinctual panic. All I could do was react and try to “escape”.

      1. Marcela*

        Yes, pictures are awful too. I have a book a love about cryptozoology, and in one page there is a big two-pages spider photo. It’s not even a real spider, but I can’t make myself open de page or even touch it. I had to put a piece of paper marking it, because if I made a mistake and opened it, I could not keep the book in my hands. :(

        I guess I’d be embarrassed and I’d never look again at that coworker in the same way, but surely I would apologize later and let her know why -although it should be obvious by now- that kind of stuff is completely inappropriate.

    9. Mary DV*

      I’m thinking the boss went to HR to circumvent someone in the office reporting that she called an employee a foul name. She probably knew the offending employee wouldn’t go to HR; but since this was in front of many employees; chances are someone would report it.

      I think what the employee did was incredibly immature and just plain ignorant; but the boss’ reaction wasn’t much better.

  2. katamia*

    #1: My first thought before I’d finished reading was that the coworker and boss had had other run-ins in the past and the coworker knew the boss was afraid of spiders, which would make the boss’s reaction a little less extreme (not excusable, certainly, but there’s a difference between “Oops, I didn’t know you had this phobia when I thought up this prank” and “I know you have this phobia but am totally pranking you with this thing you have a phobia of anyway,” and I would certainly have a harsher response to the latter). But from the way the OP tells it, the coworker at least seems sincerely sorry (i.e., isn’t being defensive about it). So I don’t know.

    1. Nobody*

      I wondered about this, too. Some people think it’s funny to push people’s buttons, and I definitely know the kind of pranksters who would pull this kind of prank upon learning that a coworker is afraid of spiders. I have a coworker who has OCD (actual, professionally-diagnosed OCD). He is very open about it and even jokes about it himself a little, so everyone knows about it, and there are quite a few people who think it is absolutely hilarious to, say, go up to a stack of supplies that he has arranged neatly and turn a few of them upside down, wait for him to notice, and laugh hysterically when he goes to turn them right side up. I think it’s horrible, but I guess since he laughs it off, people think it’s ok. But maybe the next person with OCD won’t be so amused, and they could find out the hard way, like the OP’s friend.

      1. Coffee Ninja*

        Has your friend brought it up with his manager? What they’re doing isn’t OK. As you mentioned, your friend might be genuinely OK with it but there are others who wouldn’t be, and validating this behavior sets a dangerous precedent.

        1. Nobody*

          He laughs along with them. He might be genuinely ok with it, or he might just not want to be “that guy” who gets people in trouble or makes people feel bad about having fun.

      2. Mabel*

        It could be that he’s open about it because he knows that people will figure it out anyway. That’s what I do. I have a “official” diagnosis as well, and I know that I do somewhat weird things at times (and I am often not aware that I’m doing it), and I don’t want people to feel uncomfortable around me. But it’s just mean and immature to mock someone for having OCD and it’s even more obnoxious to purposefully do something that’s going to cause him to behave compulsively.

    2. Elizabeth West*

      Then again, it’s possible that the spider was simply because it’s almost Halloween and that sort of thing is everywhere right now.

      Coworker made a mistake, and boss overreacted (after the fact).

    3. These are the droids*

      honestly if someone pushed my phobic triggers and just emailed an apology, I probably would still be not ok with it. I’d encourage your coworker to sit down with the manager and apologize face to face, complete with “I’m really sorry, I didn’t mean to be a jerk, I’ll never do this to you again”. I know the OP mentions the coworker was upset over the reaction she got, but there’s a world of difference between emailing “I’m sorry! Haha” and sitting down and being genuinely apologetic.

      1. BuildMeUp*

        Well, it seems like she emailed the apology because the boss locked herself in her office and didn’t come out for the rest of the day, and I assume that since the coworker is described as nearly crying, she probaby sent a more serious apology. An in-person conversation about the situation is a good idea, but I’m not sure there was an opportunity for that yet!

  3. Kara*

    I’m sorry, but Allison’s response to #1 here has me going “what the what what what what?????”

    Where in any professional world is it appropriate to drop a fake spider on your boss’s shoulder while she’s talking to someone else??? And then to expect it to be blown off as “oh what a cute interoffice prank… ha haha ha”.

    What the holy everloving hell??? Why do people seem to think that any reprisal against the person who did so is inappropriate????

    I’m totally stunned by the response to this situation. Wow.

    1. A Dispatcher*

      The difference in norms kind of amuses me. In my job that type of prank would be so tame we wouldn’t even bother with it (I’m assuming here that the pranker was unaware of any phobia here).

      I get that my job is very different than most though. I would also have a very hard job cleaning up my potty mouth if I ever had to go back to a more traditional professional environment.

      1. Not The Droid You Are Looking For*

        My old job was like that. Pranks were pretty common and they ranged from sneaking into my office to hide phrases on my whiteboard to completely reversing someone’s office.

    2. MK*

      Eh, I don’t think anyone is saying reprisal is inappropriate; but calling someone “an F’ing bitch” is inappropriate under any circumstances.

      However, the boss’ actions don’t make much sense; first she threatens to quit (!) and, then, instead of reprimanding the employee herself, she goes to HR and calls it harassment (which it’s certainly not, unless it’s only part of an on-going and more offensive behavior).

      1. Nina*

        The quitting thing puzzled me, too. If anything, I would expect her to say “I’ll fire your ass if you ever do that again!” or something along those lines.

        I know that in a state of panic, you don’t usually think sensibly or logically, but it’s weird that the Boss’s first instinct is to say she’ll quit, especially in a situation where she was wronged, and she has the power to fire the coworker, not the other way around. Maybe she thinks the coworker would be protected somehow.

        1. Ani*

          On its own, the quitting comment seems odd. But so does the boss feeling harassed and bringing in HR and another manager. Together, though, those reactions as a whole suggest there might be more than this one “prank”? Who knows.

          1. katamia*

            Now that I’ve thought about it some more, I wonder if the boss is always or often (as in significantly more than anyone else) the target of various pranks. If it’s a prank-friendly environment but she was never totally okay with pranks to begin with, maybe this was the final straw.

            1. Judy*

              I’ve worked in several prank friendly environments, and the usual suspects didn’t prank anyone who wasn’t already involved in pranking. The pattern seemed to be that one of the pranksters would encourage someone new to the team to prank another prankster.

              It’s like there are nerf guns here, and so my sister in law gave me one for Christmas last year. I’ve not brought it in, because right now, I can pretty much walk through a nerf battle and not be hit. Once I engage, I’d be fair game.

        2. Not So NewReader*

          Quitting the job is a “flee response” she had the choice of fight or flee and she chose flee.

        3. Ad Astra*

          I expected the same thing! In fact, I had to re-read that part of the letter because my brain was not expecting the manager to threaten to quit. Even though I can totally understand the general reactions of fear and anger, the manager’s specific responses really puzzle me.

          1. Elizabeth West*

            Me too–that’s what made me go, “Huh?” If I did that to my boss, she’d probably let me have the rough side of her tongue, but there’s no WAY she’d go to HR over it.

    3. Katie the Fed*

      The coworker knows she screwed up – that was very clear in OPs letter. It doesn’t really merit much further exploration. It was a boneheaded prank.

      But it becomes a different issue when the boss is not dealing with it appropriately. That’s the case in this letter.

      BTW, I think it’s funny but the key to a good prank is to know your audience.

    4. LBK*

      There’s a difference between there not being any reprisal and the manager inexplicably involved HR and her own manager. That’s something you reserve for violence or sexual assault or something else potentially criminal – this didn’t need to be escalated beyond the manager’s own authority.

    5. Not me*

      What are you talking about?

      What you’re saying actually sounds familiar. Did you also comment on the original post, not the follow-up, by someone whose coworker couldn’t afford gas to get to work?

    6. MegEB*

      I don’t think that’s what Alison is saying at all. However, the coworker apologized for her actions (and seemed to do so sincerely); the manager did not. Alison is addressing the manager’s actions, since that’s what the OP wrote in about.

  4. Anx*


    I would imagine it depends on the industry or the nature of the job. I’ve worked in a job alongside people who simply had no hustle. They worked hard, maybe and did their job, but without a sense of urgency. This was in retail and food service. I was shocked by their lack of concern with being quick.

  5. The Artist Formally Known As UKAnon*

    #2 – I’ve always thought of hustle as the con, being ethically shady to get more money or other advantages (other than the obviouis definition) Is that just me?

    1. Wakeen's Teapots, Ltd.*

      That’s a secondary meaning for me. Primary: “hustle your bustle” << as used here. Secondary: hustler, someone who does a fast con. Tertiary: "do the!" :-) (Warning: that may produce an ear wig for those of a certain age.)

      To me, hustle, when it comes to work, is different from hard working. It connotes responding quickly to deadlines, emergencies and changing priorities. And it connotes being comfortable in that kind of environment. Some people thrive in a "what fresh hell do I have to adapt to today??" sort of place, I know I do.

      Of course that's reading a lot into one word choice in a job posting. But I'd ask questions to get at what they mean by it.

      1. Stranger than fiction*

        You’re not the only one that thought of the dance. My, um, much older sisters used to do it. :)

        1. Charlotte Collins*

          “Hustle” always makes me think of an old “Tiny Toons” cartoon, where Hamton J. Pig wants to do the hustle and says, “I’m the pig with the four-way hips.”

          I’m pretty sure that if anyone were to ask me about my hustle in an interview, I would start laughing hysterically.

    2. Lindsay J*

      I feel like there are two or three types of hustle.

      The type that means that you’re motivated and quick. This is the type the job descriptions are looking for and the type usually mentioned in sporting events. It’s usually used as a noun, and it’s usually something possessed by or shown by someone “The ballplayer showed a lot of hustle on the field that day, even though it was an unimportant game.” Or, “Derek Jeter has hustle – that’s one of the reasons he was named captain of the team.” It can also be used as a verb though, “He hustled down the base paths.”

      The other type is the shady kind and that’s usually used as a verb (and generally a transitive verb). “The shady car dealer hustled the woman into buying a lemon.” However, it can also be used as a noun describing what a hustler generally does. “His hustle was to pretend to be bad at pool, and then suggest a ‘double or nothing’ game where he would school the challenger.”

      The third use is fairly new, and seems to describe any way someone makes money. I’ve seen articles about “Finding your side hustle” which basically was finding a second job or starting your own business to make extra money.

      1. Not The Droid You Are Looking For*

        When I was looking at jobs in NYC everyone was using hustle in your third definition.

        Like, it was all about networking after work and making connections to always be moving forward to a bigger, better job. Always be new open and listening for new opportunities.

        I hear a lot of my friends who are younger (pure millenials) who live in cities like NYC and LA use it a lot.

      2. The IT Manager*

        Ugg! Hate the new “side hustle” usage usually used by people who believe everyone should have a “side hustle” until it can become their only job. It’s a “just start your own business” fallacy.

        1. BananaPants*

          Agreed. What’s so bad about people wanting one job that pays a living wage, provides appropriate benefits, and offers decent work-life balance? Money isn’t everything, and not everyone is cut out to be (or wants to be) an entrepreneur.

          The implication that I need a side hustle because eventually it will grow enough to let me break free of corporate America is annoying – I know IRL a handful of people who were able to take a home business/side job to the point of earning their full income from it – most people with a “side hustle” are just toiling away at work plus are doing some silly MLM or making crafts on the side and earning a pittance doing it.

          1. Nashira*

            Agreed. I honestly like having a workplace with people in it, with whom I can collaborate and learn. My other mom has astutely pointed out that I need that for my own mental health, since too much time on my own/with only Internet contact gets me… Awfully weird and bad at socializing.

          2. Not the Droid You are Looking For*

            Thank you! Every one of my acquaintances who sells some sort of product on the side tries to use this as a reason I should sell X.

            And even my professional friends are like, “you should freelance” or “you should do X on the side.”

            No, no, nope. I like having a work life balance.

      3. Three Thousand*

        I now associate “hustle” with Alison’s definition of it; the mindset of getting things done no matter what and being accountable primarily to yourself and your end results, as opposed to sitting around all day looking busy or expecting all your work to be clearly defined for you. It seems to be associated with entrepreneurs and people with side businesses (and I also really dislike the idea that everyone starting their own business is somehow the solution to the wealth gap and the power imbalances of capitalism).

        1. Stranger than fiction*

          Well, yes, but I don’t know of any job ads that would say they want people that work slow, really take their time, and wait for someone to tell them what to do. It seems to me hustle is a given for most jobs, kind of like typing.

          1. Stranger than fiction*

            I didn’t really finish that thought. So if they feel the need to ask for hustle, to me that implies a tremendously fast-paced, long work hours, and having to respond via telephone and emial after work type of environment, but I maybe reading too much into it.

            1. Three Thousand*

              Yeah, an employer that specifically asked for hustle in a job ad would be off-putting, and it would put me in mind of a startup that expected you to work long hours, be “loyal” to the company while expecting nothing in return, and not worry so much when your paycheck is late sometimes.

