office pranks shouldn’t end with the ER, vomit, or tears

I’m convinced that there are two types of people in most workplaces: those who find office pranks hilarious and those who think pranks have no place at work, ever.

I say this because I receive a surprising number of letters about pranks at work, and they inevitably provoke a flood of outraged responses from anti-prank readers, followed by a wave of replies insisting those people are killjoys who don’t understand fun.

At Slate today, I wrote about the good and bad of office pranks (including some that ended as the headline says — with the ER, vomit, or tears), and what determines how a prank at work will land. You can read it here.

{ 463 comments… read them below }

    1. Eda*

      Yes of course, because at work we must always be Stoic and Serious People of Business.

      Abandon all fun, ye who enter here.

      1. Joy To The World But Not To You*

        Because as we all know, the only two modes of operating are PRANKSTER and SERIOUS AND STOIC PEOPLE OF BUSINESS and there is absolutely no middle ground whatsoever.

        This is why I find pranksters so damnably annoying, btw. The insufferable arrogant insistence that if you don’t enjoy pranks, you are entirely humourless and without joy. It’s such a middle school mindset.

        1. Works in IT*

          Yeah, pranks… they might be funny to the person performing the prank, but they are not funny for the person who is being pranked. “Pranking” feels too much like a workplace version of “bullying”. Guys would dare each other to ask me out when I was in high school. I’m certain they thought it was hilarious, ooo, if she says yes you’re going to have to go on a date with HER, but to me it was just irritating because the giggling peanut gallery ten feet away made it obvious they were doing it to mock me. That wasn’t funny. It made me feel horrible.

          1. Magenta Sky*

            If it’s only funny when it’d done to someone else, it isn’t funny. And you’re a sadist.

              1. Wintermute*

                a good prank leaves the victim laughing at you, a bad prank leaves you laughing at the victim

              2. xms967*

                That’s how we’re teaching the kiddo: it’s only fun if everyone involved is having fun.

          2. annakarina1*

            I got that too in junior high, the joke pretending to ask me out and quickly saying “Pysch!” or “Just kidding!” This backfired on the guys when it got to senior year of high school, because some started to like me and playfully tease me, but I assumed they were being mean to me again and either ignored them or was annoyed by it. I just found it all really childish and obnoxious.

          3. Eda*

            I got that exact same type of bullying as a kid and I enjoy being pranked as an adult. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

            To me they say totally different things. High school bullies are deliberately trying to make you feel bad about yourself and tell you that you don’t belong. Done right, a prank among friends or coworkers are harmless jokes that create a sense of camaraderie.

            1. Fiddlesticks*

              Because there’s no other way to build a sense of camaraderie, like buying someone a coffee or saying “Well done!” about a project, right? You know, like….doing something nice for someone??

              As far as I’m concerned, pranks can stay in the schoolyard where they belong. And I do improv comedy for a hobby, so let the comments about my Humorless and Puritan Personality begin!

              1. Bouncy Shiny*

                I think a prank doesn’t need to be a big thing, or a mean one.
                I like to think I spread low-key whimsy in the workplace.
                My manager is from Scotland, and I once anonymously put a can of Irn Bru on his desk, and laid low for the rest of the day while he went around the office looking for who to thank.

                No one was hurt. Everyone was happy. Low-key whimsy.

                1. Kit*

                  I’m with you on the low key whimsy – I once purchased a bunch of cute holiday decorations – little stuffed toys intended for trees. They were all non-denominational, polar bears and penguins and foxes, etc, in winter gear or looking old timey cute. I brought about 20-25 to our mine site and sneakily left them onto office door handles one or two at a go in late November over a couple weeks.

                  No one knew it was me except my direct boss (I told him in January), and people STILL have their little toys hanging around their offices to this day – it’s been 4-5 years. One of the other managers found out almost a year later when he casually mentioned it to my boss and was let in on the “joke”.

            2. Alexander Graham Yell*

              Exactly! But the emphasis has to be on harmless – but really, it’s a know your audience type thing. If you don’t know them well enough to pinpoint exactly what about the prank will make them laugh, you don’t know them well enough to prank them.

              Like, when I turned my coworker’s office into a tiki lounge, I knew he would love it – because he had already joked we should turn an empty office into one and always talked about how he wished he could just be at the beach all the time. I checked the calendar to make sure nobody was visiting the office, stayed late one night, and decorated. I wouldn’t have done that to anybody else in the office because there was a chance they wouldn’t like it, but I knew he would absolutely love it and being able to hear him laugh from all the way across the office was 100% worth it.

              1. A. Lovelace*

                I think this is great, and is in line with something I am planning. There is a big work meeting with two very senior people which is planned for a couple days after a big project is finished. If the project goes well, my coworker and I plan to show up to the big meeting with costumes appropriate for a tiki lounge (I did this with completely different coworkers at another meeting, and it included Hawaiian shirts and martini glasses with juice). After a lot of work on this project, it seems like a funny way to celebrate if we can laugh at ourselves.

                I have a friend who has an ongoing ‘battle’ with another coworker over sparkly items (a bit of glue and sparkles on a stapler, or computer monitor, for example). They both enjoy sparkly things, and the creativity involved brings them both joy.

              2. CommanderBanana*

                I “pranked” a coworker by using their favorite candy bars to spell out “Hi NAME!” when they were gone on a trip. Another time we pranked someone by putting a silly inflatable deer with sunglasses and a newspaper in their chair while they were on vacation. I feel like this is about the level of pranking that’s okay – gentle, harmless, and no risk of bodily harm or mess.

                1. Seven hobbits are highly effective, people*

                  Yeah, we had an “office troll” for a while – a creepy little troll doll that would get hidden in various places throughout the office as a prank/surprise. If you found it, you got to hide it next. That’s about the level of “office prank” I’m willing to deal with.

                  There’s also a mild tendency to buy tacky desk decorations (stuffed animals or trade show giveaways) for people and sneak them onto their desks while they’re away.

                2. Nic*

                  Agreed. I’m not fond of a lot of pranks that people play as they’re often very aggressive (or passive-aggressive). But that doesn’t mean it’s necessary to ban all pranks all the time – it’s a fundamental matter of recognising where your work boundaries are and when/why a prank might not be appropriate.

                  I think I’ve mentioned this before, but 15-20 years ago my dad’s boss had a habit of using the phrase “When pigs fly!”, and one day I came across my dad sat at his computer laughing because he’d just found a motorised mobile of a pig with wings, which flapped itself in a circle (something like this one). So he bought it, waited for everyone to go to lunch, fitted it on the office ceiling, and turned it on just before lunch hour was over. The office inhabitants came back to find a pig flying over their boss’s chair, just as he’d always predicted!

                  Result: no risk of harm, no mess, no targeting of insecurities/phobias, no punching down, just a gentle joke about a pet phrase that everybody – including the boss – related to.

              3. TardyTardis*

                One harmless prank is labeling the restrooms Salty Wenches and Scurvy Dogs for Talk Like A Pirate Day (assuming a workplace with gendered restrooms). And then taking them down the next day. Is this so hard? Ok, putting a black coffin or a walker in the cubicle of someone turning a Certain Elderly Age is kind of edgier, but still, nobody gets hurt (assuming safety precautions are taken with the coffin, especially).

                Trying to fool someone into believing they’re being arrested? Um, nope.

                1. Allonge*

                  I know this is way too late as a response but a coffin in my office would not be seen as a prank, no matter how old I am. It’s way beyond edgy. I would be puzzled, disgusted, creeped out, not at all on the fun! side.

                  Which just proves the point that you really really need to know your audience.

        2. Jadelyn*

          This. I’m not big on pranks – I have social anxiety and my ADHD came with a big old side order of RSD that tends to make me extraordinarily hair-trigger in response to feeling like I look foolish in front of others. I can *tolerate* pranks, IF they’re done by someone I trust, in a place where I feel safe and comfortable already. Otherwise, it’s going to set off an awful spiral of shame and self-loathing that can leave me withdrawn and struggling to cope with the world for DAYS.

          Which isn’t the pranker’s fault, necessarily – since even well-meant pranks can set me off, and that’s a me problem – but it means I dislike pranks as a method of fun-having, and I deeply resent being told that it’s just that I “hate fun” or “have no sense of humor”. Like that’s the only possible reason to not enjoy pranks.

          1. Funny In Other Ways*

            I pretty much could have written your reply, because I deal with the same issues. If I were the victim of a prank at work, it’s likely I’d cry or vomit. I’m not comfortable at all with anyone pulling a prank on me, though. My personal opinion is that pranks have no place at work. BUT! I know that everyone doesn’t feel that way, so as long as they leave me out of pranks completely, I can deal with it. I just ignore it or try to stay away, because I feel secondhand embarrassment in those situations, which can be challenging to process. Honestly, I feel like there’s not a casual way to inform your coworkers that you’d like to be left out of pranks entirely.

            1. Works in IT*

              Same, same!

              I have been the punchline of too many “jokes”. The idea of a so called friend deliberately humiliating me and expecting me to laugh…. no. That is not a friend.

          2. Anita Brayke*

            +57, 869! I have anxiety, depression and PTSD as a lovely parting gift from my *awesome* childhood. At the office I now work in, the pranks here are just crazy…taping the handle to the sink’s water sprayer to the “on” position and shutting off the water at the faucet so someone ends up with a soaking wet shirt (at least) and the breakroom walls are running with water, or by hiding and literally screaming at the top of their lungs in a bloodcurdling way. I’m looking for another job, because that, on top of the impostor syndrome that was factory-installed in my brain and my daily sense of not being good enough, is enough to make me nauseated literally every day I’m here. And I get told all the time I’m a funny person, and I am! I love joking! But pranks need to be not PTSD-inducing to be fun!

            1. Sarah M*

              Yeah, the water “prank” is *not* funny at all. As Alison and some commenters above have said, the key is “harmless”. I think the Irn Bru can and the plastic troll on the desk examples fall neatly into that category. Sabotaging the sink handle so that someone gets soaked in their work outfit is totally the opposite of that – it’s purely mean-spirited, and serves no purpose other than shaming some unlucky person unecessarily. I don’t blame you for hating “pranks” like that. They’re sadistic.

          3. Spencer Hastings*

            So, I don’t have as good a reason not to like pranks — I just don’t like most of them — but this made me realize something about why. I’ve never been in a pranky workplace, but if I were, I think I’d mind it less if there were some neutral thing that was done to everyone (wrapping your phone in bubble wrap on your birthday?). The idea of coworkers devising some special thing to prank me based on who I am as a person, though, would sort of freak me out. That seems really vulnerable, the kind of thing I could maybe tolerate coming from close friends that I loved and trusted, but not in a professional environment.

            In my current field and location, I don’t interact with “My People” very often: I’m significantly more left-wing than average; I’m a queer atheist of Jewish descent and I honestly have no idea how most people feel about any of that; and if people’s hobbies and pop culture tastes ever come up, I usually find that they’re diametrically opposed to mine. Here there be no geeks.

            But if I had pranky coworkers and I was the only one not a part of it — i.e., “don’t prank Spencer, she’s too sensitive/too square/too religious” — then that would make me feel even more othered. So in a workplace like that, I’d be miserable either way.

            ANYWAY, all of this long-winded rambling is to say that how OK people are with being pranked by their coworkers may depend a lot on how much their preferences, characteristics, and sensibilities align with the average in their workplace. And if the answer to that is “a lot”, then those people are lucky, and we should keep in mind that not everyone is so lucky.

            1. Clisby*

              Wrapping your phone in bubble wrap for your birthday? What kind of idiot would think that’s fun? Now the recipient has to get the bubble wrap off the phone. HAHAHA.

              How about before anybody actually does crap like this, they seriously think to themselves: “Am I more than 5 years old?” And if the answer is “Yes” then the prank is “No.”

              1. Spencer Hastings*

                Wrapping your phone in bubble wrap for your birthday

                Haha, that was an off-the-cuff amalgamation/parody of the sort of things that come up on these threads :D

              2. Not So NewReader*

                I guess I am The Humorless One because I’d look at the wrapped phone and say, “What? This? Don’t I work hard enough? Now I have to clean up avoidable messes?” To me it would just be One More Thing on my Endless List of Things to Do. And I am not happy.

                I have had people take my personal stuff and think it was hysterically funny. No amount of talking with them would change their minds. So I just landed on, “The next time my stuff is missing, I will be going to HR. I don’t take your stuff because I don’t expect my stuff to be taken.”

                I do think that people in general tend to show us how they expect us to treat them. People who don’t get involved in pranks probably don’t want pranks pulled on them either.

            2. Spencer Hastings*

              The significance of the “phone wrapped in bubble wrap” is not the literal phone in bubble wrap. That certainly would be annoying! It was just a random example of a neutral prank that we could imagine being played identically on everyone. The alternative is that Alice gets a specifically targeted prank based on her “Alice-ness”, Bob is pranked based on his “Bob-ness”, and so on.