        2. Anx*

          I admit I get a little anxious reading all the tips on needing a side hustle. Especially since those side hustles sometimes include my main sources of income. It’s really demoralizing to read ‘just pick up a few weekend shifts at a late-night take out place,’ as if it’s just that easy, when it can take years to even get a retail interview or job. My current job, tutoring, is also often cited as a side hustle. Admittedly, it is a pretty good side hustle if you have a home that can accommodate it or have no reservations about doing business at a coffee shop or library, but I hate the assumption that all side hustles are easy to start.

          Plus there’s the whole make-money-to-make-thing. Licensing and bonding, advertisement, purchasing supplies or inventory, etc. all cost money.

          1. Three Thousand*

            My boss was nice enough to let me use my office or a conference room after hours for tutoring. I know a lot of offices wouldn’t allow that.

          2. BananaPants*

            I occasionally craft on commission or barter for friends – I only do it upon request because I don’t want to carry inventory of materials or find a place to store finished items that I *might* be able to sell someday. Etsy is jam-packed with shops where people put a lot of money and time into making things, and then never manage to sell it. You need money to build inventory with no guarantee that it’ll pay off.

            A certain personal finance personality loves to talk about getting a second job delivering pizzas or working in retail to get out of debt, as if it’s just as easy as marching into a place and saying you want a job.

    3. katamia*

      The first definition I became familiar with growing up was closer to yours, but less negative–“hustling” might require working under the table or doing something in a legally gray area or outright illegal, but there’s no real malice or evil in it. I understand what Alison and Wakeen’s Teapots are saying, but that’s definitely not the first thing I think of when I think of “hustle.” However, the area/culture I grew up in/around is extremely different from the culture that many higher-level tech execs and company owners seem to have grown up in , so in the context of the job posting, yeah, I don’t think they’re going for that meaning.

    4. UK Nerd*

      Maybe it’s one of those British/American language things? I also think of hustle primarily meaning pulling a con. Do ‘Hustle’ and ‘The Real Hustle’ get shown in America?

      1. Wakeen's Teapots, Ltd.*

        It might be.

        “Hustle” is strongly associated as a positive in baseball, for instance. Google “hustle baseball” and see.

      2. Wakeen's Teapots, Ltd.*

        p.s., I’m not familiar with those shows but “he got hustled” does mean “conned” in American Speak also. “to hustle” however, is generally a positive, showing energy and dare I say gumption in completing a task or job.

      3. Brightwanderer*

        I also think of it that way, as another UK-based datapoint -particularly as a verb. “Hustle and bustle” is one thing, but “to hustle” = “to do something shady/cheaty/illegal”. If an ad said they wanted someone who could hustle I’d be thinking they were hoping to sell goods that had fallen off the back of a lorry…

      4. Creag an Tuire*

        Americans are aware of the “con” meaning, but I think most of us associate it with sports — if you hear “hustle!” in an (American) football game, it basically means “get out there and kick some ass!”.

      5. Afiendishingy*

        Never heard of those shows but there was the great movie American Hustle which was about a con. That’s the meaning I think of first .

      6. fposte*

        I think that connotation is clinging more to the noun “hustler”–though of course that’s also a period word for prostitute.

    5. Mookie*

      Right, hustle in either instance (a quick, low-stakes con or hasty behavior) suggests jitteriness, imprecision, frenetic action, possibly towards a malicious end. As an imperative, it means hurry up. In job postings, it seems to have acquired a slightly positive meaning and functions as a synonym for the equally ubiquitous, unimaginative desire for applicants to possess a sufficient “sense of urgency.” Dumb corporatespeak.

      1. Kelly L.*

        I must confess, in my experience I’ve generally seen “hustle” used to mean “look really frenzied and act like your hair is on fire at all times, even when nothing all that urgent is actually happening.” And yes, synonymous with “sense of urgency.” It annoys me. But others may have a better experience.

        1. Mookie*

          YES. Look efficient (according to the complex rules of situation comedies), rather than be efficient.

      1. Saucy Minx*

        Allow me to testify that it was.

        I lived in Germany in the mid-1970s, & my sweetie was one of the fellows that worked in the equal opportunity office for the local US air base. He undertook to teach me The Hustle one evening when we were out at a club. I will say that he looked very fine, whereas I was grateful for the special lighting effects, which I hoped concealed my lack of talent.

        Hustle has no positive connotation to me, except in the context of “hustle & bustle” to reach a destination.

    6. LQ*

      I generally think of really pushy sales when I see it in job listings.

      I could also see it meaning something like the quick working mentioned, but don’t people who use the word also know that it means conning? I thought that was a desired associations for some of the sales type or other ethically questionable jobs I’ve seen it listed with. But if what you mean is ability to adapt quickly to changing environments wouldn’t it be better to say that than chance someone going, Nope! Not interested in your quick con.

    7. JC*

      I’ve recently seen a lot of tech types use it to mean that they’re working hard all of the time. I have one particularly precious instagram friend who is always posting pictures of herself working on her laptop on the weekend that she tags #hustle.

      1. Nashira*

        I cannot help but imagine she’s mostly watching cat videos or reading recipes on Sorted or something.

  6. Artemesia*

    #4 warms my heart that in this academic setting no one would take the job because of the low ball salary. Academia is notorious for overpaying at the top and underpaying at the bottom including in many cases faculty. I am thrilled that no one would take the job. I hope the OP contacts the hiring manager and gives it another go if the budget has gone up.

    1. Ama*

      Heh, yeah in my experience of hiring in academia, if no one takes the job at the listed salary the job title gets downgraded and they look for more junior candidates, they don’t offer more salary.

      Also, OP, if your friend is asking you to reapply and is actually on the hiring committee, that’s usually a very good sign.

      1. Scott*

        I’m the #4 OP, and yeah, I’m pleasantly surprised at how this has worked out. I know they looked at downgrading or outsourcing the position after several candidates turned it down, but I’m luckily in the kind of area where you pay for what you get, and there aren’t many people nearby that have the same specialty. For for the record, I’m staff, not faculty. :)

  7. Stephanie*

    #1: I had a sort of similar thing happen to me. I work at an industrial shipping facility and critters (er, including the occasional stray cat or dog) will get into the plant since we have the doors and bays open. Well, so one time, my coworkers like “Hey Stephanie, do you need your forms signed?” [He usually would sign things for me as part of my job.] I turn around and he’s dangling a live scorpion in front of me he had caught. I called him a f’ing asshole and walked off (luckily…I work somewhere where that kind of language is completely ok.)

      1. catsAreCool*

        I’m not phobic about spiders, but I really don’t like them. I usually don’t swear, but I can understand why someone would under those circumstances. I might swear under those circumstances.

        The fact that the manager threatened to quit and then went to the owner and HR makes me think that the manager isn’t entirely sure of her authority.

        Reading other people’s posting makes me think I should have more empathy for the co-worker, and I don’t think she should be fired (unless she has a habit of doing this type of thing and has been properly warned not to), but pulling a prank on her boss, seriously? What was she thinking? I don’t think the manager’s follow-up of this was the right way to deal with it, but I feel a lot more sympathetic to the manager at this point.

    1. Elizabeth West*


      I still wouldn’t have gone to HR over it, though, unless he kept doing it after I asked him to stop, or put it in my shoe or locker or somewhere I could have gotten stung.

      I know those things have a place in the ecosystem but BLEEEAAHHHHH.

    2. Not Myself*

      We found a baby rattlesnake under my coworker’s trash can. It’d snuck in under the door. Not the first snake in the building even.

    3. Student*

      I think that, after initial tempers have cooled, there’s a big difference in problem scope of harassing someone with a prop and harassing someone with a live animal.

      If it was a relatively harmless scorpion, then maybe I’d leave things at that. If it was one of the dangerous types, I’d treat it as someone threatening me with a weapon, and I would go out of my way to make sure the “prankster” knew that endangering me for the sake of a joke is Not Okay. If the co-worker didn’t know whether it was a dangerous scorpion or not, then treat it as dangerous! Some desert animals can genuinely kill people, or seriously injure them. There’s a big difference in potential consequences for being harassed with, say, a harmless garter snake or a dangerous rattlesnake, or a harmless orb-spinner spider vs a deadly black widow.

  8. Stephanie*

    #3: The university may also have a policy against this (or at least a policy clarifying how and when your husband would have to notify that he had a relative working), especially if this is a public university.

    1. Artemesia*

      And I loved AAMs response here. It is the sister’s call — she is the one whose job is about to be potentially affected. And by letting the hiring manager know when an invitation to interview is tendered, the OP’s husband comes across as responsible and ethical.

      1. The Cosmic Avenger*

        Yeah, not only does the sister have more at stake, she’s the one who is most likely to know how the university wants people to handle these things! Maybe there are couples who met, dated, and married while working together…or maybe people get transferred without any notice if they find out your third cousins, twice removed! (Who knew?) But the sister knows best how people at the university are likely to react, another reason it’s definitely her call.

      2. Stranger than fiction*

        I agree, although it is kind of a bummer he can’t wait ’til he gets the in-person interview, I mean I totally get wanting the chance to get in front of them and sell them on me. But yeah, taking the higher ground and saying something upfront is the right thing to do.

        1. yasmara*

          This is interesting to me because it’s not *his* sister, it’s his wife’s sister. Sister-in-law. Who is no relation to him at all except via marriage (which theoretically could be dissolved at any time…then she’s his ex-SIL…is that a relationship that needs disclosure?). I’m probably being very INTJ about this, but there’s a huge range of in-law relationships…mildly friendly…close-as-birth-family…completely antagonistic…etc, etc, etc. That said, I agree that the sister-in-law and job applicant should both disclose early and professionally. I hired my sister-in-law as a freelancer in a past job – I think I said something casual like, “My sister in law does XYZ and is really great – do you want me to investigate her rates?” She was affordable & did do great work for the project. I think no one even remembered the link later on.

  9. Apollo Warbucks*

    #5 I’m wondering if when they asked you if you would be visiting any time soon they might have offered you an interview if you were going to be in town anyway, but they’d feel bad about asking you to make a special trip if you didn’t get the job.

    But at any rate the normal advice applies after applying for a job, mentally move on and let it be a pleasant surprise if they contact you for an in person interview.

    1. LBK*

      Agreed, that would’ve been my assumption about that question – that they would organize around your trip if you were already planning one, but that they wouldn’t expect you to spend time and money just to come see them.

    2. Phone Interview Girl*

      That was my assumption at first, which made me feel optimistic. I followed-up today and haven’t heard back yet. I’m not going to take it as a negative sign because it’s not a no. But I’m just not going to obsess about it like I have been and just focus on my current internship.

  10. hbc*

    #1: If she’s threatening quitting rather than firing, I’d say she (rightly or wrongly) feels like she doesn’t have any authority. She may feel like the kid in the classroom that the teacher puts “in charge” when she goes to the bathroom: extra responsibility, no authority, and a target put on her back. She may have a lot of other incidents where HR has insisted on a hands-off approach. In other words, there might be reasons for the strange handling after the fact, even if it’s not the right way to do things.

    Regardless, I’m not going to feel too bad about your coworker being stressed. She tried to take the boss down a peg in front of her entire staff. I’m hoping it wasn’t malicious and just really poorly thought through. If things are still icy, she should revisit that apology and make clear to the boss that her in-the-moment remorse still holds.

    1. Lana*

      I am trying to imagine any job I’ve had where my boss would have been okay with me or anyone else standing behind him/her and dropping a fake spider onto his/her shoulder. Seriously. I can’t imagine it in even the most casual workplaces I’ve been, or with the most freewheeling of bosses. It’s really pretty shocking behavior by a subordinant.

      1. Xarcady*

        That struck me, too. Some workplaces I know, this sort of prank between two people of more or less the same level in the company would have been okay, but not subordinate to boss.

        Which makes me wonder if there is something else going on between boss and pranking co-worker, that the rest of the office doesn’t know about. It is, in my opinion, a pretty big line to cross.

        1. Window Seat Anon*

          Yeah, at my last job this type of prank would’ve been considered okay co-worker to co-worker. But I could never imagine any of us doing something like that to one of our bosses! Even in a prank friendly environment that is a big line to cross!

      2. LBK*

        I can imagine pranks like that occurring with my last manager. I think it all depends on their relationship with the team, and as with all pranks you should know your audience before you do anything.

          1. mander*

            I don’t have any particular phobias and I have a very tolerant sense of humor, but this would really piss me off. Pranks really annoy me for some reason.

      3. KAZ2Y5*

        That really is the thing that shocks me the most about this story – that she did it to her boss! Who does that?

        1. fposte*

          Maybe somebody who was put up to it by colleagues? Still dumb, but if you’ve got people silently mouthing “Do it, do it!” that might help explain the deficit of reason.

      4. nonegiven*

        I don’t think I’d ever be able to turn my back on co-worker again.

        If I had the authority, I’d have future pranks written in as a firing offense.

    2. Three Thousand*

      It really does depend on her relationship to the boss. I can see someone doing this purely out of friendship and affection (which was obviously totally misguided in this case). It doesn’t necessarily have to be about her taking anyone down a peg. The fact that she was crying and apologizing later instead of angry and defensive suggests to me it wasn’t intended cruelly. The coworker probably just needs to learn to read a room better.

  11. KT*

    For #1…if someone did this to me with say, a cockroach or a mouse, I would have reacted the same way. I have a deep and awful, irrational terror of both. For a coworker to do this, I’m pretty sure I would react with some foul language too…I know it’s not appropriate, but that would be my irrational, fear-driven reaction to someone who would think it’s funny. If it was a one-time thing, I would follow up with coworker once I cooled down to reiterate that this isn’t appropriate and that serious repercussions would happen if she ever did it again. If there has been a pattern of this behavior, she’d be shown the door.

    I hate pranks in the office. They never are funny, especially not to the prankee–and are usually to get a laugh at someone’s expense.

    In the conservative offices I have worked at in the past, the coworker who did this would be fired…it would show she had remarkably bad judgement, zero respect for her boss, and wasn’t paying attention to her work.

    1. CMD - UK*

      I am so incredibly phobic of spiders, I had trouble READING the above account. I can’t even be sure what my reaction would be if someone did that to me. I would definitely scream, probably yell some awful things including swearing. I’d be the wonderful combination of terrified, panicky, and FURIOUS.

      I would be a crying, shaking, irrational mess until my panic attack went away.

      I have 0 sympathy for the co-worker who performed that poorly-judged deed!

      1. OhNo*

        Ugh, same here. I’m going to be compulsively checking my shoulders all day now. :( If this had happened to me there would have been a lot screaming, possibly some crying, and definitely some really inappropriate language and yelling at the person who thought that was okay to do.

        BUT here’s the thing: I would have felt really bad and embarrassed about my over-reaction afterward. I would have apologized to the pranker, and if I was feeling especially bad about it, I would have apologized to the rest of the team as well for making them deal with such an awkward situation.

        So while I agree that the pranker doesn’t deserve much sympathy, the boss’ reaction is really weird to me, especially the email to HR hours later. It’s possible that the boss is just trying to cover her embarrassment (which I totally get), but this is NOT an okay way to do that.

    2. Katie the Fed*

      “In the conservative offices I have worked at in the past, the coworker who did this would be fired…it would show she had remarkably bad judgement, zero respect for her boss, and wasn’t paying attention to her work.”

      I don’t know if this is hyperbole, but that would seriously shock me. It’s a childish prank, yes, but that seems like a major overreaction.

        1. F.*

          There is no place for pranks like this in a business environment. Pranks should be saved for your friends who appreciate them and should be perpetrated only by those who can take as good as they give. And, I know this will be an unpopular opinion, but if you have time to cover a coworker’s cube with post-it notes or some other relatively harmless but time-consuming prank, then you need more work to do.

          If someone were to prank me in so as to cause a panic attack, it could literally kill me, as the major adrenaline rush could cause a fatal asthma attack.

          I strongly suspect that this may have been a “straw that broke the camel’s back” moment for the pranked manager. There is probably more to this story than the OP knows about the relationship between the manager and the prankster.

          1. Kyrielle*

            To be fair, some harmless but time consuming pranks happen after-hours, off the clock. (Like when we gift-wrapped a coworker’s office while he was away on his honeymoon. Or – although this is less a prank than a general in-joke, since the owner of the cabinet was asked first and authorized it – turning a big black filing cabinet into a ‘Tardis’, complete with painter’s tape for the proper color.)

          2. Katie the Fed*

            I agree, but there’s a lot of space between “inappropriate” and “termination-worthy”

            1. neverjaunty*

              The termination-worthy part is not the prank itself so much as what the prank indicates – i.e. the person is immature and has extremely poor judgment.

              1. Ask a Manager* Post author

                Or that they’ve worked in places where pranks were frequent and welcome, or that the boss has welcomed previous pranks, or lots of other possibilities.

                To be clear, I think it was stupid and bad judgment, but I can’t imagine firing someone over this. Stern talk, definitely.

                1. neverjaunty*

                  There’s nothing in the OP’s letter suggesting this the kind of workplace where pranks are usual, or that the co-worker is new and not used workplace norms. That aside, I agree with you if this is a one-time thing (as opposed to “Wakeen the Prankster finally steps in it) then it’s almost certainly not a firing offense.

                2. Not Myself*

                  Alison, would you stick by this if it turned out coworker could reasonably have known that the prank would be unwelcome, either due to previous not-well-received pranks or knowledge of a possible phobia? I feel like the boss’s claim of harassment may indicate that stuff similar to this has been going on for a while. It’s such a weird thing to say otherwise.

                3. LBK*

                  Eh, I don’t think that’s odd – “harassment” is used colloquially to describe isolated incidents pretty often, despite the legal meaning being much more specific and usually requiring a pattern of behavior.

          3. Case of the Mondays*

            For everyone else dealing with panic out there, I want to highlight that the reason it could actually be medically dangerous for you is because of another health condition – your asthma. For a lot of people, a big part of panic is feeling like they could lose control or die and part of the first step in therapy for a lot of those people is learning that you may FEEL like you are going to die but you are not actually going to die. Also, very few people truly lose control (like flipping out on an airplane if you are afraid of flying).

            If I read your comment back when I first developed my fear of flying I would have said OMG, it CAN kill me and likely been afraid to even work on the issue. I’m not trying to minimize your situation at all but just to tell other people it is very unlikely that their panic could actually kill them.

            Panic becomes a lot less scary when you figure out it just feels really bad and isn’t actually killing you.

        2. Rat in the Sugar*

          Well, yeah, but that fact would be made clear to new employees at hiring, right? Every place I’ve ever worked, pranks like this and much worse are totally normal. It seems very out of the ordinary to make them a firing offense, so it doesn’t seem right to fire someone for it–it would be totally out of the blue.

          1. Kyrielle*

            I don’t think I’ve ever worked anywhere where a prank that *touched* someone would be generally appropriate. Spider on the ceiling or wall, if you didn’t know about a phobia, yes. (If you did know about it, not at all.)

            But even so, “harassment” is not the right word unless there’s a pattern of behavior we’re not familiar with, that wasn’t in OP’s letter.

          2. neverjaunty*

            Do you work in tech? My friends and I have a running joke that “what I call an employment lawsuit, you call Tuesday.”

            Regardless, it’s pretty obvious that this is not a workplace where prancing the boss like this is common and accepted as part of the culture.

            1. Rat in the Sugar*

              I worked in a few restaurants in college, and am now at a company where nearly everyone is former military (lot of Marines, especially). No one here would blink at a little plastic spider (and at the restaurants the staff regularly pulled pranks on the bosses).
              I’m aware that many workplaces are not like this, but some of them certainly are. Not OP’s though, apparently.

          3. catsAreCool*

            I guess it depends on the atmosphere. Where I work, pranks don’t usually happen, but I can’t remember ever being told we shouldn’t play pranks. Maybe the company just figured we were adults and wouldn’t play pranks. Then again, I don’t like pranks.

      1. hbc*

        I have a pretty free-wheeling office, but this wouldn’t fly. Time-wasting or annoying pranks are one thing, but trying to inspire fear in someone at the office? Seriously not cool. It’s no more funny than raising your fist at someone and watching them cower.

        Maybe if two people or a group are mutually engaging in this, okay. But “terror” is not an emotion that should be associated with the workplace.

        1. Hellanon*

          Yeah, this kind of pranking shades into bullying really fast. My reading of it was that this wasn’t the first time & that the manager was reacting to more than just the one incident.

          1. OhNo*

            It does read that way, doesn’t it? Threatening to quit sounds to me more like someone at the end of their rope than someone having a one-time panic response. I’m really hoping the OP will chime in to clarify if the pranks have been ongoing or not…

        2. Natalie*

          From the information given we have no way of knowing if the pranker was trying to inspire terror in their boss, though. It’s October (Halloween) and while I can see that plenty of people are afraid of spiders, plenty of people aren’t and wouldn’t have been scared of this.

          (Obviously there may be information not given, and if the pranker knew the boss was phobic of spiders than this is way out of line.)

          1. fposte*

            Good point on the October thing–I hadn’t factored that in. There are workplaces that would even have big fake spiders lying around as decor, in fact, so this would just take that one step farther.

            1. Case of the Mondays*

              I was just at a restaurant this weekend that had a giant fake spider on a table and step pad on the floor. When you walk by and step on it, the spider jumps out at you. It is so clearly fake but I’m sure it has scared a lot of people. Tis the season.

              1. JamieG*

                I’m suddenly really glad I don’t go out. That pings my fear of spiders and my social anxiety all in one neat package.

            2. catsAreCool*

              I think putting a fake spider on someone’s shoulder is more like several steps further than having fake spiders around.

          2. neverjaunty*

            I would really like to know what possible reaction someone wants to get from putting a fake spider on someone’s shoulder other than varying levels of “AAHHHHH SPIDER”, especially as spiders are a very, very, very common phobia.

            This is really well beyond Post-It’s or reversing someone’s desk.

            1. Natalie*

              fposte said it elsewhere – basically a bit of a jump and then laughing. I guess this is hard to believe for some people, but not everyone is afraid of spiders.

              1. Katie the Fed*

                I have flipped my sh*t over a real spider in my house, but I would probably jump and laugh at a fake plastic one.

                1. Natalie*

                  I have a terrible startle reaction to any kind of loud noise or even occasionally looking up and seeing someone I didn’t expect to be there. So I probably would have jumped a mile, but for any spider-related reason.

              2. neverjaunty*

                Yes, and the ‘bit of a jump’ is because the person thought for a moment it was a real spider. Because finding a spider on your shoulder is a little different than finding, say, a tiny plastic jack-o-lantern on one’s shoulder.

                I truly don’t understand this rush to pretend that that wasn’t the point of the prank.

                1. Natalie*

                  You were responding to my comment that we have no reason to assume the pranking co-worker was trying to *terrorize* their boss, and I was responding to someone who was likening this to “raising your fist at someone and watching them cower.” That’s a damn sight different than trying to mildly startle someone, and without additional information I think it’s an enormous and unfair leap to assume that this co-worker is some kind of monster.

                2. fposte*

                  It’s not pretending that’s not the point of the prank. It’s understanding and perhaps even embracing the pleasure people can find in being teased by a practice that startles them without harming them.

                  You’re coming from the theory that no recipient ever thinks this is funny, and that’s demonstrably untrue.

              3. Renee*

                I’m not even the slightest bit afraid of spiders or of snakes or scorpions. I hate cockroaches but I’d probably just shriek and bat it away, and then I’d probably laugh when I realized it was fake. I’ve been diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder and I’ve had panic attacks, but they’re from things like getting lost while driving, not being confronted by critters. I have a hard time relating to some of these accounts of phobias though I try to be sympathetic because I’m sure many people can’t relate to some of the levels of anxiety I’ve had over some pretty minor things. Unless there was a prior relationship based on pranking, I think it was stupid, but I cannot wrap my head around even the boss’s preliminary reaction. I’m seeing that I’m not the norm in that though.

      2. BananaPants*

        Yes. The prank was silly and childish, and I’d expect to see it between colleagues at the same level rather than between a superior and subordinate, but I question if this is something REALLY worth terminating an employee over. Is this really worth the expense to the business of firing an employee and having to hire and train a new one? At least in my state the fired employee would almost certainly get unemployment, because dropping a fake spider on another employee’s shoulder would not meet the definition of willful misconduct, so the business’ unemployment insurance premiums might also go up. It seems like a really disproportionate response to such a minor (although admittedly childish) prank.

        We don’t know if this is an office environment where little pranks are common or not. The employee may have had zero reason to think the boss would react so negatively, when she was previously fine with putting another employee’s stapler in a bowl of Jello.

        1. ImproveForCats*

          I in general am very anti-prank (I don’t find them amusing when they are “only” inconvenient or embarrassing, let alone physical or messy;), but unless there is further evidence this was actively malicious, I’m having trouble seeing it as an automatic firing situation.

          It seems much more unlikely to me that the co-worker would think to do this (to her boss!) if it wasn’t an environment where some level of pranking or at least goofiness were accepted.

      3. Mike C.*

        I really have to agree with Katie here, Unless this phobia was known or was otherwise malicious, making it termination worthy just by itself is really over the top.

    3. Bostonian*

      >> I hate pranks in the office. They never are funny, especially not to the prankee.

      I’m not generally someone who thinks pranks are a ton of fun, and I would have freaked out if a coworker scared me with a fake spider. But I think it’s going too far to say they are never funny. There are plenty of offices where the environment is such that low-key pranks are fun for some people and harmless to those who don’t care for pranks. It’s best if pranks are on the level of seriousness and inconvenience of changing someone’s computer desktop wallpaper, and also not embarrassing. But I have preferred the offices that are relaxed enough for some light joking among coworkers, rather than having to maintain a strict formal professionalism all day every day.

      1. fposte*

        Yeah, I’d agree. I don’t do pranks, but I’ve had co-workers who’ve really enjoyed them, and they’ve followed the responsible pranking guidelines Judy notes upthread–prank only to the opt-in group.