              What I’m getting at is something like the concept of being “seen”. You can feel “seen” in a good way (understood, “this person really gets me”) or in a bad way (“fuckor”, My hypothesis is that the more Alice is perceived as an outsider (by herself and/or the community), the more the “Specific Prank for Alice” will instantiate the bad version.

            3. klew*

              Years ago I came back to work after a week long vacation to find everything cleared from my desk. One of my co-workers said that I had been moved to the back of the office where I found a table with all of my things in a box. I was not amused. Especially since I was fairly new, easily embarrassed and my stash of tampons were on the very top of all the stuff in the box.

      2. Schuyler Seestra*

        I don’t know if you knew this, but it’s possible to have fun without pranking your coworkers! Unbelievable isn’t it? You can have good times without resorting to trickery and deceit!

        1. Lance*

          And some people enjoy pranks (as long as they’re harmless; if not, they get no pass). I don’t think it’s fair to just paint with such a wide brush, on either side.

          1. Schuyler Seestra*

            I don’t see how I’m painting with a wide brush. Please explain? I pointed out that it’s possible to have fun and work without resorting to pranks.

            1. Lance*

              It’s the underlying suggestion that every one of them is bad, and everyone pulling them is a bad person. Yes, in a lot of cases, the prank is bad; I’m not gonna deny that (thus my earlier caveat of ‘as long as they’re harmless’; which, yes, is hard to entirely know for sure, but as many others have said, it’s a ‘know your audience’ thing). But there’re still plenty of good-natured pranks that cause no harm, nor are they meant to.

              I’m not saying anyone has to enjoy them, by any means; just that there are plenty that do.

              1. JB (not in Houston)*

                I think maybe you should be responding to Sarah, the person who said there should be no pranks at the office. Schuyler Seestra was just responding to Eda, who made the commment suggesting that if you don’t like pranks at the office it’s because you think the office should never be fun.

                This is kind of going off on a derail, but I think you both agree that pranks can be ok in the right context, and I’m sure you agree with Schuyler Seestra that you can have fun at work even with a no-pranks policy.

                1. Not So NewReader*

                  No pranks equals No Fun?

                  There are many ways to have fun at work, not just pranks. So I think that’s a huge leap in logic. People who pull pranks DO have creative minds so perhaps they can think of non-prank things that are fun.

          2. klew*

            But how do you know who enjoys pranks and who doesn’t? Is here an office wide poll? Do you find out when someone responds negatively when they are pranked?

      3. MOAS*

        You’re a butthurt if you like spending time with your cowrokers. (/s)

        But really… pranks are a KNOW YOUR AUDIENCE thing. What I find funny may nto be appropriate for someone else. You really have to know the person well to do this.

        I hate roaches. If someone left rubber roaches on my desk–NOT funny.

        I like kitties. If someone covered my desk in stuffed kittens, I would find that funny. Someone tosses my stuffed pusheen around, I don’t bat an eye.

        Someone in my office went on vacation, and his office friends gift wrapped his desk. During tax season, I was buying kinder egg surprises, assembling the little toys that are included with it and left them all over his table. He found out after a few months and we had a good laugh. Someone else made a booklet of their friend’s face that says “[Alexander] puts the A in Asshole.” Alexander passes it out proudly to people.

        Know the person.

        1. Works in IT*

          How is covering your desk in stuffed kittens a prank though? Pranks are inherently made to either get someone’s hopes up and then crush them, or to scare/embarrass someone. Laughing at their disappointment/other negative emotion is the point of a prank!

          1. MOAS*

            I can’t tell if your comment is sarcasm, but there’s no negative emotions surrounding kittens. Nor were there negative emotions about the incidents I mentioned above.

          2. Flower*

            That’s never been how I understood a prank… to inconvenience them, sure, but they’re supposed to share in the amusement about being inconvenienced – you aren’t laughing about crushing their hopes or anything.

            For a couple summers camp counselors I worked with collected the different caps from milk bottle (skim or 2%) for a prank war, pranking the other “team” in increasingly creative ways with the caps of the milk the prankee disliked – stringing them up throughout their cabin, putting a canoe full of them in their bed, etc. They went back and forth.

            1. Works in IT*

              I’m sorry, I don’t see how taking time out of my incredibly busy day to clean glitter off my desk is funny. I don’t get paid overtime. I’m only authorized to work a limited number of hours a week and once that’s done I have to go home, and if things are left undone I could be let go. Expecting me to waste that time picking up because someone decided to prank me is cruel. Oh, haha, very funny, she’s fending off a panic attack because she knows she can’t afford to lose the precious half hour she’s spending cleaning up after us! She’s going to get fired! So fun! Hourly coworkers are great!

              Treating your coworkers like their job is less valuable than your entertainment is wrong. Or their ability to do their job without being terrified is less important than your entertainment.

              1. Can't Think of a Name*

                Speaking as another hourly worker, it sounds like the issue is more that your org doesn’t authorize overtime!

                What I think MOAS, and other prank-friendly people, are trying to say is that not all pranks are inherently bad. Many are, but a GOOD prank shouldn’t cause the recipient undue harm/distress. What makes a prank good is both context/environment, and the prank itself.

              2. MOAS*

                Oh wow. I’m sorry you have panic attacks, but pranks are not meant to humiliate or hurt anyone. Whoever does so, is doing it very very wrong. I think I made it clear in my above post that it really is a judgment call and many commentors aside from myself have said that knowing the person and having good judgment are very crucial to a good prank. I just don’t think blanket rules should apply.

              3. Not So NewReader*

                Yeah, this is how I have seen a lot of pranks go, the person is behind and cleaning up the mess puts them even further behind. Yep, it’s really funny being fired. (not)

            2. Lobsterp0t*

              Honestly, I don’t think that person is saying that’s what they find funny. I think they might be indicating that’s the only way they’ve ever experienced pranks. It’s also why I hate them. I’ve never had a prank pulled on me that I was laughing along with. I have a great sense of humour. I love jokes and games. I’m really playful! But pranks? I have only experienced them as part of bullying.

          3. Boop*

            “Pranks are inherently made to either get someone’s hopes up and then crush them, or to scare/embarrass someone. Laughing at their disappointment/other negative emotion is the point of a prank!”

            Aaaaannnnd that is exactly why I dislike most pranks. I would totally find a desk full of stuffed kittens entertaining (if annoying) because it is harmless, good-natured, and doesn’t involve embarrassing or scaring anyone. But laughing at someone else’s embarrassment or disappointment is just cruel.

            1. Ellen*

              There have been moments when a desk full of stuffed kittens would have ended my day. Like when I had to move and leave my three deeply loved cats at an animal shelter for the safety and wellbeing of my daughter and me. Or that time I came home from a camping weekend to find my cat dead under my tv. Even k owing how I love cats, it just isnt a thing I could cope with, sometimes. (There was also an almost year long period when i wasnt sure i would ever see my adult daughter or grandson ever again. I didnt tell anyone about what was going on other than my supervisors. It would have been bad)

            2. OhBehave*

              Which is why I don’t like to watch Ellen DeGeneres. She often pranks guests by having something jump out at them. A something she knows they hate. She then laughs hilariously while the guest cringes and acts like a good sport. The guest then can’t relax during their segment. To me, this is done for the benefit of the prankster. It’s hard to trust someone after this kind of prank. Personally I like a good prank. Fill a desk with packing peanuts, bubble wrap a chair, etc. As others have said, know your prankee.

              1. That Girl From Quinn's House*

                The pranks on Ellen are fake pranks. Celebrities have teams of PR reps and agents and all that, who work with Ellen’s production team to prep the celebrity guest for the episode. There are no surprises.

          4. JB (not in Houston)*

            It depends on what your definition of prank includes. That’s definitely some people’s definitions, but it’s not a universal definition. I think a lot of the ABSOLUTELY NO PRANKS EVER attitude some people have is based on having the same definition that you have. But for some people, the definition is really more just “surprise that is supposed to be funny.” I think someone has mentioned here before about someone photocopying a picture (can’t remember the picture, but it wasn’t embarrassing or scary) and taping it in various places in their office. The person pranked thought it was hilarious and the person doing the taping knew it would be enjoyed. I would call that a prank even though it doesn’t fit your definition.

            1. Ace in the Hole*

              Agree entirely. I think people who unilaterally hate pranks are going by a definition of “prank” that I would call bullying or hazing instead. And no mistake – bullies will often try to minimize abuse by calling it a prank or a joke.

              For me, a prank is something intended to surprise, confuse, startle, inconvenience, or embarrass someone in a humorous way. A *good* prank does it in a way that the “victim” finds funny too.

              Some people find surprising/embarrassing/startling things inherently upsetting. Those people are not good targets for pranks! Other people find the right kind of surprises (etc) funny and tension relieving. It’s all about knowing the person.

          5. Jasnah*

            I disagree. I’m not really a prank person but I would class them as a subset of “surprise” that ranges from “aims to confuse” to “aims to mock” with a wide variety and range of trickery in between. Some people respond to being tricked by laughing at themselves, as it releases tension in the same way that going on a roller coaster or seeing a scary movie does. Just because we don’t enjoy it doesn’t mean pranks are inherently evil; tricksters go back as far as humans have told stories.

          6. kt*

            I disagree. Some famous pranks in history include changing the Hollywood sign to say Caltech, or putting a car on top of the dome at MIT. (I’m a nerd so these are examples in my genre.) Neither of these scared or embarrassed them, nor did they manipulate emotions. These are instances of humor gained by the juxtaposition of unexpected elements. A prank like putting a plastic deer in someone’s desk chair while they’re on vacation in the woods is in this genre.

        2. Respectfully, Pumat Sol*

          It’s definitely a know your audience thing. My team at work has had fun leaving life-sized George Clooney cutouts in people’s offices when they go on vacation, in addition to hiding tiny photos of George all around their office. It’s a prank, but it’s absolutely harmless. Literally the worst that has happened is a surprised “OH!” when someone walks into a dark office with George in their chair. But there’s one person on the team who would HATE it and not get the joke, so we’d never hide George in his office. The rest of the team is fair game, because we know them, and know what kind of lines not to cross with them.

          I hid one in my boss’s new padfolio when I first handed it to her, and she liked it so much she left it and keeps him with her in all her meetings. It’s hilarious.

      4. Emily K*

        And within the first 3 comments we had both of the two sides represented XD

        Some pranks are funny, but in my experience a lot of people have terribly-calibrated barometers for where the line is between funny and mean.

        At my workplace we once “pranked” a senior staff member who was notorious for how often he forwarded interesting articles to anyone and everyone in our department on a daily basis. On his birthday, we organized a mass emailing where everyone sent him an interesting article to read at almost the exact same time.

        Another prank in one of my previous jobs involved office stuffed animal that rotated through different people’s offices for short intervals of time before someone else gets “custody,” and placing it into humorous positions (like digging through a candy dish or sitting at the keyboard) when its current guardian is away from their office.

        Some people will probably roll their eyes and say those don’t even count as pranks, and if you pressed them for a reason why not, they’d probably be hard pressed to come up with a reason besides “they’re not mean enough to upset anyone, and upsetting people is what makes pranks funny.” But in my book, the above are the kinds of pranks that are acceptable in an office – they surprise someone with something silly without causing any harm or insulting anyone.

        1. pamela voorhees*

          I still stand by my travelling flamingo prank, if you can even call it that. But I think a lot of people buy in to “upsetting people is what makes pranks funny” — it’s a great way to phrase the way some people think about it.

      5. pleaset*

        Pranks tend to be douchey at best.

        We can have humor and joy without pranking people.

      6. Miss Pantalones en Fuego*

        “Abandon all fun, ye who enter here.”

        Damn right, if “fun” is defined as “pulling childish and hurtful jokes on people”. I have had enough bullying in my life, thank you, and I find absolutely nothing funny about causing someone else pain. You think I’m humourless? I really don’t care.

        1. Not So NewReader*

          I am not here to entertain you. I am here to work. We can be pleasant, talk about funny things or interesting things and have a good day.

        2. Miss Pantalones en Fuego*

          I mean, I’m not saying that I’m always serious at work. Far from it. I have a taste for both silliness and off-color jokes. I had no problem with some extremely inappropriate viewing of d*ildo reviews on break when the subject came up on my last project. I’m not squeamish or prim or anything like that. But I can clearly separate work time from fun time, and I’m always mindful of how humour might be received.

          As someone said above, my definition of “prank” is that it is inherently about trying to fool or mock someone. Some of the examples given aren’t really pranks to me, but a surprise gift or a game. Decorating someone’s office in a non-disruptive way, swapping out pictures, hiding toys in strange places all fall under “game” to me. Wrapping everything in plastic or whatever is too disruptive in my book. Anything that involves everyone laughing at a single person is too hostile for me.

    2. RUKiddingMe*

      This. Do not make me have to hunt down my stuff or unwrap my office. Yeah, no injury but annoying and a waste of my time.

      1. Laurelma01*

        I agree with you. I do not like my desk & stuff touched, moved, or borrowed in my absence.