        1. Us, Too*

          I’m a killjoy for pranks myself, but I don’t particularly object to them if performed in relatively innocuous ways on people who would clearly not be upset by them.

      2. Shan*

        I agree, I’m surprised to see so many people take a hard stance of “office pranks are always inappropriate,” because I think it really depends on the office norms. At my current job, pranks would not be okay or tolerated. Even something small and harmless would be seen as immature, disrespectful, and wasteful. I think most people who dislike office pranks have probably worked in this type of environment and just don’t see how pranks could fit into an office.

        But I worked in an office that loved pranks, and while this might sound horrifying to some people, it was actually really fun. We had a small team (five people) who were all goofy and laid back, and pranks were kind of part of our “culture.” We never involved coworkers unless they wanted to participate, and we had boundaries and respected each other – nothing embarrassing or harmful. It might sound immature, but we worked really hard most of the time! Our office was the top-performing location in our national company.

        Although the prankster in OP’s letter wasn’t very responsible with her prank and didn’t know her audience, I’d feel really bad for her if she got fired for it. She realized how bad she messed up, to the point of shaking and tears, so I think it’s safe to say she probably won’t try any more pranks. I can’t blame the boss for being upset or even swearing unintentionally, but her reaction and email to HR was definitely weird. I don’t think the prankster was as malicious as the boss believes. I think they should simply apologize to each other (boss for swearing and weird reaction, prankster for prank), agree to no more pranks, and move on.

        1. catsAreCool*

          I wonder if the boss is reacting to something that happened at a previous job or something like that. If this felt like a continuation of something that had been more serious with someone else, it would be more understandable why the boss reacted this way.

    4. Saucy Minx*

      “Getting a laugh at someone else’s expense” — I cannot fathom how people think that scaring or inconveniencing others is funny. It seems the reverse to me: unamusing, witless rather than witty, mean-spirited rather than light-hearted, plus wasting time if done on the job.

      If folks want to horse around, they should do it among consenting participants who actually enjoy this so-called joking.

  12. Not Today Satan*

    #5 Thankfully I’m not looking for a job anymore, but when I was phone interviews were my downfall. I’ve very rarely gotten past a phone screen. Possibly my biggest problem was that when it seemed more like a phone screen than a phone interview, when they asked if I had any questions at the end I’d just ask one or two basic ones, because I’d figure the more in depth questions could be answered during the in person conversation. So did that make me seem disinterested? Idk. I just find phone interviews so awkward. =\

    1. KH*

      I was the complete opposite. I passed just about every phone interview but bombed out in the onsite interviews. The stress of the onsite interview would cause me to lose all confidence and I’d come across as quiet and timid.

      I finally got the job I have now when the interviewer was an introvert type and could see past that.

      Having said all that – OP is seriously overanalyzing things – it sounds like a pretty typical phone interview that went well, but by no means is there a guarantee of a second interview. Also, companies might slow down once they’ve done a round of screenings. They now have to review all the candidates, figure out which ones to invite back, and book a lot of calendar time for the interview panel. (Initial phone interviews seem to be mostly one-on-ones with recruiters who just do recruiting full time. Onsite interview rounds can take hours, a half day or more and usually involve finding times that multiple parties are mutually available)

  13. BRR*

    My experience with phone interviews has been all over the place. I’ve felt great and never heard again and I’ve felt only ok and been invited for an in-person interview at the end. Some are just to prove you’re competent and some seem to be tougher.

  14. Oh no not again*

    The boss’s reaction of calling the employee a fucking bitch is the bigger problem than the prank. That the manager escalated it to HR after the employee expressed apologies is problematic. Yes, the prank was inappropriate, but that does not justify that kind of response. I hate spiders myself (and daddy Long legs, someone put a live one on my head as a child). If I would have called someone a bitch at work for whatever reason, no matter how “justified” (and I have about someone who has a history of harassing me, it came out of my mouth in a moment of frustration, my boss told me not to say it and I, without prompting, apologized to the person I said it about even though they didn’t know I said it), I’d get in trouble for it. When a manager calls employees names they are being inappropriate and possibly taking advantage of their position in authority. Both the employee and the manager should be reprimanded.

  15. Bekx*

    I have apiphobia (fear of bees/wasps/hornets). My coworker friend at my last job knew I was scared, but didn’t realize just how much it affected me. One time she sent me an email entitled “Cute puppies!!! Look!” I open it, have to scroll down quite a bit, and then it’s a picture of one of those giant killing bees from….Africa maybe? I only looked at it for maybe a quarter of a second, but I shrieked.

    She came over laughing until she saw my face. We were friends, so me saying “What the fck that isn’t cool!” was a bit better, but still. When you’re in that panic moment, it’s hard to filter.

    She did feel bad, apologized and said she didn’t realize I was really phobic (to be fair, a lot of people DO throw that word around). She is really careful about bees for me now, including telling me to go hide in another room if there’s one. But yeah, it was definitely terrifying and I tell that story to my new coworkers in case they feel like doing something similar. Because now I have a fear of people doing that to me just to be funny.

    1. The Artist Formally Known As UKAnon*

      “Because now I have a fear of people doing that to me just to be funny.”

      You’ve just made me realise something. A few years ago, a friend of mine found the biggest man-eating spider I’ve seen in years, which had died on the end of a toilet brush (it was actually the circumference of the brush for some idea of size. It had its legs all tasselated through the individual bristles.) He chased me out of the building waving it at me, until I huddled outside screaming for my very life.

      I’m actually ok with Unexpected Spider Contact (walked into a web the other day; brushed it off my forehead then obsessively brushed my face for hours, but no shrieking – I was very proud) but I tend to over-panic badly if there’s a spider and someone else is removing it. Now I know why!

      1. Afiendishingy*

        … I realize this isn’t the point, but tell me he wasn’t waving the toilet brush at you? Because ewwww.

        1. The Artist Formally Known As UKAnon*

          Nope, he was poking/waving it at me as he chased me down the stairs. Given that I’m also quite OCD about germs….

          Yeah, I still don’t know how I got out of that without a broken leg.

      2. Lionness*

        I don’t like spiders. I’d prefer to avoid them. I won’t kill them, because what if they jump on me in the process, but I make others kill them for me. I wouldn’t say I have a phobia…but a healthy fear.

        That said….WTF. Where do you live that has spiders that big!? I need to know so I can N.E.V.E.R. go there. I am pretty sure if I ever encountered that, I would just lay down and actually, literally die.

        1. KT*

          Actually, spiders that big are fairly common. I’ve lived in both Pennsylvania and Florida, and both had huge spiders (wolf spiders, for instance, are ginormous and terrifying)

          1. OhNo*

            Wolf spiders are the worst. There was a (relatively small) one in my kitchen a few weeks ago when I was home alone and I have never been more terrified in my life. Having a phobia of spiders myself, I had to try and squish it while my hands were shaking, I was hyperventilating, and crying.

            I succeeded, but I’m pretty sure I nearly had a heart attack in the process.

            1. Jessica (tc)*

              Once, years ago, my cat was playing with something that was moving around. Yep, wolf spider. I am phobic, so I jumped up on the nearest thing (this was when I was living alone, and yes, I know spiders can climb!) and looked around frantically. The only thing I could reach was a can of lemon-scented Pledge that I’d been using earlier that day. I leaned over and sprayed and sprayed and sprayed and sprayed that sucker until he was white. He had cornered himself on the floor right up to the footstool I was screaming from, so I took a flying leap and landed in the doorway of my hallway where I proceeded to the bedroom and closed my door, shaking. After I finally calmed down, I went back into the living room to see if I could dispose of the gigantic thing without hyperventilating again. There was a white circle of foam all around…a clean hole in the center. I think he huddled his legs up around him while I was spraying and then dashed off when I finally left him alone. I joke that there is still a lemon-scented wolf spider running around somewhere in Illinois. (I had nightmares for weeks about him, too.) Of course, this was over 10 years ago, but I pretend that the Pledge gave him super powers of immortality, so he’s still running around, smelling all lemon-y. I’m in a different state now, so he can’t get me anymore…

        2. The Artist Formally Known As UKAnon*

          This was in student accommodation, so goodness knows what it had found to feed on…

          I’ve seen a couple that big before – and I suspect that having its legs all spread out was making it look a whole lot bigger than it would curled up in a corner somewhere.

        3. Brisvegan*

          Australia. We have lots of spiders that big here in Australia. Come to Australia in our winter if you want to avoid spiders as most are dead or dormant then.

          Warning: description of spiders in my house and yard.

          In my house, we get huntsmen spiders at least the size of the end of the toilet brush inside several times a year. They’re harmless and eat baby redback spiders (size, shape and deadliness of a black widow) which we also get in all sorts of spots, but mostly outside, usually under window sills and the lips of pot plants. We currently have several lovely golden orb weavers with webs between trees in our yard, well above human height, that are bigger than the end of a toilet brush, too. That’s ignoring the St Andrews Cross spiders that we get in the garden and a whole bunch of various plant and jumping spiders that wander by.

          Fortunately, I am not too scared of spiders and perform spider removal for my kids who hate them.

          Spider talk finished!

          However, even as a white collar person I would probably still call someone a F—n B—h for putting even a plastic one on me. However, I think that maybe we swear more down under, too. Swearing without provocation would be very bad at work, but blurting out a few choice terms after a scare? I think that maybe the US has a different sensibility about that from the comments here.

          1. Talvi*

            Ah, yes. This, right here? Is the reason I am NEVER going to Australia (despite the fact I have family there could stay with). I am sooooo very arachnophobic.

    2. Sue Wilson*

      a lot of people DO throw that word around

      I mean, they probably do it because people don’t take their discomfort seriously. Like I can’t imagine telling someone that something made me uncomfortable, and them putting me in that situation not being an asshole thing to do.

      1. Bekx*

        Sorry– I meant people who aren’t actually phobic throw the word out.

        For example:
        Me: I have apiphobia, fear of bees
        Them: Oh, I don’t like bees either.
        Me: Oh, no…it’s actually a phobia because of XYZ….
        Them: Ohhh yeah I have a phobia of all bugs. It’s horrible!

  16. Sophia in the DMV*

    #4 I haven’t served on enough committees to give a good suggestion but I suggest you write into an academic centered blog to be sure

  17. Labyrinth*

    I agree that the boss has a phobia, and I can see why she feels harassed. It depends on whether you think of spiders as a thing that many people jump at but almost no one’s truly afraid of, or whether you think that spiders are kind of scary to most people and incredibly scary to many, but that some people manage to handle them. Maybe the coworker thought she was doing the equivalent of pranking someone by wearing one of those creepy horse masks, while the boss thinks she did something more similar to “pranking” someone by putting poop on their desk or something. Poop isn’t dangerous either, but it would be insanely weird and hostile to put it on someone’s desk – not to mention putting it on them, in front of everybody!

    So, if the boss feels that everybody knows that you shouldn’t joke around with spiders because spider phobia is real and serious, and the coworker (and apparently the LW?) feels that everybody knows that spiders aren’t a big deal except to a rare minority of people, miscommunication is bound to happen.

    Also, a phobia is a disability. I don’t know if ADA covers it or not, I have no idea, but even if there’s no legal difference, it’s a bigger deal socially to be the victim of a joke that exposes your disability. The coworker may not have known that the boss had a phobia, but the damage is done.

    1. Beth*

      Good point on the different attitudes -that might be what’s driving the confusion upthread over whether it’s normal.

        1. Tara R.*

          But lots and lots and lots of people are scared of spiders, and there’s really no point to this kind of prank if the recipient doesn’t have some fear of them. I don’t think anyone’s claiming that *everyone* is scared of spiders, just that the coworker either knew/hoped that the boss was or should have considered it before, y’know, dropping a fake spider on someone.

          1. Beth*

            Lots of people are scared of spiders on an “oh ew, a bug” level. Comparatively few people are scared of spiders on a screaming panic attack level.

        2. Stephanie*

          I’ve heard it’s an evolutionary holdover from the caveman days, when we weren’t sure which insects could kill. Also, insects look pretty foreign compared to something like a dog, which has hair, legs, personality, etc.

          1. fposte*

            That makes sense to me, because the bigger and more visible body mass they have the more disturbing I find them–I think their non-mammalian-ness is more freaky when they’re the size of common mammals.

        3. Ad Astra*

          Really? THEY HAVE EIGHT LEGS. It’s creepy.

          … Also, my parents allowed me to be in the same room as someone who was watching “Arachnophobia” when I was a toddler. I still get twitchy when I look directly up at a shower head.

    2. Not the Droid You are Looking For*

      So, if the boss feels that everybody knows that you shouldn’t joke around with spiders because spider phobia is real and serious, and the coworker (and apparently the LW?) feels that everybody knows that spiders aren’t a big deal except to a rare minority of people, miscommunication is bound to happen.

      But wouldn’t the more appropriate reaction be to sit down with the employee and have a conversation rather than filing a complaint with the boss and HR?

  18. IrishGirl*

    For #1, if someone had done this to me I think I would have reacted exactly as the boss did – flipped out and then avoid that staff member until I could trust myself to be calm and civil to the staff member.

    For what it’s worth, I can’t imagine any professional environment where this kind of prank would be seen as acceptable, it seems more like what a five year old would do. I don’t see the coworker as having any justification for being put out by the boss’s reaction.

    I think emailing the higher ups was an odd move, but she may see it is a CYA move in case the pranker reports her for ignoring her, or if there are subsequent disciplinary issues (it’s very hard to fire someone here if they’ve been working at the company for more than two years)

  19. Macedon*

    #1. The prank wasn’t ideal, particularly with such common phobia fodder, but the boss’ reaction once tempers should’ve cooled was also weirdly out of line. You have an issue with your subordinate, you address it with them first. And the boss owed an apology for the cussing.

    #2. We use that term a lot in my industry – usually means (metaphorically) going trough the window/chimney/pipes to get a job done, if you run into a closed door. I’d say as a recruitment term, it’s meant to lure a candidate who can demonstrate a combo of resourcefulness, persistence and a fair bit of cunning.

    #5. Trying to figure out how your interview went is like reading your future in coffee dregs: too vague and susceptible to your projections to be empirically worth it. I get why you’d want to – there’s an element of regaining control when you can manage your expectations, and job hunting is already a process where, through the nature of the bureaucratic business, much of everything is out of your hands. No one likes being vulnerable in that way.

  20. Anon.*

    “Hustle” in job ads to me always reads exactly as the OP see it. I have only seen it in jobs that require someone to be aggressive and always available, like when a job masquerading as communications is actually really pushy sales.

    I do think it depends on the field, though.

  21. Lanya (aka Camp Director Kim)*

    I have an irrational but extreme fear of zombies. (Thank you, Dawn of the Dead 2004.) I have warned friends and family never to try to scare me with a zombie-related prank, because I’m unsure that I could control my reaction in the moment. It would be horrifying for me. So if the boss in #1 is similarly afraid of spiders, I understand completely how her reaction could last all day and how she could feel it was a personal affront – especially if the employee was aware that the boss has a sensitivity to spiders. It would have been good for her to deal with the employee herself the next day after she was truly composed.

  22. Expendable Redshirt*

    Ah, phone interviews. My successful phone interviews *typically* involved an offer to come in for a second interview at the end of a conversation. But there have been a few cases where the business has thanked me for my time, and called to schedule a physical interview at a later date. As long as the interviewer doesn’t say “You aren’t the droid we are looking for,” it’s hard to evaluate a successful interview.
    If only interviews had a success metric like Baultar’s Cylon Test on Battlestar Galactica.,.

  23. TotesMaGoats*

    #1-I agree with AAM and most everyone else. You have to know your audience for a prank to be funny. But even if it was a phobia, her behavior after the fact is weird. I’ve been in offices where pranks were common. I’ve seen cars moved, filled with balloons, I was called and told someone had quit out of the blue and it was a code red situation. Thankfully I remembered that my boss LOVED April Fool’s Day. I understand phobias too. My BIL is so afraid of spiders that when one dropped from his car ceiling to his steering wheel, in an attempt to fling it off the wheel he didn’t let go of the wheel and took out a produce stand and totalled his car. No produce or people were hurt. So, I get fear but this response is bizarre.

    #2-Hustle, to me, is the willingness to get the job done even if the job sucks.

    #3-Please be upfront with the boss about the family connection. I’ve worked in higher ed a long time. I once supervised a mother and daughter in law. That was bizarre but it does happen. You will be better off to mention it up front for all the reasons AAM said.

    #4-Since you made it to negotiation stage, you should have the manager contact info. I would email them to restate your interest. Their response will indicate if they are still interested in you and if you need to fully reapply or not.

      1. Carpe Librarium*

        This is actually the reason Huntsman spiders are considered one of the most dangerous in Australia. They are big and scary-looking, although they are reluctant to bite and their venom is not really dangerous to humans.
        They do, however, have a tendency to stow away behind the sun visor or in the dashboard of a vehicle, then crawl or fall out when the vehicle is in motion – much to the startled dismay of the driver and/or passengers.

        1. Jessica (tc)*

          Oh my freaking what the I don’t even why?!! Okay, reading this terrified me. I mean, I’ve already made it a life goal to avoid Australia (sorry, Australia! I love all of your other creatures, but the spiders are too much for me), but I…oh my…

          A former housemate and I were coming back from a nearby town one day. We are both phobic about spiders. (Important note to those who have this phobia: do not live or work in the same office with someone who has the same fear, because then no one is left to deal with the actual spider!) I was driving when suddenly she let out a piercing scream, yelled “SPIDER!!!”, and then threw her purse at me! As I was driving. Yes. I didn’t even see the spider, but I then screamed, swerved, slammed on the brakes, grabbed the purse, and threw it right back at her all at the same time. I still have no clue how we didn’t die.

          I turned to her and yelled, “Why did you throw your purse at me?”
          She said, “There was a spider on it!”
          I said, “I know! I cannot stand them! Why would you throw it at the one person who gets it…especially if that person is driving a car at 70 miles per hour?!”
          “I don’t know!” she yelled back. “I just had to get it away from me!”
          “Okay. Next time? Throw it out the window, please.”

          It took me a long time to search my body and my seat to feel comfortably sure that the spider was not on me before we could continue on our way.

  24. LQ*

    For people who like pranking what would the good outcome here be? It’s something I’ve never understood. The “pranks” I’ve seen are all kind of like this. But don’t you expect (and hope?) that sometimes the response is going to be extreme? What is the ideal response for the pranker to get? What makes you feel good about doing this?

    1. KT*

      This-I’ve never understood the point of pranks. You’re deliberately making someone scared, upset, or at the very least, inconveniencing them (I’m thinking of stupid stapler in jello molds). What is the goal? To feel superior? To laugh at someone’s discomfort?

      I do always marvel at the response of the pranker when their victim responds angrily (like this example or the other one not too long ago who locked her coworker on a balcony)–the pranker is always shocked and appalled at the other person’s distress, despite actively causing it.

      1. LQ*

        To me the strangest response in this is that of the pranker. The contacting HR/Boss thing just makes me think this supervisor doesn’t actually have a lot of power and needs to borrow it, so I get that. But to start crying and shaking when your prank succeeds? That’s super weird. Isn’t the goal of a prank like this to cause the person to freak out? But then I just don’t get pranks. I would also think someone gloating in this situation is weird (though the response I’ve seen more often).

        1. KT*

          Agreed-she started shaking and crying? Really? What did she think the reaction would be? A jolly laugh and a slap on the back? Clearly the goal was to illicit fear.

          1. fposte*

            I think the goal was to elicit a yelp and then a laugh, which is a pretty common response. The response she got is an outlier one.

            That doesn’t mean it’s therefore usually a cool plan to put a spider on your boss’s shoulder.

              1. fposte*

                Yes, really. Clinical phobia level response to spiders is not actually the norm.

                Maybe you’re focusing on the the “would respond with startlement” vs. “wouldn’t be startled” binary, and in that case I’d certainly agree that “would respond with startlement” would be the norm. But would scream and cuss somebody out and threaten to quit and complain to HR is, I feel pretty confident in asserting, an outlier response.

              2. Ask a Manager* Post author

                I think the reaction was very much an outlier. That doesn’t mean that it was okay for the coworker to do, but calling an employee a fucking bitch and then that letter to HR is certainly an outlier response. You can acknowledge that while still taking issue with what the pranker did.

                1. neverjaunty*

                  I meant the absolute freaking out over a (turned out to be fake) spider, plus a boss being very angry that the subordinate pulled a prank in front of everyone that humiliated the boss.

        2. Katie the Fed*

          Well, she might not have really thought it through. It might have just been a flashing thought of “oh this would be funny” and then she realized she blew it…badly.

          1. LQ*

            Pranking your boss seems like something you should give some thought to, unless you do a lot of it, in which case wouldn’t you know that the boss isn’t cool with it? (Though I feel like if there was a routine of pranking the OP would have mentioned it.)

            1. Natalie*

              Maybe, unless the specific issue was the spider phobia rather than the prank, and the pranker didn’t know about the phobia.

            2. LBK*

              Given that it’s October, I’m assuming there were spidery decorations around anyway and that this wasn’t a premeditated attack.

              1. Not So Sunny*

                I don’t personally know of offices that decorate for Halloween except a few that might be public-facing (i.e. welcoming to children).

                1. Kyrielle*

                  My office at $PreviousJob always decorated for Halloween because we had several employees that enjoyed it a lot. We not only weren’t public-facing, we were a secured facility with locked doors, so it was purely for the employees’ fun. (Had we been public-facing, in fact, but without welcoming kids, corporate culture would likely have demanded we *not* decorate because of the impression on clients, who were all adults. However, we pretty much never had clients in that office, so we decorated.)

                2. xarcady*

                  My company, which is also in a secure building and non-public facing, is holding a Halloween decorating contest, as they do every year.

                3. Not the Droid You are Looking For*

                  Every single job I have ever had has decorated for Halloween and none of our offices are what you consider public facing.

                  In fact, three of them have had giant competitions by department on who had the best decorations.

        3. Kyrielle*

          I don’t understand why people enjoy pranks based on fear personally, but I can totally understand why someone who does – and is used to the “normal” reaction – would be shaken and crying after her prank back-fired, her boss threatened to quit and called her a name and stormed off.

          She meant to do something she thought would startle/alarm, and that would have been funny. It _terrorized_, and neither that nor its possible impact on her job were funny to her. Nor was the hostility that came out of that terror.

          Had she been laughing, I would think she was a terrible human being and lacked empathy. As it is, I think she made a bad judgement about what kind of pranks would be acceptable, had the bad luck to hit her boss’s phobia square on, and was upset about the reaction and hopefully also about her part in the mess.

          1. Kyrielle*

            Um, “…and that would have been funny TO HER.”

            I don’t actually get the humor of it, but I do understand that’s the perception people who perform these pranks have – that it’s funny – and I wanted to clarify that sentence.

          2. ImproveForCats*

            I am not a prank person, but I’ve had the impression that for a lot of the scare/startle pranks, they think of it more like the feeling of a roller coaster/horror movie–it’s sort of a play-scare, which is clearly a thing a significant number of people enjoy. (You could argue–and I would agree –that people usually choose to see a scary movie or go on a roller coaster and don’t have it sprung on them, but I think people who enjoy that may be less conscious of that.)

            1. I'm a Little Teapot*

              Yeah, I exchange pictures of big scary spiders with one of my friends via email as a play-scare thing. That’s exactly what it is. (I like horror *stories*, but have trouble watching horror movies because I’m squeamish about visual gore.)

      2. Elizabeth West*

        I don’t think the stapler-in-jello thing is so bad. It’s not that inconvenient–just run hot water over it until the stapler comes out and then dry it off. It’s a stapler, not someone’s purse.

        I agree, however, that pranks shouldn’t be designed to scare the crap out of someone. The ones where someone would say, “Oh, funn-EE, Martha!” like the stapler, some Justin Bieber photos in their cube, etc., to make you laugh are okay. (I did not think the balcony thing was funny at ALL, FTR.)

    2. Macedon*

      Generally, successful pranking isn’t humiliating as much as it is surprising (with the pranked person frequently wanting to ‘get’ their doer right back). Good pranks tend to be very intelligent and frequently funny – or, if initially slightly scary, they involve the kind of fear that (like horror scares for horror flick lovers) makes the pranked person laugh after. Like, “Oh, God, that was terrifying! And hilarious. Please tell me someone took a pic of my face.” That is the ideal response: laughter and a competitive, “I am so one-upping you on this!”

      I think pranking is simply an acquired taste, where people who do enjoy it aren’t in the wrong in any way, unless (as shown in this example) a line of some kind is crossed.

      1. LQ*

        I don’t like horror movies either so that may be part of not getting it. I just don’t see any fun in either of them. (I am for the record a hilarious and brilliant person, I just don’t get pranks that seem designed to make other people feel bad or make you afraid and never see the one-up part.)

        I wonder if someone has done some brain science to see if there is a difference between people who are all in for things like this and those who just don’t get it.

        1. Daisy Steiner*

          LQ, you are a person after my own heart. I love a laugh, I love teasing, but I just cannot for the life of me see what’s fun about trying to scare or upset someone for a prank. I’m generally a pretty empathetic person and always try to see the world from other viewpoints, but this is one that is just beyond me. Obviously I’m not saying people should never do it – if you have that kind of relationship with someone where you both enjoy it, then go for your life – but it is TOTALLY incomprehensible to me why people do. Brain science to the rescue!

          I also hate horror movies.

          1. Windchime*

            Same here. I hate horror movies; in fact, they scare me and won’t watch them. The thought of being entertained by images of people being terrified and killed is something I don’t understand. Same thing with pranks designed to frighten or humiliate someone; it’s just not something I’m comfortable with and I don’t understand the thought process that goes into such a prank.

            1. Daisy Steiner*

              Weirdly, I enjoy them! But only occasionally, and nothing too extreme.