        1. RUKiddingMe*

          Yeah, don’t touch my stuff. Dint “borrow” it either. Assume the answer is “no” unless you hear me say “yes.”

    3. Madame Tussaud*

      I must admit to occasionally bringing in the ol’ fart machine and hiding it in a nearby shelving unit. I find it hilarious.

      1. Miss Pantalones en Fuego*

        See this doesn’t bother me if it’s not targeting a specific person. Depending on my mood I might find it annoying but not hostile.

        1. Mongrel*

          But if you suffered with… ‘gastric issues’ then it may not be funny to you as you may feel that someone was deliberately highlighting this.

    4. TwoPiMan*

      Some people enjoy receiving pranks, others don’t – but unless you were friends before you were hired, I don’t believe you are in a position to judge whether your workmates will enjoy being pranked so it’s better not to allow them. There are plenty of less risky ways to bond with co-workers.

    5. Doctor Schmoctor*

      I disagree. If a prank is completely harmless, I think it’s fine. E.g. if someone puts some tape on the bottom of my mouse so it doesn’t work, I will chuckle, call whoever did it an asshole, he would laugh, and then we’ll move on. One of my coworkers had this really ugly painting of swans in his office. After he left we would hang it in different people’s offices as a lame joke. Everybody had a laugh. It didn’t upset anybody, everybody thought it was funny, until it got boring. There’s one guy who would change your PC’s wallpaper to something “embarassing” (like a picture of Justin Bieber) if you left your desk without locking your desktop. It’s completely harmless, it doesn’t affect your work, and it lightens the mood.

      1. SarahTheEntwife*

        But again, know your audience. If someone taped my mouse I would at best be really annoyed and wonder why someone would find that funny. At worst, if this was a day where things were going wrong already it would pretty much ruin the rest of the day. Why is making someone’s life difficult funny?

    6. Vicky Austin*

      Acceptable pranks at work:

      1. Yell, “EEK! A mouse!” and then point to your computer mouse.
      2. When your co-worker is in the bathroom or at a meeting, dial their extension and leave the Benny Hill theme song (or something else equally ridiculous) on their voice mail.
      3. Sit on the copier machine and make a Xerox copy of your butt.
      4. Leave nonsensical notes on the bulletin board.

      1. Salyan*

        Um, no, do NOT touch the copy machine I have to touch & work with with your unsanitary derriere. Gross! Also verging on sexual harassment if I have to look at the picture. Definitely not acceptable for work.

  1. SigneL*

    I worked in a hospital. Pranks were NOT DONE for a variety of reasons. One reason was that we were always busy, and much of what we did couldn’t wait. If you’re holding a patient’s synovial fluid, you can’t get more if someone comes up behind you and says “Boo!”

    1. Rezvani*

      I also work in a hospital and there are tons of pranks in our workplace. The work we do is very stressful and humor is one of the best coping mechanisms that we have.

    2. Mike*

      You have to be more careful about pranks in that environment (though I’d argue jump scares aren’t good pranks anywhere) but you can still pull pranks during the slow times and find ones that don’t endanger patients.

      1. TardyTardis*

        Admittedly, when I was a nurse’s aide I had to put my brilliant idea of switching everyone’s dentures in my extremely large Happy Place…

  2. Jedi Squirrel*

    At my office, we have a rock that is painted gold. Every few months, it ends up on somebody else’s desk.

    The guys in our quality lab have been hiding a burnt out auto light bulb in each other’s desk for a while now. Every once in a while you’ll hear “there it is!” and you know it will find a new hiding place soon.

      1. Wendy Darling*

        I hate pranks but someone at an old workplace got a pair of GIGANTIC stick-on googly eyes (they were each like 10 inches in diameter, they were huge) and they roamed the office for two years. Every week or so they’d be stuck onto a different object. Eyes on the copy machine. Eyes on the back of a chair. Eyes on a door. Someone would come in and suddenly their file cabinet was staring at them. I was fine with the googly eyes. If they were in the way they just found a new more convenient home immediately (usually if you didn’t want them where they were you just relocated them to their owner’s cubical).

        I think basically I’m just super not okay with making other people feel bad on purpose, so anything where the “joke” is that someone was scared/upset/stressed out/embarrassed and then you’re like JUST KIDDING is not okay with me.

        1. Mari M*

          Note to self: take googly eyes to next doctor’s appointment, somehow stick on ceiling. Might brighten someone’s day? :)

      2. Clisby*

        I wouldn’t mind those pranks. I, of course, would promptly throw the gold rock into the trash, but at least it wouldn’t traumatize me.

    1. Scion*

      I don’t know if I would even consider those pranks. More like games in the vein of “Find the Saltine.”

    2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      We used to have an object that made it’s rounds around to different places in the office as well. It was this giant ugly witches head that appeared for halloween one year and we never put it away. So it would just “appear” places after it came into the office the first time.

    3. tink*

      This would actually be fun/lighthearted, which I’m a fan of. Sometimes you need a little levity at work, and finding the shiny rock or the old light bulb can help with that.

    4. Justme, The OG*

      We have a white bird similar to your gold rock. It will get passed around to our team, hidden in potted plants or behind computer monitors.

        1. Angus McDonald, Boy Detective*

          That really seem unnecessary, it’s of course fine if you don’t want to join in, but why ruin the fun for everyone else?

          1. No pranks, I gave at the office*

            Anyone who thinks it is fun is welcome to rescue the bird or whatever. When someone insists on people participating, it isn’t about fun for all. (We had a Christmas season with “elf on a shelf” going all over the office with crazy elaborate vignettes or something .. everyone’s name was listed on a bulletin board to be removed after having been “elfed”. I had to white out my own name five times before they stopped putting it back on the list.)

    5. Filosofickle*

      Yeah, I’d call this a game. In my early days I worked in a small department of 4 — all 20-something women and it was the 90s, so lots of pics posted in our cubes. We had a “dog face” game: Take a cutout magazine pic of a dog head and place it over someone’s face in a snapshot, and see how long it takes co-worker to realize one of their pics has been altered. Sometimes it took an hour, sometimes days. It’s amazing how we don’t really look at what’s around us. (There was also a tiny dancing Tony Minero that moved around.) When you found it, it was your turn. It was dumb and silly and we enjoyed it a lot. As a newcomer, I know I was accepted by the group when I got my first dog face.

    6. Administrative Manager*

      My husband and one of his coworkers take turns hiding a nickel in each other’s cubes. They try to one-up each other on the weirdest place they can hide it, including: taped to the phone receiver, stuck in the wheels of the rolling chair, taped under the keyboard, taped under the mouse, hidden in the bottom of an (empty) coffee mug, etc.

      I’m not even sure how it started, but they’ve been doing it for years now, and they crack each other up. Also, no one ever gets harmed or hurt or offended, because, well, they’re hiding a nickel.

    7. Spool of Lies*

      I like this kind of “prank”, too! When I worked at a restaurant/pub, all the front-of-house staff would hide a gnome around the restaurant and wait for someone to notice it, then that person would re-hide him in a more amusing spot.

    8. Windchime*

      A coworker and I did this at a previous job, only it was an expired can of tuna.

    9. pagooey*

      I’ve worked with one colleague at THREE DIFFERENT EMPLOYERS over 20+ years in the same industry. We have a photograph of ourselves, decades ago, dressed in absurd Halloween costumes…and we’ve been sneaking it into each other’s desks for almost as many years. Once I slipped it into a framed photo of her children…but the master stroke was hers. We were laid off from one of those jobs on the same day, and before we stomped out of the building that afternoon she somehow tucked that photo into my box of personal effects, so that it was the first thing I saw when I opened it to begin organizing the next job search.

      Huh, it’s my turn. I need to find the picture again and sneak over to her cubicle!

  3. I'm A Little Teapot*

    I think the example of the plasticking the office was from me! That was fun.

  4. Spongebob WorkPants*

    Is it possible to just do work at work instead of having to put up with nonsense like this? Pranks have no place at work. Even the “cute examples” Alison cited: What a waste of unrecyclable plastic wrap, and don’t touch stuff on my desk, especially personal photos.

    1. Feline*

      My inner response to pranks at work is always “Don’t these people have enough work to do? If not, I can give them some of mine.” I’m doing the work of what was previously 3.5 people before multiple rounds of layoffs, so I don’t have time to clean saran wrap or glitter up from my desk or track down personal objects someone took from my desk as part of their merry mayhem. Interfering with me making my deadlines isn’t funny.

      1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

        This would infuriate me as well! If that was the case, I’d be anti-prank and would snap.

        Thankfully the only place this was an issue, nobody else had time to waste either so nobody was goofing around. We were lucky that we even got to say hello to each other in the morning before battling the storm.

      2. CoolInTheShade*

        That’s an issue with your workload, not the prank, it sounds like.

        This is why I can enjoy the occasional harmless prank. If everyone is so overworked all the time that they can’t even take 15 minutes out for a joke, then the culture sucks. Even if pranks aren’t allowed, small 15-minute breaks for socializing or just being away from your work for a moment is necessary to make a place worth working at.

        1. Not So NewReader*

          Often enough in those types of places where everyone is overworked, no one jokes with each other. It’s not about joking, it’s about the toxic workplace.

          1. EM*

            I worked in a job once where we were hugely over worked. I’m a very serious person by nature – and actually my boss was too – but one of my colleagues started muckinfbarpund a bit to ease the tension. Once while I was on a serious phone call she started dancing outside my office so I got caught laughing, another time she discovered it was my bosses birthday and decorated his whole office with streamers and a ridiculous number of balloons. We have each other eggs at Easter and she wrote puns on everything (about how EGGcellent I was). We all got into it eventually. It made me happier at work. I guess the thing is, like Alison’s examples, you have to know your audience – but also it needs to be inclusive, not exclusionary. Everyone has to be in on the “joke” or shenanigans.

    2. fposte*

      Sure. You can do work without having any social interaction. But it’s not what most people want. That doesn’t mean all social interaction has to include pranks, but for circles that enjoy them it’s basically another form of social interaction.

      I’m not a prank person myself, but I think it’s possible to say “This isn’t a pranking office” or “Make sure I’m not involved in any pranks” or “No bullying disguised as pranks” without saying “Pranking is always an unacceptable waste of time.”

        1. fposte*

          I’m responding to “Is it possible just to do work at work?” The answer is yes, but most people don’t, and most people don’t want to. The “They should be working!” response isn’t really an effective argument against pranks.

  5. Construction Safety*

    I manage a bunch of younger women and a couple of my nephews. About twice a week I take a cup of diluted Mt. Dew and pour it down the kitchen sink.

    I am such a card.

    1. Beancounter Eric*

      Yeah, it’s a hoot until the competency hearing….or OSHA showing up…..or Action News live at 5. :-)

      Nicely done!!

        1. Jadelyn*

          Some days I try to imagine being a new commenter here and I enjoy picturing the baffled expression on hypothetical-me’s face.

      1. xms967*

        A previous horror-post about a boss who dumps his cups of pee in the kitchen sink.

        (fsvo “missing”)

  6. Justin*

    It’s been like 5 comments, and we already have a “NONE AT WORK EVER” and a “you’re all killjoys” comment.

    1. Justin*

      For the record, that picture switch example is cute and fun.

      My coworkers once surprised me by covering my desk in streamers and confetti on my birthday. It was, again, cute and fun. But a lot depends on the relationship.

      1. Tigger*

        oh 100%. I wouldn’t prank anyone at my current job , but stuff like this happened at my old job. Switching chairs, flipping over mouse pads, googly eyes on the fridge.

        1. Scarlet*

          I’m in the same boat here. I used to have the most fun with harmless little pranks at my last job – but now I work in HR. Doesn’t seem appropriate to do pranks anymore :( Sadness

      2. cmcinnyc*

        Ahhh, but I came in one morning to discover that “Jane” had glitter/confetti-ed “Mary’s” desk for her birthday and Mary was PISSED and Jane was all aggrieved and “I was being NICE!” I hid from them both because I didn’t want to hear it. My prank opinion is firmly set on “you can’t win, so don’t.”

          1. Jadelyn*

            Glitter is a prank that you use to make people hate you. Glitterbombs are a thing for a reason, and it’s not because they’re universally beloved.

            1. cmcinnyc*

              Jane’s boss made Mary clean it up while Jane was in a meeting. There was all the woe. But: glitter. It’s a friendship-ender, people.

              1. RUKiddingMe*

                Wait…wait, the person that was pranked harmed had ti clean up instead of the one who thought glitter (!!!) was ok?

      3. Oh no, not another Jennifer*

        We do this for birthdays. Some people just get streamers while others get wild confetti. But, it depends on what the birthday person likes. No one gets upset by the birthday person closing their door if they don’t want anything.

        1. Oh no, not another Jennifer*

          Also, the person decorating your space is usually your closest work friend and/or the supervisor. Some people opt out if they aren’t going to be there or don’t care to celebrate birthdays. Its a nice “surprise” and (thankfully) the closest we get to pranks.