              I feel like thrill rides are different from pranks because I’m in control during a thrill ride. And they’re different from horror movies because the scariness doesn’t follow me around afterwards, making me afraid to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night!

              1. catsAreCool*

                I love roller coasters and hate horror movies. Then again, I’m not all that scared about roller coasters – I figure if I’m at a reputable place, they have a lot invested in making them safe, and I like the way roller coasters feel.

            2. LQ*

              Not a fan at all. Roller coasters and all the rest just seem…boring? I don’t get the fun. They make me feel a little sick in the drop phase, but I haven’t done them in a long time because they just aren’t enjoyable. I can think of a million better ways to spend my time than waiting in a super long line for 30 seconds of feeling mildly uncomfortable.

              I think this is all just a part of different people enjoy different things.

              People who prank other prank fans, go forth and have fun. But leave me out of it. (And stop acting like I’m not fun because I’m not your kind of fun.)

            3. Kyrielle*

              I don’t get fear-based pranks, don’t like horror movies, and like amusement park rides up to a point. (I don’t get the point of, say, the Tower of Terror at all, though.)

            4. Elsajeni*

              I’m another fear-hater! I hate thrill rides, dislike most horror movies, and don’t find fear-based pranks funny. In my case, I think it’s clearly connected to anxiety issues — the worst part of a thrill ride or horror movie for me is the part where you know a scare is coming but don’t know when, which I think is directly because I have OCD, so “certainty that something horrible is about to happen” is basically an unpleasant part of my daily life, not an unusual and thrilling sensation. (Going along with that, I dislike fear-based pranks, but I don’t dislike them anywhere near as much as I dislike scary movies or haunted houses — at least you don’t have to spend five minutes knowing that any second now someone’s going to drop a rubber spider on your shoulder.)

      2. Katie the Fed*

        My husband and I have some running pranks we play on each other. I think it’s fun. But we know each other pretty well, too :)

        1. LQ*

          Most people who’ve tried pranking me stop after I make them explain why it is funny. It’s super effective for me. If you know the other person and you’re both/all having fun then carry on. But to involve someone you don’t know and aren’t sure how they’d respond who is your boss (though I do think this boss likely doesn’t have a lot of power and others might see this boss as more of a peer…?) seems like walking a dangerous road. Though those who prank may enjoy the dangerous road more?

          1. neverjaunty*

            Exactly. When it’s harmless and everybody is in on the joke and can take it as well as dishing it out, y’all have your fun. But otherwise, no. (And I do like horror movies.)

    3. Erin*

      I’m a non-pranker myself, but I’d imagine maybe they’re thinking they can create a fun, The Office-like setting where if they prank someone, they’ll get pranked back, and then they can compete to out-prank each other, thus lightening up maybe an otherwise boring work day.

        1. fposte*

          Sure, but some people think talking about TV at the watercooler is extra time and work, too, or saying good morning to people. People create community in a lot of different ways.

          1. LQ*

            I’d agree with those too!
            I like my job, but I like not being at work more. And spending an extra few hours a week doing prank stuff seems like a ton of work I could be putting into things that are so much more fun. Though coming up with and pulling off a prank might require a lot less time from someone experienced at it I suppose.

            I think you mentioned nicknames later too. I think it’s a good corollary. But it sort of works the same way. If you give someone a nickname and they don’t like it, don’t keep calling them by it. If you prank someone (in a small way) once and they don’t like it, don’t keep doing it.

            1. fposte*

              Total agreement on that! If you’re told to leave somebody out, it’s obligatory to do that.

              But I’m starting to think that pranks are the cultural equivalent of the linguistic false friend–“in my language, ‘stapler in jello’ means ‘you are of my tribe.’ In yours, it means ‘we hate you.'” It’s hard for people who think it’s a lovely present to understand that “gift” could mean “poison.”

              1. LQ*

                Yes, sort of is an odd thing.

                I know others enjoy it, I’ve watched them, but it’s like watching aliens. I just don’t get it. That person did something jerky to the other person and now they are both laughing. But…What?

    4. Kate M*

      Exactly. Like, I’m not against pranks 100%, but I do think that if you’re going to pull one, you have to be aware that there might be consequences, and be able to own up to those. If someone laughs it off, great, you succeeded (I guess). But if someone freaks out, you have to know that that is a legitimate possibility. You can’t feign ignorance and say “I had no idea that someone would react like that!” That’s what I don’t get, pranksters never seem to understand that there is more than one reaction they are likely to get, and aren’t prepared for a less than great one.

      I mean, I’ve had a couple of bosses pull “pranks” (if you could call it that) on each other before – they were good friends. While Boss A was out of the office, Boss B put a sign on his door saying “Storage Closet – Please ask receptionist for key.” When Boss A got back, he put a sign on Boss B’s office saying “Dirty clothing sale – socks $2, pants $3” (because Boss B would change clothes in there after biking). These were harmless enough, and they knew each other, and there was no escalation.

      1. Windchime*

        Those, to me, are harmless pranks. I used to work with a woman who came in one weekend and switched up all the pictures on coworkers’ desks. I came in on Monday to pictures of someone’s lovely daughter smiling at me, my boys were on the boss’ desk, and one person even had a framed picture of a family from a magazine ad on their desk. It was fun and harmless.

    5. Charityb*

      I think the idea is that the person will have an extreme reaction at first but then will quickly calm down and find it just as funny as everyone else. I’m sure that this occasionally happens, but in general only for people who like pranks and are comfortable with it. It’s usually a bad idea to introduce it in a workplace setting though; even if everyone directly involved enjoys it, it can be annoying/distracting to the people who have to listen to the reaction.

    6. Mike C.*

      Come on, the whole point of a prank is to have some fun with someone else in a clever and unexpected way. Yes, this prank didn’t end well but the vast majority of pranks are fun for everyone involved.

      1. LQ*

        I think part of the point of the comments is that not everyone enjoys pranks. Just like not everyone enjoys puns. Or not everyone likes knock knock jokes. Or not everyone enjoys potty humor. Different people like different things. It’s just to me a pun takes 3 seconds. Pranks seem to me (as an outsider) to often take hours.

        I’ve never liked a prank I’ve been a part of, I’ve been roped into helping do them (come on don’t be a buzzkill it’ll be fun, everyone will like it, it’ll be clever and unexpected), and didn’t like them. I’ve been the target of them and been annoyed. I just don’t get it.

      2. Kate M*

        Really? The VAST majority of pranks are fun for everyone involved? I mean, maybe if you have a close social circle who enjoys pulling these on each other. But in a workplace? People might not freak out, but I think a much more likely reaction is someone thinking they’re kind of annoying and distracting but just laughing for 2 seconds to move on and not make a big deal. I think they’re usually seen as sort of immature, and people deal with them, but don’t usually have a ton of fun with them except for the prankster.

        Even harmless pranks (like the person above who talked about someone switching photos on people’s desks) – sure, the first time I’ll laugh and be like “oh, you got me, good one.” But if it happened daily or weekly, it would become really annoying. Like “ok, I have to waste time AGAIN and go track down my photos wherever they ended up.”

        When people don’t speak up about it, don’t assume that they’re all just ROFLing with you. They might just not want to rock the boat.

        1. Kate M*

          And that’s not to say I’ve never enjoyed a prank, as long as they’re harmless. But it does kind of seem like the people who get really into pranks don’t really know when to stop. Yes, it’s funny the first time (kind of). The 7th time you startle me/move my stuff, it’s just going to be annoying.

          1. fposte*

            Yeah, this is maybe where I come in, although probably a lot quicker than the 7th time. And as we discuss downthread, I don’t like startlement in general and don’t settle down well after it, so it’s a bad thing for me to worry about its possible occurrence at work–it doesn’t just disrupts me when it happens, it disrupts me when I wonder if it’s going to happen.

      3. neverjaunty*

        Let me guess. You’re that guy who rolls his eyes and says “God, can’t you take a joke? Where’s your sense of humor?” when a prank falls flat.

          1. fposte*

            And plus this is a regular commenter who’s about as far from that attitude as you can get. To the point where I’m intrigued that Mike’s turned out to be a prank fan.

            1. neverjaunty*

              Mike C. has very strong opinions, which is fine (heck, I agree with him most of the time), but I’m really not digging the dismissive attitude and the sweeping defense of pranks either.

              1. fposte*

                But your posts are sweepingly dismissive of pranks–I think that’s being just as black and white in a situation where there’s a pretty clear middle ground.

            2. Kelly L.*

              Yeah, I’m surprised too! I guess Mike is a common name and we might have a new Mike C. in addition to the regular one.

              1. fposte*

                I think that’s regular Mike C.–he’s just a more complex guy than we gave him credit for :-).

                1. Mike C.*

                  I went to a college that had a huge pranking culture, and it was really a nice, positive thing. The rules were quite simple:

                  1. If you wish to exclude yourself from pranks, put your name on a list and you’re not allowed to prank others. You may also place specific items on the list as well. The list was kept by all RAs. This was a smaller school of several hundred.

                  2. Pranks are to be reversible within 24 hours or at the request of the pranked.

                  3. You are to leave contact information with the prank.

                  4. Nothing malicious, hateful or harmful.

                  We also had fun rules such as “no dry ice or acetylene bombs” and “no trebuchets” written directly into the student handbook.

                2. Turtle Candle*

                  (Run out of nesting.)

                  Mike C., this makes me super curious–did you go to Harvey Mudd? Because this list looks REALLY familiar to me. (I didn’t, but a lot of my friends did and I’ve heard many stories of genuinely joyful pranking that made me envious. The opt-out list and the mandate that they all have to be reversible helps with that a lot, I think.)

              2. Mike C.*

                Nope, it’s me. I just appreciate a clever prank in the same way I appreciate cheating in Formula 1. Done right, you can’t help but admire the amount of thought and effort that went into the stunt so long as no one gets hurt.

                The case in the letter though seems like something that shouldn’t have happen.

            3. Mike C.*

              The key to a really good prank is about knowing the person really well, and being able to do something that’s amusing to everyone involved without crossing the time/place/situation/context barrier. That’s admittedly a very difficult thing to do but when performed well, I see it as something that’s almost flattering to the recipient. After all, you (singular or plural) put in all that time to think of something rather clever regarding the other person.

              But again, it has to be within that context, otherwise it’s usually dumb or goes too far. Having a fear of spiders seems like something that would come up in normal conversation enough that the prankster would either know it already and was being a jerk or didn’t know the person well enough to be able to cross that line.

              1. Turtle Candle*

                Yeah, I think the problem is that discussions tend to devolve to the two most extreme positions–“pranks are terrible and nobody should ever ever ever do them” vs. “pranks are great and anybody who doesn’t agree is a killjoy/needs therapy.”

                But I’ve been pranked in ways that I really didn’t appreciate (links that appear harmless but go to jumpscares, which really freak me out) and I’ve been pranked in ways that I found hilarious and was actually sort of touched by (after a couple of coworkers found out about my favorite Dragon Age character, they changed my wallpaper and mousepad and papered the wall next to my desk with pictures, complete with sparkle hearts and silly speech bubbles–it made me laugh, but I was also charmed that they’d remembered something I’d mentioned in passing–or the time a different coworker sent me back an ‘edited’ version of a paper where the paper was entirely replaced with appropriately-chosen doge and cat macros). It’s all in the context. You shouldn’t prank someone who you don’t know well enough to have some idea how it would go over (I have friends who would have been mortified by the Dragon Age desk papering, so it was important that the coworkers in question knew me well enough to know I wouldn’t be), but there is an enormous middle ground.

                1. Mike C.*

                  I was thinking about this last night, and I think the other issue is that for stuff that crosses the line, I tend to consider that bullying or harassment.

      4. Sue Wilson*

        the vast majority of pranks are fun for everyone involved

        Citation needed, tbh. I think this is only true in very limited circumstances (appropriate place, time, culture, with people who will all enjoy it), which might as well make it not true.

        That said, the risk of it not working and encountering one of people’s many annoyances even of people who like pranks (like that picture prank would annoy the crap out of me. I don’t want anyone touching my stuff), means that yes, prankers have to know that they might negatively change their relationship to the prankee, even minutely.

  25. Ad Astra*

    Can we all agree that fear-based pranks are not funny? Let’s all go ahead and avoid scaring people on purpose for our own amusement. There are way better office pranks out there, if that’s your thing.

    1. fposte*

      I think within your pranking circle they can be fine, though. Fear, disgust, and embarrassment are basically the main things pranks have traditionally drawn on–think snakes in a can, fake poo, and whoopie cushions. If you don’t have a phobia and you like pranks, it’s basically the equivalent of a tiny rollercoaster: “Aaugh! Scary! But I’m actually okay so hahahaha.”

  26. K.*

    Recently I had what I thought was a great phone interview for a job I really wanted. Interviewer said she was impressed with me several times in the half-hour conversation, wanted me to come in, all good things. She said she’d call back and schedule an in-person. Never heard from her again, and then got a rejection email from her a few weeks later. It stung.

    1. BRR*

      I had one respond to my thank you note that she hopes to reconnect with me very soon. Unless very soon means more than a month I don’t think I’m going to hear from her now.

    2. Ad Astra*

      I had a similar experience where I was approached on social media by a potential hiring manager, had a great phone interview, and never heard from the hiring manager or anyone else from that company again. I reached out once or twice over the next six weeks or so, but it was nothing but silence on the other end. So weird.

    3. Elizabeth West*

      I hate it when people say stuff they don’t mean. Or mean it only in the moment and then later don’t mean it. Gah, police what you say a little bit. In interviews (and, to bring in the analogy, on first dates), I’ve learned to just take those things with a grain of salt.

  27. Stuart*

    On the subject of pranks: I despise them deeply. As other commenters have said, they involve making someone else look foolish, weak, or stupid by preying on their phobias and fears. They are mean spirited, vicious, and degrading. Worse, anyone who complains about pranks is told to “suck it up” or called a “spoilsport” or “killjoy”.

    In other words, to me pranks have been deemed an “acceptable” form of bullying.

    I despise bullies and bullying, so no – in my world, pranks are *not* acceptable. Anyone who pulled this kind of bullying activity on my watch would be lucky to get away with only a final written warning instead of being summarily fired.

      1. fposte*

        One person’s “unprofessional and time-wasting” is another person’s “team bonding,” though.

        Maybe an accessible corollary would be nicknaming. In some situations, being nicknamed is deeply cruel–middle school kids taking a classmate’s greatest vulnerability and linking it to their name over and over. In others, it’s the highly desired signal of acceptance from people who think highly of you–in some military units or sports teams or even families, for instance (think the whole “you know you’re in trouble if they’re using your name” thing). I think pranking similarly has two faces.

    1. I'm a Little Teapot*

      Summarily fired? Really?

      Allowing your personal pet peeves to dictate your managerial decisions to that degree would be pretty unprofessional. Yes, the spider thing was inappropriate – but summarily fired? Have *you* ever been fired, or unemployed? Or worked in the kind of terrifying environment where one wrong decision would mean being shown the door? Now that would be bullying – to everyone who witnessed the incident and spent the rest of their time at the company thinking “What if I do something that pushes buttons I couldn’t have known the boss had?”

      1. Stuart*

        I have been bullied, subjected to unwanted and unwelcome pranks, been lied about in a disciplinary hearing, and ended up quitting without another job rather than allow them to fire me. Those responsible for the bullying were promoted.

        So, yes, I would look extremely poorly on pranking because I have only ever seen it used in mean spirited, vindictive, and vicious contexts.

        1. I'm a Little Teapot*

          Ugh, that’s awful. I’m sorry that happened to you.

          I’ve worked in a number of environments where I was obviously disposable, and likely to be fired at any time. I’ve tiptoed around (then been fired by) two tyrant bosses who made me cry daily. I’ve been fired in the middle of a winter night in a remote industrial park with no car and no public transit, because I wasn’t fast enough on the assembly line that one night. I’ve been fired with no PIP or warning at the instigation of a sexist slacker coworker who didn’t like me because I actually did work. Living with the constant fear that you won’t have a paycheck tomorrow is hugely stressful, and I’ve had way too much of it. So I’m not OK with “Surprise, you’re fired!” unless the circumstances are egregious (physical violence, really grossly inappropriate comments, stealing, etc.) It doesn’t only affect the person fired – if people keep getting fired on a first offense, the whole atmosphere of the workplace becomes one of fear. (I’m a fan of firing jerks for repeated jerkery, but not of “one strike, you’re out.)

        2. Oh no not again*

          And I’ve seen it used in a positive way with a small group of people where everyone was in on it/cool with it. When someone isn’t cool with it and people keep doing it to them, it’s not pranking, it’s harassment. Your experience definitely was bullying.

    2. Oh no not again*

      Woah, that’s extreme. Not all pranks are bullying. For those who like them (me) it’s crucial to know one’s audience. I wouldn’t dare prank someone who wasn’t on board.

      1. Stuart*

        but that’s part of the problem. Bullies never acknowledge they are bullying, meaning that when it comes to writing staffing policies you have to go with the most restrictive policy. Restrictive policies means that those like you who genuinely enjoy them are punished because of bullies.

        This is less than ideal, but how else can this be dealt with? I hope someone can chime in with how they handle this issue because I have no idea how to do so :/

  28. Guera*

    I tend to believe that we show our true selves in moments of panic or crisis; let me explain- If the words “f-ing b…” were not already a part of the boss’ lexicon I don’t think it would have come out even in this situation..especially from a superior to a direct report. I am wondering why the coworker felt comfortable enough with the boss to pull this prank and then why the boss was so quick to call her a vulgar name in response. There seems to be more going on here and I find both the prank and the response to be indicative of something else that we are not privy to. I know people will argue that we are capable of anything in a moment of panic or terror but I truly believe that it’s precisely in those moments when “from the heart the mouth speaks”.

    1. SaraV*

      You’ve slightly touched a point that I was thinking about. A lot of people have commented that their vocabulary would have turned a bit blue if confronted with their particular phobia. The problem I have is that the boss directed her swearing specifically at the prankster. To me, that’s not okay.

      1. fposte*

        I think it depends. Mid-panic is the rare situation where I wouldn’t really differentiate swearing and swearing at in that first reactive ejaculation. From the chronology the OP lays out, though, it sounds like the boss was together enough to pull together reasonable sentences and *then* swore at the employee; in that case I have less tolerance for it.

        And in both cases, the boss apologizes.

  29. Erin*

    #1 – Yes, she can be fired. Should she be? Probably not.

    Personally, this is why I hate pranks in general – the potential for really embarrassing or hurting someone is too great. As others pointed out, she may have a real phobia. That being said, your manager’s overreaction to this is bizarre. This should be as easy as, she tells your coworker no more office pranks, your coworker obliges, and that’s the end of it. It’s your manager’s call, though.

    #2 – I love this question! For me, to hustle conveys flexibility and the means to switch gears if need be. For example: You’ve been working on Project X for several weeks and you’re really in the groove with this project. Your boss drops Project Y onto your plate and he needs it yesterday, even though you’ve never seen this stuff before and have done no research. You have the ability to mentally and literally switch over to Project Y, or possibly even multitask between the two – whatever you need to do to get the job done.

  30. OP #3*

    Thanks for the answer, Alison!!

    If it’s more professional to put the family connection front-and-center, would it make sense for my husband to include a mention of it in his cover letter? Or stick to the request for an interview?

    Either way, should he phrase it like “I wanted to let you know my sister-in-law works there, in case this is a conflict” or more in a “My SIL works there and I’m really excited to apply” (i.e., not mentioning the whole conflict scenario)?

    1. Apollo Warbucks*

      Mentioning it in the cover letter sounds like the best option to me, as for the phrasing maybe he could say something like

      “I have spoken to SIL about the department / role / culture in the department and she was able to tell me xyz, which really appeals to me because ……”

    2. Erin*

      I think cover letter would be less awkward and more upfront. That way it’ll sound more conversational in the midst of the other cover letter-type things he’s mentioning. Something like what Apollo Warbucks suggested is good.

      Or, building off that, I like to start cover letters with mentioning where I saw the ad: “When I saw the job posting on (website) I recognized myself” or what have you, so maybe he could say, “When I saw the job posting on (website) my interest was peaked – Janice Smith is my sister-in-law, and has spoken highly of the organization many times, including your work with X. Y and Z also appeal to me because…”

      1. Daisy Steiner*

        If you’re using that wording verbatim, though, please spell it ‘piqued’!

        Sorry for nitpicking spelling – I would just hate for someone to have a spelling error in their cover letter.

    3. Daisy Steiner*

      Hi OP, I think I’d go with some more neutral wording. “In case this is a conflict” is a little negative, and “really excited to apply” is a little too enthusiastic, IMHO.

      I’d go with something like: “In the interest of full disclosure, I’d like to alert you that Jane Smith, who currently works in the team, is my sister-in-law.” and leave it at that.

      1. fposte*

        As a hiring manager, I would read that as “I really don’t like Jane so please don’t hold her against me.” Which would make me sideeye the applicant.

        I don’t know what SIL wants, but all I want is to be clear that you have a relative working here. I think the “my sister-in-law says it’s good here” approach gets that across just fine without being spiky.

        1. Daisy Steiner*

          My problem with “my sister-in-law says it’s good here” is that to me it could sound like name-dropping in the hopes of more favourable treatment. I wouldn’t want the hiring manager to think I was angling for that.

          1. fposte*

            Does “favourable” mean you’re not USAn? I think in America this wouldn’t rise to the standard of a brag, but it might in some places that are, shall we say, better at modesty :-).

            1. Daisy Steiner*

              Oh, yes – I’m not from the US. Is ‘favourable’ not a word used there?

              Ah, I think I see what you mean. Perhaps I’m reading it as a name-drop because my cultural context is more modest. Conversely, what you are reading in my wording as spiky, to my eyes reads as completely emotion-neutral.

              1. fposte*

                It’s not the word, it’s the [extra :-)] u in its spelling–in the US we would write it “favorable.”

                And yes, this is definitely one where cultural nuance would be important–I think US cover letters (and culture in general) puts an unusually large premium on enthusiasm, for instance, so saying that you knew somebody there who liked the place would be absolutely norman.

    4. overeducated and underemployed*

      If he hasn’t applied yet, check the actual application! In my experience, it is common for university and government apps to ask every candidate to disclose family employed by the university as a matter of course. Then it may not be necessary to mention in the letter, but if he does, I’d go with “excited.”

    5. Chriama*

      I don’t think he should mention it at all, unless he’s talking about something she said that made him want to apply to the company or something. The SIL is the one who works there, so she should give the boss a head’s up – hey, my BIL is applying for this position. I haven’t worked with him but I wanted to let you know in case that would be a conflict of interest.

  31. SynapticFibrillation*

    When I was a medic in the military I had a patient come after one of the guys in her section pranked her with a rubber snake after finding out she had a phobia.

    It was a serious trigger for her, opening old wounds. She required hospitalization and on going therapy.

    Before that I always thought such things were harmless.

    The guy who pranked her had malicious intent (and was stupid enough to tell people). He was charged under the code of service discipline. I was a witness at his court martial.

  32. Episkey*

    #1 — Guess I’m in the minority here. It’s Halloween time. The employee probably had a fake spider as it’s a common decoration. She wasn’t thinking; I’m sure she didn’t intend to be malicious.

    I have a huge fear of roaches; if someone put a fake roach on me, I might startle, I wouldn’t call them a bitch. I’ve noticed, though, that people who frequent this site seem to have a very low tolerance for these kinds of things (in addition to: smells, people chewing, people eating, noises of any kind, people talking to them at work…).

    1. Not me*

      I think we’re all just assuming that the spider-ee actually has a legitimate phobia, and is not a jerk who pitches a fit over being slightly startled.

      Which might be too optimistic, but oh well.

      I’ve also noticed that we have a lot of people who are bothered by smells or noises, but I’m guessing that the majority who don’t care about those things don’t have much to say about them (my thoughts on smells: fish is gross, don’t microwave popcorn if you aren’t going to share, the end). It kind of follows that threads on smells or noises are going to be filled with people who care about that. Maybe.

      I drank too much coffee today and I’m overthinking this.

      1. Bekx*

        I think you’re right! Smells, noises, nail clipping at your desk….that stuff doesn’t bother me. I have seen a lot of comments saying it’s their nails on the chalkboard sound though!

      2. Natalie*

        Oh, that’s an interesting possibility I hadn’t thought of – maybe the problem here is actually the boss. It explains their behavior after the prank better than “they’re still afraid”, IMO.

        There is a pretty strong anti-prank contingent here, IME, which may be coloring some of the responses. Personally I’m kind of prank-neutral, so this seems more like an “everyone kind of messed up here” situation.

      3. Bagworm*

        I think you are spot on about the people who comment about smells and noises are the ones who are bothered. I’m really not bothered by much and I really rarely say anything in those conversations because I don’t feel like I have anything to add. I don’t mind hearing about others’ pet peeves though because I’m glad to accommodate possible preferences in my office if I hear about them somewhere (especially those that would never occur to me). I also think we don’t have a lot of people who are overly sensitive here. I just think it’s a safe space where it’s accepted that people can voice their personal aggravations and I think most people are bothered by one or two of the things that come up and not all of them.

        1. Turtle Candle*

          I also think that there’s a cumulative effect with smells/sounds/etc. Like, a reasonable number of people have one or two things they have a strong, possibly-irrational aversion to (a particular smell or sound, etc.), but given that an office contains a finite number of people, it’s usually straightforward to say, “Hey, I have a weird think about the sound of someone rustling a bag of chips, could you pour your chips into a bowl before you start?” Or, “Hey, sorry, but that perfume sets off my migraines, would you mind not wearing it around me?”

          But if you’re talking to hundreds of semi-anonymous people, a lot of whom have completely different idiosyncratic reactions, it can seem like everything but bathing in the purest unscented spring water, sitting completely still, and consuming nothing but air is obnoxious. Not because any one or two people hate all smells, noises, gestures, etc., but because there are just so many people chiming in that the list becomes untenable.