        2. Hlyssande*

          There’s actually a cup of confetti that keeps getting reused for birthday purposes in my office. It gets dusted on surfaces where it’s easy to remove so it doesn’t really make a mess.

      4. Leela*

        In some cases it can depend on more than that! I have cancer and am compromised. I don’t always tell my workplace if I have cancer. Don’t touch my stuff; I have no idea who has what currently and it’s a danger to me for people to move my things around. Not everyone who has safety issues like this is going to come forward!

    2. Beth*

      I think the usual member of the anti-prank contingent are drawing on the experience of pranks going horribly wrong and causing harm; often with the added elements of cruelty, bullying, hostility, and the oh-so-common “Just Kidding!” attitude that’s the first defense of assholes. I know this is my own motivation for being anti-prank.

      My own perception of humanity is that the actually well-intentioned pranking individuals are far outnumbered by their nasty lookalikes. Whichever side has the majority, it usually only takes one bad experience to show why it’s not in the interests of a workplace to run the risk of pranks misfiring.

      1. Jules Verne*

        To be honest I haven’t even personally been the victim of any office pranks, but I am still very much anti-prank. I don’t enjoy prank shows like “Practical Jokers”, etc. I just don’t understand what’s “funny” about humiliating other people, and making them afraid/stressed/etc as other people have commented.

        The only “pranks” that have been done in my office are: we’re supposed to lock our computers when we leave our desks. If you don’t lock your computer, sometimes someone will mess with your display setting (e.g. make your monitor display upside down) to remind you of the perils of leaving your computer unlocked…

        1. Jules Verne*

          That being said, other people have written in this thread about “find the golden rock” or other items being passed around the office — imo that is a fun game and not a prank.

        2. Works in IT*

          My manager sends himself emails telling himself he’s the awesomest awesome person ever in the history of awesome.

          They get more detailed the longer the person is away from their computer (as he has more time to type), then when he gets back to his own computer he replies and says awwwww thank you!

          1. Beth*

            This wouldn’t be acceptable in my office — our email has to meet all kinds of stiff regs — but I love the idea.

          2. Jadelyn*

            My boss leaves “Dan is the best boss ever!” post-its all over our desks and monitors when we’re out of the office. It’s just silly, and we all laugh and go on.

        3. Justin*

          I hate those shows too. I don’t enjoy cruelty. And yes, most people don’t know where the line is.

        4. Deranged Cubicle Owl*

          At my internship, about 9 years ago, there were two guys always “harassing each other” if one forgot to log out of there facebook page on computers that everyone used. In a matter of minutes they started liking pages to the most kinky and embarrassing pages on it. It took hours to unlike or leave the groups the other was suddenly added to. To be fair, they only did it to each other. “Bros being Bros” I guess?

          When my fellow intern forgot to log out of her facebook and one of them was on that computer, he just changed the status update (not to something embarrassing but just, “my intern mentor is the best mentor ever, or the likes”).

          I do have to admit, I always made sure that I was logged of so neither of them were ever tempted to do that to me.

        5. Not So NewReader*

          The humiliation/awkwardness gets me. I am that person that helps the victim clean up the glitter or whatever. So I am a real kill-joy. I have noticed though that if someone helps the victim clean up that tends to reduce the pranking over time.

      2. Dusty Bunny*

        Yes – very much this – “My own perception of humanity is that the actually well-intentioned pranking individuals are far outnumbered by their nasty lookalikes.”

        1. Justin*

          This is also a reason not to make any jokes at work. You have to know it would be welcomed.

          But with all this said, I wish my office did funny stuff, and we don’t, and I’m SO.BORED. But cruel pranks are terrible.

      3. NW Mossy*

        I think pranks go wrong for the precise reason that Alison notes – you have to know your audience, and work can sometimes lull you into thinking you know your audience better than you do simply because you spend so much time together. However, work is an environment where most people are cultivating a work persona that obscures key facts about whether or not a given prank will land.

        The ones that go way off the mark tend to be ones that end up striking right on the victim’s rawest nerve. As others have noted here, it can bring some people back into a history of bullying and mistreatment in their youth, or touch a personal subject about which they’re particularly sensitive. In general, unless you’ve seen someone take a prank on a particular theme in good fun, they should be out of bounds for pranking.

  7. Agent J*

    The second example (accused of stealing 50k) has a key reason why some people don’t like pranks. A lot of people don’t know when to stop before it goes Too Far. They should have let her in on the “joke” when she started crying and way before she vomited and asked for someone to look after her ailing mother. No wonder she didn’t come back to work.

      1. Enough*

        Yes. Pranks should not have the possibility of danger and should not involve anything illegal. No one should feel their life is threatened.

    1. SigneL*

      I cannot imagine how this can be considered a “prank,” much less “hilarious.” These are not people I want working for me, ever.

    2. StaceyIzMe*

      I’m not sure that “you stole money” would ever count as a “prank” or “joke”. That’s an act of utter hostility, contempt and reckless disregard for the well-being of the target. You can’t get much worse than that, in my view.

      1. Beth*

        Yes, this is exactly it. Fraudulent felony accusations are criminal, IIRC, because IT CAUSES DAMAGE. It’s really hard to make a case for criminal activity being a legitimate prank.

        If you love pranks so much that you’re willing to do criminal damage in the cause of allegded hilarity, ffs don’t do it at work!

    3. hbc*

      Yeah, the scissors one was about idiocy, because you know he didn’t actually intend to hurt his friend. The successful execution was supposed to be that he saw the scissors and laughed.

      But in the fake larceny, how is any of the humor supposed to come from anything but the prankee’s distress? It ain’t funny if she goes, “Uh, no, I didn’t steal it, not buying it guys.” So the humor has to come from her actually believing that she’s being arrested for a felony, which no one can think is just a minor annoyance.

      The only possible justification I can imagine is if the prankee had been involved in an escalating series of embarrassing/emotional pranks with the others–like had stolen the other person’s keys, moved their car down the block, and made them think it was stolen. Then they’re all being childish jerks, and I don’t feel too bad for whichever jerk happens to get hurt when they inevitably take it too far. I’m just happy it wasn’t an innocent caught in the crossfire.

    4. Falling Diphthong*

      There was also the boss who convinced her employee that Child Protective Services was investigating her and preparing to take her kids away. For funnies! It’s a joke, get it?

    5. Kendra*

      Yeah, the line of “Too Far” is a little different for everyone, but I think we can all agree that those idiots not only crossed it, they went so far past it that they couldn’t even see it in the rear view mirror anymore. I don’t generally think you should fire someone for a single mistake, but this one caused definite harm to a coworker; I’d fire someone who punched another staff member, and I’d fire these two morons.

      And that’s the thing about office pranks: doing them is stupid not only because it distracts from work and can make your coworkers crazy, it can get you fired. When you prank your family or friends, they won’t generally do worse than stop speaking to you for a while (unless things go really, really wrong). But your boss and coworkers have no incentive to put up with your crap, and a whole lot of reasons to make you knock it off. Don’t make it easier for them to fire and replace you than it is to work with you.

    6. Coder von Frankenstein*

      When your “joke” starts by accusing somebody, apparently seriously, of having stolen $50,000, you are already a long way beyond the line of Too Far.

    7. Deranged Cubicle Owl*

      They should have stopped before the “accused” her of stealing the money! I mean, just telling her that 50k was missing (as a prank) “under her watch” would have caused enough stress that it wasn’t funny.

    8. Not So NewReader*

      You can almost see a common thread in these stories. The prankster believes they are very, very funny and the prankster believes that the whole world agrees.
      And this is just not true.
      At all.

  8. SheLooksFamiliar*

    I love light-hearted, silly pranks at work – I still laugh thinking about the time my team decorated my office with happy face posters, streamers, and balloons. They heard me make an off-hand comment about happy faces, and that was their prank. No personal or property damage, no insults, no harm done.

    As much as I hate to say it, though, I’m more ‘no pranks at work’ because of people who don’t know how to rein it in.

    1. Zombeyonce*

      I am also generally a “no pranks at work” person because they can go wrong (just ask my boss that came back from vacation to find someone had filled her office w/pine tree car air fresheners rendering it uninhabitable for a week), but I did pull a light prank recently.

      I found an item a coworker left on my desk accidentally (she had been talking to me and put it down, then walked away). I found a website where you can write ransom notes w/cut-out magazine letters, wrote a note, printed it out, and put it on her desk when she wasn’t around. It was incredibly innocuous and I couldn’t imagine it going wrong in any way since she knew who had her item and could come find it at any time.

      1. Jamie*

        That’s adorable – now I’m sad I don’t have a work friend anymore to use that on.

      2. WonderingHowIGotIntoThis*

        we did something similar – we had a co-worker who was notorious for leaving her mug (personalised – it’s got her name on it) on other people’s desks. She knew what she was like and would make jokes about it. We did the ransom note (with a photo), but when she failed to collect it (she got distracted – usually the same distraction that causes her to leave the mug in the first place), we decided to send it on “holiday”, posting those kinds of photos of the mug in “touristy” shots around the office (e.g. next to the coat rack, by the receptionist’s phone, next to the kettle(!)). It would be left in each location for about half a day to give her a chance to go collect it – still took about a week.

    2. NW Mossy*

      I saw a successful one on a similar theme – a colleague made a passing comment about liking a particular type of candy that most people don’t, and returned from vacation to find her cube decorated with branded swag of that candy.

    3. Anon Accountant*

      Me too. People take it too far or don’t use good judgment. A good prank such as a fake letter of enrollment in the jelly of the month club, balloons at your desk for your birthday (assuming they like balloons), etc are clean, non harmful pranks

      We have my old boss balloons in his office and attached a gift card to 1 of the balloons. He laughed and said it was fun. But knew he would enjoy that and wasn’t afraid of balloons.

    4. Angwyshaunce*

      I am not a fan of pranks at work myself, but many years ago my colleagues pulled off a doozy.

      Boss was traveling cross-country to a conference. He was staying with his brother who lived in the area. Decided to ship his luggage rather than bring it with him, with instructions for his brother to open it up and hang up his suit.

      Of course, Boss shipped it from the office. Which gave my colleagues time to run to an adult store and pick up an … inflatable grandma doll … to slip into the luggage.

      Boss’s brother receives the luggage, and opened it as requested … only to find this little surprise.

      Fortunately, everyone had a good laugh. But I remember avoiding any association with that prank.

    5. Dagny*

      When we were moving offices, I put rubber snakes in my co-worker’s packing crates. The things were like neon – could in no way be mistaken for an actual reptile – and he laughed his head off when he found them.

  9. CatCat*

    I am generally not a fan and would rather pranks did not occur in the office. Even the rather innocuous stuff, I just don’t want to be forced to participate. I’ll show up at the mandatory holiday party, okay? Please don’t drag me into more than that.

    1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      People who don’t have some kind of on going goofy relationship with each other should not be pulling pranks, even if they’re cute on people.

      I have plenty of people in our organization I know wouldn’t appreciate it and therefore they are left alone.

      Jokes are opt-in only, man. It’s not funny to me when people are frustrated or annoyed. But go figure, I don’t get any joy from embarrassment of others.

  10. StaceyIzMe*

    You can count me as being firmly among the killjoys because pranks assume at least a middling range of knowledge about the target and the requisite absence of malice, passive aggression and restraint are almost universally lacking. As a manager, I’d have serious questions about the amount of energy anyone chose to devote to a prank that was more than a pun or a deft display of a Dilbert cartoon or meme. The thing about pranks is that- while they CAN have a “we’re all in this together” vibe- it only translates well if the target accepts the joke with good humor and everyone moves on. In today’s workplace there are so many sensitivities about race, gender, politics, hierarchy, culture, language, family arrangements (children/ no children/ pet/ no pet, remarried/ polyamory and/ or steps additional parents etc…) that there are relatively few cultural common denominators that are universal. Maybe that’s the problem- there simply isn’t time to know the nuances of the players and their situations well enough to predict whether the prank will be successful, go over like a lead balloon or cause lasting (and needless? remember needless? and preventable?) damage to team relationships. That’s before we get into the idea of who exactly thinks that a given situation is funny. In a world where every cultural, religious and political symbol one can name are viewed in vastly different ways by individuals across the spectrum of any demographic you could name, you can’t predict outcomes with any accuracy. Want to get a laugh? Make a small joke at your own expense. Even Youtube has gotten backlash over pranks gone awry (remember the idiot who gave a homeless guy a toothpaste filled Oreo? and the victim vomited?) Other pranks gone awry recently- a grandpa on a cruise in the news today for dropping his baby grandchild out the window of a cruise ship because he dangled her (all in good fun, of course) out the window. Things less serious but still NOT funny (in my view)- infants sucking lemons for the amusement of parents filming them, parents telling kids they ate their Halloween candy, idiots who film their nearest and dearest recovering from surgical procedures/ still under the influence of anesthesia. Pranks require a target. Unless the prankster is volunteering to be their own target, it’s best left out of the office. Like inappropriately sexist or racist humor, it’s time has long since past and it should be relegated to the junk pile along with other tropes of bad office behavior from bygone days. Your mileage may vary…

    1. Justin*

      I’m not sure I’d place ALL PRANKS into the bucket with sexism and racism, though.

      1. LCL*

        Most workplace pranks are in the same bucket of ‘grown ass adults should know better and must behave better, no matter who told them these things are funny’.

    2. Jadelyn*

      I mean…I was with you right up until it started turning into “people are so sensitive about racism these days!” sort of thing. Maybe that’s not how you intended it, but please be aware that at least part of your comment could very easily be read as “members of oppressed groups are too sensitive to take a joke”.

      1. staceyizme*

        No, that’s not what was said. “Inappropriately” precedes the terms and “junkpile” follows. People aren’t overly sensitive for not wanting to be exposed to toxic behaviors (including sexism, racism, ageism etc…).

        1. Jadelyn*

          …in your final sentences of a wall-of-text post, you use those bracketing terms. I didn’t even make it that far before I was just skimming. Hence why I specifically noted that you might not have meant it that way and even said that at least part of your comment could be read a particular way.

          Because your first mention of such things just starts with “In today’s workplace there are so many sensitivities about race, gender, politics…” and in my personal experience that sort of sentiment is generally deployed as part of an “anti-political correctness” screed. So that’s what I was responding to. If that wasn’t your intent, I’d suggest reconsidering your initial phrasing and framing in this kind of discussion.

          1. staceyizme*

            I appreciate that your view diverges. I’m okay with the not-tightly-written views as expressed. Since it’s not submitted as a work, per se, but commentary, it’s needn’t be up to someone’s preferred editorial standards of clarity, cogency or overall caution.

      2. Jasnah*

        If you skim just the beginning and end, yes, there are phrases that are often code for “people are so sensitive about racism these days.” But in the middle she clearly argues that we have to be more aware that others may have different experiences/values than we do, and might not find the same things funny, so we need to be careful with humor and pranks.

    3. Tynalt*

      …infants aren’t sucking lemons for the amusement of their parents. They’re doing it to learn what lemons taste like. That’s not a prank, that’s… I mean… Parenting? Letting your child explore the world and experience a variety of sensations?

      1. R*

        Uh, I fully fed my infant daughter lemon in the hopes of a hilarious reaction. Got my comeuppance though. She loves it. We bribe her to eat her dinner with slices of lemon now.

        1. Arts Akimbo*

          I am the worst and fed my sensory-seeking 5-year-old a salmiakki (Finnish salted licorice candy). I genuinely thought he might like it, because he liked all kinds of weird intense flavors, and I love them! But no, he reacted hilariously, and ran all over the house until the flavor left his tongue! Joke on me: he enjoyed our similarly-hilarious reaction and now asks for them so he can perform. :)

    4. staceyizme*

      Okay- sorry to belabor a part of this- but there is now some question reported on how the baby came to be in harm’s way. I should have withheld commenting/ opining.

      1. Róisín*

        I was just going to point that out. For those just arriving, the current best-guess story is that grandpa did NOT dangle baby out the window; he set her up on the ledge because he assumed the wall-to-wall window in a children’s play area would just be a solid pane of glass (because why the heck wouldn’t it be??) and it turned out they were individual windows that could be opened by just anyone. And that one hadn’t been latched by the last person to open it. So she went to bang on the glass as babies do.. and then she was no longer there.

        Regardless of whether grandpa can be faulted for this or not, the horrific and tragic loss of such a small child probably doesn’t deserve a casual reference in a discussion of office pranks?

  11. A Simple Narwhal*

    I’m not a huge fan of office pranks, but if you must (or the situation calls for it), I’ve heard a good rule of thumb for pranks is “confuse, don’t abuse”. Like, put Nic Cage’s face over someone’s framed photos. Hide little plastic dinosaurs everywhere. Put googly eyes on the coffee machine. I once had a coworker sign up another coworker for cat facts – every hour of the work day they would be texted (toll-free) random facts about cats.

    1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      I hung up a picture of Vince Vaughn in my old office, that had a lot of foot traffic because it was the entry to the workshop.

      I’d get people, usually vendors asking what that was about. My response was “oh that’s our employee of the month.”

      Cat facts are no joke, I need this in my life!

    2. Veryanon*

      I used to work with a guy who was a huge Dallas Cowboys fan. I am a huge Philadelphia Eagles fan. If you know anything about football, you know that Eagles fans HATE the Cowboys, and vice versa.
      In any event, a bunch of us went in on an Eagles blanket that we draped over his desk chair one morning before he came in, and also put down a (small) Eagles rug on his office floor. He retaliated by printing out pictures of various Cowboys players and taping them onto my computer monitor before I came in one day.
      That’s pretty much the extent of any office pranks I’ve ever been involved in.

      1. Ali G*

        Go Birds!
        One of my previous boss’s was a Redskins fan (and we are in the DC area). We had a bet on a game and I won. We agreed ahead of time that the winner could “prank” the loser. I stole his phone and replaced his ring tone with the Eagle’s fight song. Then I told everyone in the office to call him all day (he had to keep it for one day). He did not bet me again.

        1. Veryanon*

          LOL! I once interviewed a candidate who had the Eagles fight song as his ring tone and forgot to turn it off during the interview. I couldn’t penalize him, though, because E-A-G-L-E-S EAGLES!

    3. anon today and tomorrow*

      I’d be pretty annoyed about the cat facts prank tbh. Unless you know your audience will enjoy it, I feel like that one can tread into the area of quickly becoming obnoxious.

      1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

        But it’s a text-bot program. So all you do is test “stop” and the issue is fixed. I guess not everyone reads that part of the texts though. Otherwise they’re breaking communications laws.

      2. A Simple Narwhal*

        Oh totally, and in this case it was done as part of an intentionally bad secret santa swap. People voluntarily signed up (for reals voluntarily – zero pressure and not everyone signed up) to give (and receive) a silly bad gift. The recipient was a big dog lover, hence a day of cat facts was a perfect bad gift for them.

        In case you were curious, some other bad gifts were a pack of bic pens for the person who loved fancy stationary supplies, a windows logo sticker for the mac lover, and a half-used bath and body works candle. The idea was to spend little to no money for these gifts, so some people got really creative!

        1. The Man, Becky Lynch*


          Bad Gift “Secret Santa” is the subject of many of my childhood traumas. I take it all back, this is awful and I hate that this is a thing.

          1. A Simple Narwhal*

            Aw, I’m sorry to hear that. I think oldjob did a good job making it light-hearted and fun, while also being completely voluntary.

    4. Mr. Shark*

      I like that…confuse, don’t abuse.

      I think there are some very funny pranks that are okay (as A Simple Narwhal mentions below) that can be acceptable, IF you know for sure that the person on the other side of the prank is one of the people who would appreciate it. I’m one of those people who probably wouldn’t, and thankfully my friends know that. I mean, I wouldn’t go crazy, but I wouldn’t be laughing with everyone else. It would just be more annoying to me.

      But other people, including some friends of mine, would be fine with it, and have no problem with it (for example, there was a specific business newspaper and someone made some edits to it, including changing the picture to the co-worker’s picture, made a bunch of copies, and wallpapered the co-worker’s office with it, pretty funny and quickly fixed with no damage to the co-worker’s property).

    5. Scarlet2*

      I’m glad someone brought it up, because I heard about the “confuse, don’t abuse” principle recently and I think it’s such a good rule of thumb!

    6. TurquoiseCow*

      I worked for a supermarket (in the corporate office) and a few years ago a baseball player was doing a promotion for some kind of frozen food and the vendor sent in a big cardboard cutout of the baseball player as a sample of what would be displayed in the stores. He made his way around the office for a while, sitting in empty cubes or offices. If someone went on vacation or was out for a day, they’d come back to find Mike Trout grinning at them. After one woman left the company, her empty office became Mike’s permanent spot. It was silly but we all found it hilarious, and if you found Mike Trout in your spot, well, you just moved him, laughed, and got to work.

      1. Detective Amy Santiago*

        My family used to have a cardboard cutout of a football player that would randomly show up at functions. Like, you’d go to the ladies room and boom, there he was. As long as you’re not putting it somewhere that it would legit scare someone, it’s definitely hilarious.

        1. Lars*

          Somehow at age 13 I ended up in possession of a life sized stuffed Quagmire doll from Family Guy. I can’t recall WHY my mom let me make that purchase, but he ended up being a favored Bunco/Bingo replacement player, a birthday party guest for my great-grandmother, a seat filler for a midnight Harry Potter screening… we got some serious mileage out of “pranks” with that doll.

      2. Former Help Desk Peon*

        Mike Rowe made appearances around our office for a time…hanging out in conference rooms, peaking through windows, waiting near the printer for his agenda. At a different job, it was Legolas, but he acquired a lamp shade hat and some Mardi Gras beads along the way.

    7. JJ*

      Where do I sign up for cat facts???

      I like pranks that are very easily identified and obviously/quickly solved and very very gentle, like removing all the wheels from someone’s chair (and leaving them in their desk) so you get the ol’ scraaaape when you pull out the chair. Or classic jokes like the tape on the optical mouse. A good level-up to that one is to also unplug it (if it’s a corded mouse).

      But if i’m not 100% sure the recipient will be amused I won’t do it.

      1. Ramanon*

        catfactstexts dot com, it looks like! This may post twice, I tried to just copy the link and it didn’t post.

      2. Jadelyn*

        “classic jokes like the tape on the optical mouse”

        Back in my day, you had to unscrew the bottom plate of the mouse and take out the whole ball and hide it! You had to mean it if you wanted to prank someone’s mouse! #damnkidsgetoffmylawn

    8. JessB*

      I think ‘confuse, don’t abuse’ is pretty good advice for office pranks, and I like the examples you gave too. Plus, those are all things that would be easy to ignore or fix, which I think is important too.

  12. The Man, Becky Lynch*

    My idea of a prank is changing someone’s “how am I feeling today” emoji flip-book calendar thingy to something like “cynical” or “murderous” or whatever else is in there that’s funny at the time.

    If both people are not laughing, you’re doing it all wrong and you stink at comedy.

    1. Sled dog mama*

      Yeah. A couple of years ago a girl in my office brought in a bunch of pencils with little googly eyed pipe cleaner poos on top and a “No. 2 pencil” label on each. They are still circulating and one randomly shows up on my desk every now and then and makes me smile.

  13. Jennifer*

    I think office pranks can be funny. You have to have a good relationship with the person in order to pull it off. I’ve done them in offices where I was friendly with everyone. I’ve been the target a couple of times too. I’m not going to give examples because I think humor is so subjective and debating whether or not something was funny or not is pointless. All that matters is that management was fine with it and the “target” found them hilarious. They wouldn’t work where I am now.

  14. Rez123*

    Reminds me of Brooklyn 99 when they pranked Holt and moved his podium half an inch. That clip cracks me up.

    I think some pranks are fine. Not necessary but fine. Depending on the work place. Also I guess it depends on the definition of prank. An employee comes back from 4 week holiday and you put up a big ass picture of a beach (so its easier to adjust ) Or putting pants and shoes in a cubicle it looks like someone is in the toilet. Something harmless and not personal.

    1. Captain Raymond Holt*

      While I agree that the humor in said incident was readily apparent to all participants, you appear to be using the word “podium” for what is clearly a lectern. Good day.

  15. Amber Rose*

    Our pranks are always targeted at making something we know the person enjoys, or won’t mind. A manager who loves fishing returned from a fishing trip to find we’d made him a little Gone Fishin’ sign for his door and hung streamers of fish pictures from the roof of his office. More recently, we Harry Potter-fied a coworker’s office because she’s a big fan. We strung up some banners, hung acceptance letters from the ceiling so it looked like they were pouring down, hung up little snitches, and I made a giant Fat Lady picture to hang on her door. She thought it was a blast.

    Although that makes me question the definition of “prank” since I think of these less as intended to shock, startle or upset someone and more of the intent to give them like, a surprise present.

      1. Amber Rose*

        Right? It was less funny and more just fun, although we hid a few easter eggs here and there and it was pretty funny to hear her find them over time.

        The idea is to delight, not upset.

    1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      Yeah this kind of stuff is more of a bonding experience. It shows “We missed you! Welcome back! We know you here and we appreciate your return.”

      Like I’ve printed off meme’s and posted them places that I know people are going to see them and laugh.

      Whereas when I started here there were obnoxiously rude ‘signs’ in the form of memes that grated on my nerves. They have been removed, wouldn’t even have any idea by who *cough cough cough*

    2. The Original K.*

      I dated a man who had a colleague who has a very, very strong resemblance to a celebrity, to the point where people whisper “is that …” when he goes by and do double-takes. When he goes on vacation, the office has a standee of that celebrity that they put in his office and they’ll send him pictures of the standee filling in for him at meetings, etc. They’re in a creative field so this is right up their alley. (This came up in conversation because Ex showed me a picture of him and some colleagues at a work thing, and I said “Wow, that guy looks just like Celebrity!” It really is a doppelgänger situation.) Everybody thinks it’s funny, and it’s harmless. Not a prank, just a funny thing they do around the office.