          1. I'm a Little Teapot*

            Yes. And it’s reasonable to ask your coworkers not to do/eat/wear one specific thing, but not to expect that they’ll anticipate your aversion, allergy, or other problem without being told and to get nasty with them the first time they microwave fish.

        1. Log Lady*

          I mean, never mind cracking-eating-bitch status. People-eating-bitches are what we deal with down here in the basement.

    2. LBK*

      Yeah, I also assumed it was already in the office for Halloween decorations and that it wasn’t brought in for the express purpose of freaking out the manager – I wonder if people who are seeing this as more serious or mean-spirited are assuming a different context. If this was a planned out prank, then I’d lean more towards that side, but as it stands I see it the way you do: that this was probably a spur of the moment joke based on something that was already in the office and wasn’t meant to be as cruel or mocking as others are reading it.

    3. BuildMeUp*

      I agree! Judging by the description (everyone in the office being shocked, etc.), I doubt anyone was aware the boss had a serious phobia. It wasn’t a good idea, but the boss’s reaction seems excessive for the situation.

    4. Raine*

      Nah. It’s so inappropriate I’m guessing 99.9 percent of employees generally would never even think to toss a fake spider on their boss in the office during regular work hours three weeks before Halloween.

      1. BuildMeUp*

        Based on my personal experience, I think 99.9% is a little too high! This is someone putting a Halloween toy on someone’s shoulder, probably expecting them to startle and laugh it off. I think there are plenty of offices where a joke like that might happen.

        I don’t think it was the best idea, but I don’t think a lot of people, especially if this was fairly spur of the moment, would expect their boss to yell and swear at them over something like this.

          1. fposte*

            Which I would bet you money has happened before and will happen again in any workplace with Halloween decorations, so I’m with BuildMeUp in thinking this wasn’t unique planetary event.

            1. neverjaunty*

              I’m sure it’s common. “Might happen” makes it sound like it’s just a thing that occurs, like rain, with no human agency. I mean people stealing all the shared Halloween candy happens a lot in offices too, but it’s still a jerk move.

              1. fposte*

                I really don’t think that’s an inherent meaning to that phrase, though. I think you feel very strongly about this and it’s coloring your reading.

              2. BuildMeUp*

                Wow, okay, that’s not at all what I meant, and this is verging on nit-picking for me. I was referring to a general office culture in which a joke like this would be taken more lightly, not discussing the judgment or decisions of a specific person.

                1. fposte*

                  Or non-office workplaces–somebody mentioned restaurants above, and I suspect retail could be a fertile ground for such pranks when you’re buried under holiday decor.

                2. BuildMeUp*

                  Nesting limit reached! But yeah, fposte, retail or restaurants for sure! And honestly, I worked at a bank where we were all fairly casual with one another outside of customer earshot, and I could imagine someone playing a joke like this there.

    5. Ham Sandwich*

      I agree with you. A coworker pranked me once with a fake roach and I was startled at first, but immediately laughed it off. And I really hate roaches. I guess the relationship between people is important as well as the general environment/culture of the office where it happens.

    6. BananaPants*

      I’m pretty much there, too. Maybe the boss had a panic attack – or maybe she’s just a jerk who overreacted – we don’t have that context. Because of the shocked reactions of other employees, it actually sounded to me like this might be a more casual/informal workplace where this kind of little thing is considered no big deal. Barring information to the contrary, it may be childish and not well thought-out but I don’t think the employee who did this was necessarily doing this to be cruel or elicit a strong emotional response.

      I wouldn’t put a fake spider on my boss’ shoulder (I would avoid any kind of prank involving touching someone) but I could see thinking it would be fun to leave a fake spider on his computer keyboard or something. Then again, back in college a group of dormmates and I decided to wall over our RA’s room door over a long weekend to make it look like the room wasn’t even there anymore…

  33. Dr. Pepper Addict*

    #2 – I come from the sports world and even as a little kid they would scream “Hustle!” when they wanted you to run as fast as you could. I always interpreted the word “hustle” to mean, go as fasts as you can and do your best. In the work world I’ve always thought it meant go as hard as you can and not let up and get as much done as you can.

  34. L Veen*

    There’s a group within my organization where pranking is very common and popular. I often hear the prankers talking about how “oh we played the best trick on Jim last week!” and I just don’t get the appeal. For example, one employee from the group had to take sick leave because he got a concussion, and the others wrapped everything in his cubicle in bubble wrap during that time. It wasn’t a mean-spirited prank, but at best you’re causing your colleague a significant inconvenience (he had to unwrap everything upon his return) while also wasting a hell of a lot of time that you should have spent on work. It seems so childish and unnecessary to me.

    1. Elizabeth West*

      See, I’d think that was funny, but I doubt I would do it to someone who had been sick. Their first day back, they’re probably going to be a little tired. Someone who just got back from holiday, well that’s a little different. And I’d help them clean up, after enjoying their reaction. Mind you, only if this were someone I knew would find it funny.

    2. Not the Droid You are Looking For*

      We once wrapped my coworker’s cube and items in bubble wrap because she absolutely loved the stuff.

      However, after about an hour of “pop” “pop” “pop” we realized the prank had backfired.

      1. fposte*

        Ha. If I’d been your co-worker, I’d have persevered after I was tired of it, too, for that very reason.

        1. Not the Droid You are Looking for*

          Knowing her love of bubble wrap I think it is actually impossible for her to get tired of it.

          I was unpacking a box and out of habit handed her the bubble warp, her face light up like I had handed her a check for a million dollars.

          (But I think this just goes to everyone’s point that you really need to know your audience)

  35. LSP*


    Two things. 1.) while it’s nice that there’s a lot of “well that would never fly in my workplace!” going on, none of us know what the company’s environment is like (unless OP has clarified that as I write this). OP might work at the Nerf gun battle place for all we know. From the letter though, I can imagine that OPs workplace is probably pretty normal i.e. This place don’t prank. I think we can all say the prankster learned their lesson and will probably never prank another person in their life again. Poor chap.

    2.) interesting at-will question. So while legally this person can be fired, when has an employer ever really used this for something so dumb? My at-will employer has yet to fire anyone for their beyond low performance or anything else related to things people would actually get fired for.

    1. fposte*

      At-will doesn’t have to be used, though, it just is. All the boss has to say is “I can’t work with you now.” I work in a contract environment so I don’t encounter many firings directly, but people report here all the time about getting fired for less egregious stuff than freaking their boss out completely.

    2. F.*

      Although pranking is not tolerated where I work, it would not result in employment termination unless a) the prankster had been warned and continued to prank or, more importantly, b) the prank involved a serious safety infraction of the type that would be a terminating offense whether it was a prank or not. In the construction industry, we don’t mess around with safety.

    3. LQ*

      I guess I’d assumed the OPs environment was a prank lite or more likely totally prank free environment. Both because they didn’t say anything about pranks being common, and because of the way they handled the curse words.

      Some employers really do fire employees for anything. From I don’t like your haircut, to you didn’t go out with my child.

      I think places with HR departments are generally less likely to have the super willynilly firings though. This could also totally be a final straw kind of thing. If the person had been less than professional and talked to about it previously, or if the supervisor just wanted them out for whatever reason. This could be the last thing that gets the employer to firing.

    1. Kyrielle*

      Probably not, nope. But a prank that triggered someone’s phobia is going to draw extra commentary from those who do, almost inevitably. :)

    2. neverjaunty*

      Lots of people on the Internet don’t have panic attacks. Unfortunately, of those, there are far too many who think git’s okay to sneer at people who do.

      1. LBK*

        Oh come on, I didn’t read sneering in that comment at all – it’s just a note of surprise at the disproportionately large contingent of people in the comments that apparently experience panic-level phobias, which are ostensibly pretty rare. I really think your extreme distaste for pranks is causing you to have the worst possible reading of every comment that you disagree with today.

    3. Tara R.*

      Maybe in your experience so far. But lots of people without phobias or anxiety disorders do have panic attacks at some point in their life– when you learn a loved one has died, when you have a near-death experience, if you ever experience a major trauma. It’s completely unsurprising that a large number of people have had panic attacks, and I can’t tell if this comment is meant to be curious or rude, but trust me that they are incredibly sh*tty and you should be glad that you can learn about them by hearing from others rather than experiencing it yourself.

    4. Ad Astra*

      The proportion of people on the Internet who have panic attacks is probably similar to the proportion of people in real life who have panic attacks. They just feel more comfortable talking about it on the Internet. And, for people whose anxiety is severe enough to really limit their social lives, I would imagine the Internet helps them stave off isolation.

  36. Tomato Frog*

    If everyone in the world could work to replace the word “bitch” in their vocabulary with “asshole”, I would be so happy.

      1. Brisvegan*

        Even though I said above that I might use the same term as the boss if shocked, I agree wholeheartedly and am trying to wipe bitch out of my lexicon.

  37. Drea*

    1) My problem with pranks is that I don’t find them funny, and even in places where the pranks are for an opt in group, that has never really precluded people who don’t like them still getting caught in the crossfire. I once went to grab a folder off a coworker’s desk (at their request) and moved it to find a pile of fake cockroaches.

    I’d just recently moved out of a horrible building with a bad cockroach infestation. Think seeing dozens of them skitter down the drain when I turned on the bathroom light in the morning and waking up with them on the bed. I screamed, burst into tears, and suddenly had to explain to the whole office why I was upset. The prank wasn’t directed at me and wasn’t intended for me, but it didn’t happen in vacuum and I still got smacked by it.

    1. BeenThereDoneThatUgh*

      You have my sympathy. Roach infestations are the ninth circle of hell. Hope your coworkers reacted appropriately and not dismissively when you explained why you were upset.

    2. Bagworm*

      So sorry that happened to you. I am often a fan of (certain kinds of) pranks (but don’t usually know my co-workers well enough to introduce them in the work place) and would hate to think I would unintentionally cause someone that kind of distress. Definitely making sure I think through anyone who might encounter any future pranks.

  38. Robbie*

    #4 – I work in HigherEd and I had interviewed for a job across country that I didn’t get. 2 months later they called me and asked me to reapply because they had another opening and I was their obvious next choice. Well I did the interview, flew across country to do an identical interview – complete with a second tour of campus. I guess there was a new candidate in the process who wowed them – cause I didn’t get it. So you may not be the only person they would consider for the opportunity.

  39. Student*

    #3: Many universities (and some private companies) have rules regarding nepotism. At my alma mater, if two employees were related, there needed to be two levels of separation in their management. So, if your sister worked for Bob, your husband can’t also work for Bob. Your husband would have to work for Fred. Fred and Bob can both report to the same guy Stan, but Fred can’t report to Bob.

    If it’s a small department, they might not be able to restructure themselves to provide the University’s required levels of management separation. It’s very common to have rules like this at universities, because so many of the staff have children who attend the university and then want to get their kids hired by their department. It’s also an issue for spousal hiring, which is more of a “thing” at universities than it is at most employers

  40. voyager1*

    Manager was way out of line for the cussing and sulking. Yes the email was CYA. And I am not buying the panic attack defense either.
    The manager just lost her cool, and hopefully she will apologize.

  41. JD*

    for #2, I have generally seen hustle used in sports, like coaches yelling “Hustle up!”. It has crossed into business though and I’ve usually seen it as meaning work faster and harder(so they want more speed and better quality, which you can usually do by skipping or shortening 1 or 2 breaks). Beyond that though, they are starting to abuse you. However, I have also seen managers use words like that because their actual meaning in businesses is still nebulous, so they could use that to fire you down the road as it is a stated requirement and they could simply choose to use one definition of it that you don’t meet.

    I’ve even seen managers redefine common words such as teamwork. One manager redefined it so that it no longer meant working together and helping co-workers out, it now meant that you were solving a co-workers problems before the co-worker even knew that they had an issue coming up(in other words predicting the future and doing work that we aren’t trained as opposed to helping the people that are trained to do the work), just so that he would have something to write up on one of the guys(wasn’t told about the new definition until the formal warning)

  42. Vicki*

    #5 :”The sign of a successful phone interview is that you get offered another interview. Seriously, that’s it.”

    I had a phone interviews that seem to go great – good conversation, frequent positive comments from the interviewing manager about my resume and background – up until the last sentence, when the manager said “Well, I don’t think you meet our qualifications but thanks for your time” and hung up.

  43. Egemini*

    Hi All,

    I wanted to write an update in regards to the prank my boss question.

    After the incident occured, the manager spoke to HR directly, but no actions were taken against my co-worker. The manager cooled down and talked to my coworker as if it did not happen. My coworker was a little upset the manager chose not to address the issue with her because she felt emberressed the manager called her the name in front of the office. My coworker felt they both should have apologized to one another.

    Currently, said coworker has chosen to leave the company to pursue a new job and the manager has found a replacement.

    I appreciate everyone’s comments. It really helped me to see different insights for the manager’s reaction.

Comments are closed.