  16. Rachael*

    #1. Know your prankee. Do they like pranks? Prank away! They don’t like pranks? DO NOT PRANK.
    #2. A prank should always end in the prankee laughing. Always. If the “prank” would leave them too upset to laugh…it is not a prank…it is a power move.
    #3. Repeat until you understand

    1. Lissa*

      I agree 100% with this! Innocuous and fun is great. But definitely know your audience. Even *outside* of work, my friends never went farther than say, changing someone’s screensaver to a manatee or something (and at work wouldn’t even do that because it involves touching someone’s computer.)
      I think problems can happen when someone thinks something will be fun and it turns out the person has like, a phobia of Nic Cage or something. But a lot of the bad ones are obviously intended to upset, not tended to amuse gone wrong, so I think “intent of humour, NEVER sad/bad emotions” is usually a good guideline.

    2. BetsyTacy*


      Our go-to office ‘prank’ is when someone forgets to lock their computer when they step away (a moderate no-no as opposed to an OMG infraction it is some places), it is assumed that your desktop picture will be changed to the (non-offensive) photo of the Good Samaritan’s choosing before they lock it for you. People will generally keep the background up for a couple of days to share the laugh.

      Think: a die-hard Mets fan getting Yankees Wallpaper, a photo of our boss’ hilariously judgemental looking 1 year old grandson, JoJo Siwa, etc. No property damage, no problem with workflow, done only in our group where it’s part of the ‘make sure you lock your computer’ talk every new employee has.

      1. Detective Amy Santiago*

        At my old job, if you left your computer unlocked, you’d usually come back to find your screen flipped sideways or upside down.

    3. Chinookwind*

      I worked in an office where there were a bunch of engineers that were good at pranks. I finally was able to pull one over on them after we got a fancier single serve coffee machine that even ground the beans for each drink. After it was installed, every time I would go in the kitchen, a different engineer would staring at it, trying to figure out how to work it. I would tell them it was voice activated as put my cup in place, quickly touch the button for a simple coffee, give the command and *poof* I would have voice activated coffee. I would then watch them try to get it to work for a few seconds before showing mercy and showing them the clearly identified buttons they needed to push.

      Within in 24 hours, those that fell victim or overheard this looked forward to trying the prank on others. It even became a right of passage for every new hire (especially the interns) to see how long it took them to figure it out.

    4. pleaset*

      I’d change the first to:
      #1. Know your prankee: Do they like pranks? Prank away! Not *certain* they do? DO NOT PRANK.

    5. Blue Horizon*

      And the laughter in #2 should be heartfelt, and of the “what an awesome prank, I can’t wait to tell everyone!” variety. Not the “this seems a more work appropriate reaction than crying or screaming” variety.

  17. House Tyrell*

    My old office did fun pranks around the holidays, but made sure it was little things that everyone would enjoy and they never involved scissors or fake crimes. My office mate called the executive assistant and pretended to be Chick-Fil-A, saying she had won a year of free lunches (there was a CFA on campus, this was a university, and she ate there all the time.) When it was revealed to be a prank, she laughed and then he brought her lunch from CFA that day. Some of us in turn wrapped his entire side of the office with wrapping paper (this was Christmas time)- monitor, mouse, stapler, etc. Everything was wrapped and he thought it was fun to unwrap all the “gifts.” The graphic designers saved water bottles for a little over a month and on their bosses birthday, came in early to cover her office with them (I never really understood that one.) And my personal favorite, my friend and I printed a group photo of the office and made multiple cutouts of my now-boyfriend- neither of us work there anymore- and hid them in various non-important folders and the directory of the front desk area, once of which wasn’t found until two years later when he didn’t even work there anymore!

    Every year we also made photoshopped ornaments of everyone’s faces- adding Santa hats and sleds and snowglobes, etc to people’s headshots or other pictures – to hang on the tree.

    1. TootsNY*

      actually, the really fun Chik-fil-A prank (though it would cost money) would be to have lunch from there delivered to her with no info, etc., for a couple of days. The first one would be weird.

      1. House Tyrell*

        Eh, in the context of our office it made sense. CFA and our office were in the same building and she had worked there for ages- nearly or just over 20 years- and everyone knew her, our office number was available to the public, and she ate there a lot. So it wouldn’t have been that weird that someone from that location would know how to reach her.

        But I agree that your idea would have been way funnier!

      2. Jen in Oregon*

        …..or getting the Chick-fil-a team to sign a “thinking of you/we miss you, please come back” card to be left on her desk the day she returns from vacation.

  18. DarthVelma*

    I had a really good one pulled on me at my first post grad school job. I had interned at the same place between years, so everyone involved already knew me well enough to know I’d find it hilarious.

    When I came back full-time, they had me convinced for several weeks that I was going to have to go back through new employee orientation. Which was really boring and I really really didn’t want to have to sit through it all again. Most of my department and several people in HR were all in on it. No one would give me a solid answer about whether I was really going to have to do the orientation or not. Kept telling me to refer to the HR policies and I couldn’t find anything. Finally my boss told me to ask a specific person in HR to email me the relevant policy.

    When I opened the email attachment, it said “Gotcha!” in big bold letters.

    I went to the HR person’s cubicle and she almost immediately ratted out everyone else who had been involved. That part was utterly hilarious to me – she just named all the names.

    Thing is, not too long after that we had a Cajun themed open house to show off my section’s new offices. After it was over, I volunteered to help with the cleanup and I spirited away all of the toy snakes and bugs we had used for decorations. The perpetrators were finding those things in desk drawers and under their phones and in their laptop bags for months afterward. Every so often I’d hear someone go “eep” and would just smile.

    Good fun all around. We were even still laughing about it at my going away party 10 years later.

      1. anna green*

        Same. And I know people who are seriously bug/snake phobic, so that’d be a trip straight to HR.

        1. DarthVelma*

          The agency we all worked for had a facility out in the west Texas desert, and snakes were a thing there. No amount of precautions could keep them out entirely. Folks with any kind of snake phobia just weren’t asked to travel out there. So who was and was not afraid of snakes was something we knew about each other.

          Couldn’t tell you that about my current crop of co-workers. Different agency. Different state. No deserts. So even though I still have the plastic snake that co-worker and I passed back and forth for so long, it now lives at home instead of work. :-)

    1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      Since they knew you, that is a cute prank, I’m glad it’s still a good memory!

      On the other hand I’ve had to squash the ef outta of the prank that the shop still loves to try to pull on new hires. We do a regularly company meeting, so the first meeting where there’s a new person, we ask them to just to say “hi, I’m Paul!” and introduce themselves as much as they’d like. “I’m from Timbucktoo and like tacos, I’m happy to be here!” sort of thing.

      Some people love to tell these new folks that they have to give a frigging speech and it has to be a 10 minute long presentation/introduction. So in orientation, it’s on my list of things to say “And we’ll have our first all company meeting X date. If anyone says you have to give a speech, they’re kidding. It’s just a 30 second “hi I’m here now, yay!” introduction and not to be stressed out by their nonsense.

      It causes people stress a lot of times and I’m not here for it. I’m the HR person who won’t play along with shenanigans and I like myself some shenanigans but they need to be acceptable for the place and time.

    2. anon on this post*

      As someone who has a pretty intense snake phobia, one of my biggest fears is someone placing a fake snake toy somewhere I might find it because they think it’ll be funny. Mostly because people have done this to me before and it’s made me panic and vomit and then spend days paranoid about it happening again.

      1. DarthVelma*

        Oh my god, that’s awful and I’m so sorry people have done that to you intentionally knowing how you would react. That goes way beyond a prank into full-blown asshole mode.

  19. Bend & Snap*

    I used to work in a prankey office and hated it. I don’t like pranks ever and people who know me know this.

    The two “do” examples in the post are cute but really I’d choose a prank-free workplace any day.

  20. Kittymommy*

    If forced is probably land in the no pranks camp even thought over participated in them. They’re just to easy to go wrong. At my current job the few pranks that have been done have mainly been sports related. I think once the local college rival terms were playing and a couple of people switched a guy’s team decorations or other team. That’s about as crazy as we get.

    1. (Former) HR Expat*

      I used to live in another city that was my school’s rival. When they played each other, one of my managers and I joked about filling up the other’s office with balloons, streamers, and sports paraphernalia. We both thought it would be hilarious. When my team won, I filled up her office. She and I had a huge laugh over it. But I knew that she would find it funny because we’d already talked about it. And I know she would have done the same to me if her team had won. She got me back the next year. We still laugh about it 5 years later.

      1. kittymommy*

        When my team lost the next year, he brought me a t-shirt. To me that type of stuff is silly and innocuous. What’s funny is that in work stuff we actually don’t get along that well (our approaches to work and work interactions differ). In everyday life/non-work life we get along great.

  21. NewHereandtoEverything*

    One year, while my coworker was out the week before April Fools, I completely switched the décor in our cubes and worked from his cube (which now looked exactly like my cube – my pictures, posters, everything). Even the object placement was precise. The whole office was in on it and pretended like it had always been that way and he was just crazy. He accepted it the whole day until we yelled APRIL FOOLS.

    Honestly, I’m more proud of that moment than anything on my resume.

    1. Agent J*

      Done with enough confidence, I would totally fall for this prank and laugh about it later. It reminds me of The Office episode where Randall Park pretends to be Jim even down to the new picture of Jim’s kids.

    2. SheLooksFamiliar*

      A long-ago colleague and I once recorded new sounds on one of our co-worker’s computer. She didn’t like her Windows 98 selections, and we decided to make her computer sound like HAL from 2001: A Space Odyssey. When Trudy started up her computer, she heard, ‘Good morning, Trudy.’ An error or stop: ‘I’m afraid I can’t do that, Trudy,’ or ‘What do you think you’re doing, Trudy?’ or ‘I want to help you, Trudy.’ When she got email: ‘Daisy, daisy, give me your answer, do…’ When she shut down for the day: ‘I’m afraid, Trudy. Trudy, my mind is going…’ Trudy loved it, and didn’t change her sounds for a long time.

      I am also oddly proud of this feat.

    3. Zombeyonce*

      This is equivalent to Asian Jim on The Office, which is still my favorite prank of Jim’s.

  22. Amy the Rev*

    Last year, easter fell on april fools day, and so our confirmation class spent a couple sundays beforehand making a giant papier maché boulder and a copy ‘shroud of turin’…i let them in the night before easter and they cleared off our senior pastor’s coffee table and placed the shroud on it, and then blocked his door with their boulder. It was hilarious, non-dangerous, and everyone got a kick out of it.

    Stuff like that, or putting googly eyes on everything in the fridge, are my kinda pranks. No one gets hurt, no one gets made fun of.

      1. Amy the Rev*

        the year before for april fools they convinced him they wanted to gift him with a cat-hair stole that their teacher was making from her cat’s shedded fur…he was struggling with how to tactfully decline when he noticed the date on the email, and then instead responded suggesting maybe they could ask the parents of the church school kids to collect hair from their brushes, too, to make it extra special

    1. Róisín*

      I’m saving the googly eyes one for a year I can do that. I sent a picture of someone’s fridge who had done just that, to a previous girlfriend who I’d been planning on moving in with, with the caption “I’m doing this to you next year.” Her response was “you are the best girlfriend anyone could ever ask for,” so I knew I was all clear to do it.

      Life happened and I haven’t gotten to yet, but SOMEDAY..

  23. One (1) Anon*

    As a baseline, I like “is it liable to genuinely upset someone, bring harm to their personal or professional life, or otherwise makes them feel bad about themselves?” as the question all would-be pranksters should ask themselves before acting. Pranks can’t be expected to have the same impact on different people, and should include the prankee in the joke, rather than making them the butt of the joke.

    1. Dittany*

      Another thing that’s important to take into consideration: Is it easily reversible? Something that can be switched back fairly easily (like the family photo switcheroo) is probably fine. But if the prank had involved, say, destroying the original photos, that would have been over the line.

  24. ReadItWithSpanishAccent*

    I tell employees that a bear lives in the office and eats non-compliant employees. On a Halloween morning I arrived early, suited up on a full-body bear costume, switched off the lights and waited for the employees to come. The year later they were all waiting for the bear :P

  25. Cait*

    We work with a lot of sensitive material in my office, so it’s policy to always lock your computer when you step away from your desk. For a while, one of the admins would occasionally wander through the office and anytime she saw an unlocked, unattended computer, she’d quickly change the background image on the desktop. If someone was signed into social media, she’d also change their profile pic to the company logo. Sometimes people got mad, but all upper management ever said was “lock your computer”. And eventually everyone did.

    1. LQ*

      A team I was on for a while and I all had a pact to do this to each other until everyone got really good at locking every time. (We were trying to make sure we were setting an example so it was important that we were all diligent.) Interestingly my coworker who loved pranks always treated it as a prank. I (who am NOT a fan) always treated it as a reminder. (It was pull up a file from a shared drive and lock the computer thing, no changing anything, just open this file and lock it.)

    2. pleaset*

      “If someone was signed into social media, she’d also change their profile pic to the company logo”

      That could backfire on the company bigly.

    3. EH*

      I worked at a place with sensitive material for a while, and if you left your computer unlocked, people would send silly emails to the whole team from you. I hate the idea of someone using my computer anyway, so it made me REALLY good about locking my computer. I left that job three gigs ago and STILL automatically lock my computer when I get up to leave my desk.

      1. Alexander Graham Yell*

        My old boss once watched a coworker send an email to him from my desk, and then read it out once it hit his inbox. (I hadn’t locked my computer, I had my back to it, and my boss saw my coworker sit down at my desk and send an email that only said, “I LIKE TATERS” – I reference it somewhere else in the thread, but he’s the one whose office I turned into a tiki bar since he was so clearly pro-prank.)

    4. Beatrice*

      I had a coworker long ago who would change your wallpaper image to one of those Awkward Family Photos pics. Our team rule was that you had to leave the wallpaper for the rest of the day if he caught you. He got super speedy at it, too – he got me once when I went around the corner about 30 feet to grab something off the printer.

  26. Huskypunx*

    At my last job (IT) the help desk manager and I both had whiteboards where we tracked our ongoing projects. We would occasionally mess with each other by writing nonsense projects or altering ones that were there. While he was out for a week I drew an entire Pac-Man game around all the things written on the board. Printed out stencils for the ghosts and everything. He was pretty amused because it was harmless.

  27. Earthwalker*

    Team building either. Every time senior management decided that our department and another were not cooperating adequately, the managers of both groups were invited (ordered) to participate in a team building game. Nobody wanted to be the loser, of course. So my boss came back with broken bones more than once. One time should have been enough to show everyone that a competitive contact sport was not a good clean fun way to improve team spirit between teams that warred in the office.

    1. Falling Diphthong*

      “No, no. Our intention is that this build camaraderie rather that smash clavicles. We’ll keep trying. Surely Attempt 17 will do the trick.”

    2. Jadelyn*

      Sounds like y’all should’ve done your team-building at the paintball place in Good Omens.

  28. Dasein9*

    I watched a colleague “prank” someone last week. He put a Post-It note on the bottom of the prankee’s mouse.
    He left the pad of Post-Its, which was appreciated.

    Mild stuff like that, no possibility of tears, seems okay for people with solid rapport. The problem is that pranks do tend to escalate.

    1. Jedi Squirrel*

      I remember reading (where!?!?!) that someone had printed out a picture of Rick Astley and taped it on the bottom of a mouse. Best Rickroll ever!

    2. JobHunter*

      One of my colleages reversed the batteries in a coworker’s wireless mouse. It took the coworker about five minutes to figure it out, but we all thought it clever.

  29. Schuyler Seestra*

    I’m team no office pranks. Even supposedly harmless ones like the photo swaps, or filling someone’s cubicle with balloons. What’s the point? Literally what is to be gained by pranking someone? I mentioned this in a similar thread a few months ago, but I was bullied hard as a child. I don’t take being made fun of well to this day. It’s not a matter of getting over it. It’s a matter of being the butt of someone else’s joke, no matter how well I know them is a trigger for me, a straight up send me into a panic attack trigger.

    1. Amber Rose*

      Laughter is to be gained. If I fill someone’s cubicle full of balloons and it makes them happy, then I am happy, and I have gained good feelings all around. Nobody is the butt of the joke there, any more than a surprise party is meant to make anyone the butt of a joke. Not all surprises are bad.

      I mean, life isn’t just about gaining things. I don’t eat a cookie because it has nutritional value, I eat it because the taste of chocolate makes me feel good.

      1. Schuyler Seestra*

        I would be pissed off if I found my cubicle full of balloons. I’m not going to laugh at something because others expect me to. Just because you’d be delighted to find a cubicle full of balloons mean everyone should. I stated why pranks are upsetting to me. I have a sense of humor. I also have boundaries. I will not sacrifice my personal wellbeing so that others can justify immature behaviors.

        1. Amber Rose*

          Then obviously nobody would do that to you. But that doesn’t mean it should never be done or that there’s no point in doing it to someone else.

          I do take issue with your line about “immature behaviors.” If I don’t get to judge you for not enjoying balloons, you don’t get to judge me for the reverse. If having fun is immature, i’d rather nobody ever be mature.

      2. Former Admin turned Project Manager*

        In an example of “know your audience,” I want to point out that you are using surprise party as an example of a good thing, when I can attest that the idea of being the guest of honor for a surprise party fills me with dread. (Luckily I am a good enough actress that people who really know me can alert me to the surprise nature and I manage to act sufficiently surprised when the thing happens). So, just as you (rightly) point out that not all surprises are bad, I will counter that the prank-er needs to be 100% sure that the recipient of the surprise will see it as a good one before going forward.

    2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      I don’t like being picked on either, so I’m not a fan of a lot of the nonsense that people come up with. Don’t touch people’s things or move them, hide them or change them out. Not cool.

      But balloons are usually a celebratory gesture? So unless they say cruel things on them, then I’m not sure why you’d have an adverse reaction to them.

      The joint laughter and joy is what’s gained in most situations. But again, it’s huge to know your audience and know they’re feelings on it.

      My partner told me when we first got together that he loved giving ppl nicknames and that he was going to pick one out for me. I panicked and started crying. His response was to apologize and tell me that he wouldn’t ever want to do something that upset met like that and didn’t mean it any way but a “bonding” setup and that his nicknames were never to be cruel but understood that I was scarred from torment in school [after I was able to explain that’s why my panic set it].

      Most people aren’t cruel and insensitive, so that’s the key here. No you won’t ever really get over it, the scars are already there. But I’ve gotten better in my later years by reminding myself that those punks are in the past and that they don’t dictate my life anymore, that most people don’t mean harm, etc. Yes, I learned that in therapy and it’s helped a lot but some of us just never shed the scars and that’s okay.

      1. Falling Diphthong*

        Well, someone has to remove the balloons. Usually by sitting and popping them, then gathering up all the little rubber corpses and throwing them out.

        As someone who jumps when balloons pop, having to pop 100 of them would get old.

        Could I carry all the balloons to the break room and dump them there? Some offices that’s funny; some it’s an annoyance when you just want a cup of tea; some it’s a way to piss off the cleaning staff.

        1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

          This makes sense! I don’t like popping balloons, it’s not the sound its the snapping of the rubber and the infliction of even the tiny amount of “pain” involved.

          I was also thinking of helium balloons not the dastardly ones with just air that lay there worthless and just taking up space. So those ones you can let the air out easily enough without the popping and then you have a cute shaped thing.

          1. Ex-Ray*

            Helium balloons are a waste of helium, a precious non-renewable resource. If you want there to be functioning MRI machines in a few years, please stop wasting helium on party decorations.

        2. Amerdale*

          I wouldn’t want to pop dozens or even hundreds of balloons either. And it creates so much plastic waste ending up in the ocean. For what?

          If you want to acknowledge/celebrate someones birthday why not limit it to one balloon? Tie it to their desk/monitor/chair/whatever so they find it when they come in. Way less waste, way less work and time to clean up but still a nice gesture.

    3. Parenthetically*

      I’m very, very anti-prank, but I don’t consider putting googly eyes on people’s diet cokes in the fridge, or replacing the Employee of the Month photos with Nicolas Cage photos, or decorating someone’s cubicle to be “pranks,” per se. Upthread there’s a really sweet example of an office that “pranks” employees when they go on vacation by decorating their cubicle with something their coworkers know they’ll love (Harry Potter, fishing-themed things, etc.). That’s delightful.

      ALL of this stuff 100% depends on mutual goodwill and understanding. If your coworkers know each other well, genuinely like each other, and the goal of the jokes is to make each other laugh or to delight each other (rather than mock or even tease someone), there’s no problem. But I’d say a pretty good majority of workplaces just don’t fit those requirements.

      1. Lance*

        On that general point, I think there’s a lot of semantics that go on about what is or is not a ‘prank’… and just as well, I think that’s where a lot of people are getting really hung up. Though, thinking about that, what other, better words would there be to use for it? None are coming to mind for me at the moment.

  30. Buttons*

    I hate pranks with a passion. They are rarely done for any reason that isn’t mean-spirited. If you must do them, 1. make sure the person who you is your victim is ok with jokes and pranks and 2. they shouldn’t humiliate, scare, make the person feel like their character is being questioned, or give them a huge inconvenience – like trying to figure out how to dispose of 12 pounds of packing popcorn filling up their cubicle.

      1. JeanB in NC*

        I feel like googly eyes are the exception to the rule. But they aren’t really a prank.

      2. pamela voorhees*

        A lot of people’s definition of a prank is inherently linked to “mean spirited” because that’s how they’ve always seen them/experienced them, and they’d see googly eyes as a joke or even just doing something fun — a totally separate category.

        1. Parenthetically*

          Yeah, I’m definitely a person who has always seen “prank” as having the connotation of “laughter at someone else’s expense.” I don’t consider googly-eyed coffee pots a prank.

      3. Buttons*

        Googly eyes on a coffee pot is a silly thing that doesn’t target one person. I targeted “joke” or prank is different.

        1. Sabina*

          I think the word we might be reaching for to describe googly-eyed coffee pots or random Hello Kitty decor is “whimsy”. It’s not directed at anyone in particular, it’s not mean, just a little silly.

          1. Former Employee*

            I wish someone would have left some random Hello Kitty decor in my cubicle.

            That seems like a gift, not a prank.

  31. KayEss*

    The only good prank that got pulled in my one prank-heavy (and also extremely toxic) office was when the boss told us there was an important client coming in the next afternoon and asked us to dress a bit more professionally than our usual jeans-casual… so we all arranged to come in the next morning wearing our grungiest, seediest, most outlandish and mismatched outfits. When the boss saw us, we all had a good laugh, took a group photo, and then changed into the nice clothes we had also brought.

    Everything else that went on there prank-wise (and it was a lot) only fostered a feeling of distrust and mean-spirited competitive trolling among the staff. Like, the boss once put a tack on someone’s chair.

  32. Teapot Unionist*

    We had a giant cut out of President Obama that would make the rounds to various offices and get dressed up in t-shirts and hats while he was in office. (We had endorsed him as an organization and all loved him, so it was always endearing t-shirts). The cut out did freak people out since he was life sized and looked like a person was lurking in dark corners of empty offices, but everyone loved finding him and his newest apparel when he appeared somewhere.

    1. Pay No Attention To The Man Behind The Curtain*

      In college one of my roommates worked at either a convenience store or grocery store (I can’t really remember which) and they…um procured… a life-sized Shaq cutout from some sort of display. He lived in our kitchen just around a corner out of immediate sight for several months before he was kidnapped by another apartment of college kids. That was fun.

    2. House Tyrell*

      In high school, one of my friends was in love with Joe Biden and had a life size cardboard cut out of him. Her family was close with the superintendent so when there was winter weather- this is the South, so not extreme or anything- she emailed him a picture of the cutout on the icy street with the caption “The Vice President has slipped and fallen, school must be cancelled as the roads are unsafe!” It was very funny and school did end up being cancelled because of the weather.

  33. Schuyler Seestra*

    If you just need to prank someone at the office, you need to be ready for repercussions. Do not prank anyone you don’t know well. If you have to pranks, than it’s someone who you know and trust. You do not get to control your victims reaction. You better be ready to apologize ASAP if your victim is upset. Do not double down. Clean up any mess you made, move removed items back to where you found them, do not expect your victim to just deal with it.

    1. anna green*

      Do not double down.

      YESSSS this. So many times things can just be fixed quickly by a sincere apology in the moment.

  34. Rivakonneva*

    We’re pretty low-key prankers at my office. People occasionally come in to find:
    –their desktop wallpaper changed to a laughing donkey
    –a party hat and streamers on their monitor for their birthday
    –googly eyes on various posters and signs in the building
    –fake diplomas from “Guffaw University” for a “Master’s in Managing Meetings” degree (and others)
    –invitations to join the law firm of “Dewey, Cheathem and Howe”
    –a visit from Mortimer the Rubber Mouse on their desk

    That’s it. Our only other thing is an unofficial ongoing contest to ‘dress’ the paper skeleton in an upstairs office in an odd outfit. So far the winner is the Santa bikini. :)

  35. Windward*

    The rule I grew up with is to only do things like pranks & teasing out of affection & in ways you’d find affectionate if done to you. Otherwise, the rule continues, you’re being mean. It’s served me well.

    1. Jamie*

      I think that’s a nice sentiment, but in reading some posts above some things I would find to be affectionate teasing some would have an averse reaction to due to childhood trauma with being bullied.

      I know I would find something funny and affectionate that other people would not like so that rule of thumb wouldn’t work for everyone.

  36. stitchinthyme*

    I’m in the middle-ground camp, as Alison describes at the end of the article. Mild pranks like plastic-wrapping someone’s office, swapping their pictures, or filling their cubicle with balloons, are harmless and fun and can lighten up the mood. One time a guy I worked with went on a trip to Antarctica, so other coworkers bought a bunch of inflatable penguins and left them in his office (he’s since left the company, but at least one of those penguins is still in his old office even though it’s now someone else’s!). Most places I’ve worked where stuff like this was done, it didn’t happen every day or usually even every month, just once in a while — not enough to repeatedly disrupt work.

    To Schuyler Seestra’s point above, about how childhood bullying has made them sensitive to this sort of thing…I was bullied too, but in some ways I actually welcome good-natured ribbing or mild pranking from my coworkers, because they do it to each other and in a weird way, I feel like it means they like me. But the exact nature of it makes all the difference.

    1. Jamie*

      One time a guy I worked with went on a trip to Antarctica, so other coworkers bought a bunch of inflatable penguins and left them in his office (he’s since left the company, but at least one of those penguins is still in his old office even though it’s now someone else’s!).

      Is this place hiring?

  37. Light37*

    I’m pretty anti-pranks as a rule. I can only think of a couple that were actually funny.

    1. A retiring manager salted the special library I worked at with little green army men. This was funny, especially when a patron pulled a book off the shelf and and would come up to the desk with a book and a plastic figure. We were still finding them when we moved eight years later.

    2. The head librarian at another special library put in a requisition for a VW Bug after they started making them again. She did this on April Fool’s Day, and the manager laughed his head off. (We did not get the Bug, sadly.)

    This is my idea of an OK prank. Nobody got hurt, everyone involved got a laugh.

    1. (Former) HR Expat*

      Ditto on the army men. I had a boss in college who was a bit of a workaholic (we worked in a language lab that was open from 7am-9pm and he was there almost all the time it was open). One time we knew he was going to leave around 7pm, so my coworker and I went out and bought a bunch of fun toys, a can of sardines, some really awfully-flavored potato chips, and a bunch of other things. We waited for him to leave, left the “presents” on his desk, putting wrapping paper on his office door, and hid the army men in various places around his office. He came in the next morning and immediately called me laughing and asking how we got into his office, although I continued to play dumb (eventually I caved and told him about all the people it took to pull this off- he was impressed). When the lab moved buildings a few years later, he called me to say that he had a laugh when he found more army men hiding in random files.

      If I’m ever on campus, I always leave an unopened pack of army men taped to his door. He’ll call me when he finds it so we can catch up.

    2. Lissa*

      This makes me think of I think John Scalzi who said “the failure mode of clever is asshole” and I think that is a part of it – if a prank isn’t found funny, it should instead just be nothing, not sad or annoying or anything. So the requisition or the green army men – if someone didn’t “get” that type of humour (Personally I’d love it!) the only consequence would be “oh, that’s random.” Humour isn’t universal so pranks need to be something that even if the joke itself falls flat, it’s still harmless.

      1. Light37*

        Yes, agreed. The worst thing that happened with the army men was a moment of confusion on the part of a patron who had a little green figure peeking coyly at them from behind a book. And the head librarian knew the director for decades, so she was aware he’d get a laugh out of it.
        And yes, it was Scalzi who said this. And he was so, so right.

  38. EmmaWoodhouse*

    There are other ways to have fun in the office.
    For me, even the “harmless” ones like desk-decorating/picture-switching are just…a waste of time and minor white-noise annoyance. That’s not to say that people are wrong for finding those funny, but I don’t believe the quality of any workplace/workplace experience would be made WORSE by the absence of even harmless pranks. Whereas, as we’ve all seen, pranks ranging from thoughtless to heartless can absolutely have a destructive impact.

    When it comes to work environments, if there is something that, at its best, isn’t necessary or irreplaceable (as other commenters have noted, there’s non-prank ways to have fun), and, at its worst, is downright harmful…yeah, I’m going to err on the side of total ban.

  39. AngryAngryAlice*

    There is exactly one prank ever that I considered pulling at work and decided not to (because it would’ve been more work thank it was worth, not because it was bad).

    A person in the office was notorious for always having an abundance of freshly sharpened No. 2 pencils all the time. It was sort of “his thing.” And no matter how many pencils people borrowed or he lost, he’d always have more in the drawer or something. It was something people occasionally lightly robbed him about, nothing more.

    So on April Fools Day, I was going to come in early and put about 100 pencils around his office in drawers, mugs, on the window, etc. Mostly just an exaggerated version of what he already did, but to a comical degree. And then after everyone chuckled, he’d have a ton of pencils to use as backups for months!

    I ended up waiting until the last minute to buy the pencils, and when I went to get them, CVS was out. I would’ve had to walk well out of my way to a place with them in stock, so I just decided not to. But I think “pranks” like these are fine because no one gets laughed at, and then the person who’s getting pranked actually gets something somewhat helpful out of it! I wouldn’t object to this kind of prank in an office setting, but anything more seems risky and ill-advised.

    1. Delta Delta*

      I did something similar once. I had a coworker who was annoyed that she had a lot of pennies. This would come up from time to time and everyone just knew Lucinda is annoyed by pennies. Some coworkers and I covered the top of her desk with pennies one April Fools Day. She was flummoxed, then cursed the pennies, then realized she was about $10 richer, and laughed about it.

  40. Office Killjoy*

    Yeah. No. Pranks are embarrassing time wasters meant to force laughter at someone’s expense at best and liabilities that can lead to harm or lawsuits at worst. Prank your family and leave me out of it.

  41. Prank-Neutral*

    “I say this because I receive a surprising number of letters about pranks at work, and they inevitably provoke a flood of outraged responses from anti-prank readers, followed by a wave of replies insisting those people are killjoys who don’t understand fun.”

    If these comments are anything to go by, at the very least Alison sure knows her readers!

      1. Spencer Hastings*

        Why? What else would you expect the comments section to be about on an article like this?

        To me, the most important function of a comments section is to host and facilitate analysis of the issue under discussion. When reading an advice column, I hope to advance my knowledge and develop my opinions on questions like “What is ethical?”, “What is appropriate?”, “What is reasonable?”, etc. If I come away with a clearer understanding of “I prefer X to Y, for Z reasons”, then I think I’ve learned something, and I see that as valuable.

        For instance, the comments here helped me understand that I feel differently about pranks depending on whether they’re neutral and played identically on everyone, versus specifically targeted based on personal characteristics. Maybe this distinction is common knowledge, but I hadn’t considered it before, and it wasn’t explicitly mentioned in the article itself (I think it’s a factor in whether a prank has a chance of fitting Alison’s “funny for everyone” criterion). I’ve gained knowledge and understanding! And it was brought on by the comments!

  42. Anonomoose*

    I’ve actually carried out one of Alison’s no go pranks, but would stress you have to be reaaaally careful about the circumstances.

    A lab head, known for being unpc, sent around a pretty unacceptable meme…and, so, we made a perfect copy of the news website he read, with a prominent article replaced with “lab funding withdrawn due to sexist meme” as a headline, and a picture of our grandboss looking sad outside the building

    And…we redirected the lab heads web traffic to the fake site. And his office mate . Cue some minor fireworks, and a bit of personal re examination for the lab head

    1. gwal*

      This is probably the weirdest version of “I sent an anonymous note after a coworker did something I didn’t like” I’ve ever read on this site. And perhaps most effective?

      1. Anonomoose*

        Well, it was April fool’s day, and he took it well, and ended up sending a “look what those people in IT did to me” email….but also privately emailing us and agreeing he should tone it down a bit

  43. Pay No Attention To The Man Behind The Curtain*

    I only like pranks where either no one or everyone is the “target” and the prank is easily ignored by those that don’t want to participate; so googly eyes on the coffee machine or fridge is a good one, but stealing all the TP from the bathroom, or filling someone’s desk with packing peanuts would be out-of-bounds. The point of pranks should be to make people smile, not inconvenience or embarrass them.

  44. Verklemptomaniac*

    My general rule for office pranks is that the goal should be to make the person’s day funnier or weirder, not more stressful. At most, a prank should be an extremely minor inconvenience that takes a minute or two to ‘set right.’

    An example: at an old job, a group that worked alongside mine was having a rollout event for a report. They had about 20-30 boxes of reports delivered the day before the event to hand out. As a prank, we took the boxes that were stacked in the hallway and stacked them to block the desk of the staffer who was the main POC for the event. He came in, saw it, chuckled, we all helped him move the boxes, and that was that. No one hurt, no one crying, no one vomiting, no one even significantly inconvenienced. Just one person’s morning made momentarily more surreal.

    (As we were stacking the boxes, someone asked what else we could do, and I suggested that, if we wanted to be evil, we could cut open the bottom of the boxes so the reports spilled out of the bottom. I still chuckle remembering the shock on their faces; I don’t think they expected that from the Office Baker.)

  45. cmcinnyc*

    I had to be Ms. Killjoy and shut down a prank in progress once, because I thought one of my work friends was going to get herself reprimanded at the least. She did not appreciate why I made her cease and desist with the “thousands of rubber bands around a watermelon until it explodes” prank–in SOMEONE ELSE’S CUBE. Oh yes this will be hilarious the watermelon will explode spectacularly showering professionally dressed people, contracts, and computer keyboards with sticky watermelon pulp and juice. There will be exactly a nanosecond of hilarity! and then…

    It’s the “and then…” that seems to elude prank lovers.

  46. schnauzerfan*

    Way back in the stone age, our computers didn’t have sound cards, we moved to a new system, with new hardware that had sound! For the longest time your computer would develop new sounds. Sometimes you’d hit a button and MEOW or Baa or beepbeepbeep. These were quiet sounds as there were no external speakers.

    It was relatively easy to reset and lock the sounds if you didn’t want to play, but it was kind of a fun thing.

    1. Chinookwind*

      My brother and I did that repeatedly to my mom’s Mac back in the late 80’s – I don’t know whose bright idea it was to make a monkey sound as one of the “beep” options but it entertained us repeatedly. We could tell whenever my mom started working because there would be a loud scream for one of us to come and fix her computer again.

      1. Pay No Attention To The Man Behind The Curtain*

        The old Macs were the best for pranks; they even had great Easter Eggs built into the OS and many of the programs made for Mac. My office had a first generation iMac for a bit and the error sound was Homer Simpson going “Doh!”

  47. Someone Else's Office*

    Some of those descriptions go way beyond what I would call a prank.

    I think truly harmless joking is ok, but it’s subjective to the person on the receiving end.

    We played a small prank at our office once a few years back. The person cleaning the office texted me to complain about the horrible state of the men’s room. (Sorry this is gross) Apparently some the guys had trouble containing their excrement to the toilet and it ended up on the walls. The cleaner sent a photo of one of the stalls, but replaced the evidence in the photo with poop emojis.

    We have a very friendly relationship with the cleaning person, so the following Friday I cut out about half a dozen paper poop emojis with my die cutter, complete with the little eyes, and had one of the guys tape them up inside the stall. It was done at the end of the day, after all the other employees had gone home. The cleaner found it hilarious.

    1. Constance Lloyd*

      For me a huge factor is how much work it takes to undo the prank. A coworker and good friend loves Blake Shelton and hates Prince… but I love Prince. When she was on vacation I made a diorama of Prince and Blake performing on stage together, holding hands, and left it on her desk. Like your poo emojis, nothing was altered or hidden and there was next to no cleanup.

  48. Antilles*

    I was pranked exactly *once* at work, in my old job. The old “tie the phone cord together so it’s super short” gag. Fortunately, I figured out what was going on almost immediately…and since I hate pranks, I instead turned it back on them by pulling the phone cable hard enough to yank the phone off the table, then ‘accidentally’ failing to catch the phone as it fell to the ground.
    Result: One broken phone, one IT manager flipping his lid at the pranksters, zero blowback for me as the ‘victim’, and never having to deal with another prank.
    10/10, wouldn’t change a thing.

  49. CoolInTheShade*

    The only prank I ever pulled at work was on my boss. It was a gradual escalation that started with slipping a stapler into his winter coat pocket on a Friday (he found it over the weekend), and ended up with my buying 25 staplers and slipping them into various places in his cubicle.

    He liked that his employees were comfortable enough with him to have a little fun, and appreciated that the fun was safe-for-work and not mean in any way.

    A few months after I left his department for another on within the company, I got a text letting me know he found one of my staplers in an rarely used pocked of his insulated lunch box.

    1. CoolInTheShade*

      If the only choices, though, are “Pranks are fine” or “No Pranks” I’d have to be team “No Pranks” because some people don’t know when they’re crossing a line or you just never know when someone is having just the worst time and a little light-hearted ribbing will be the last straw. I’m a bit of a jokester and enjoy small harmless pranks, but it’s usually not worth potentially hurting or alienating someone.

      It’s because I’m in HR, though. We get to see all the pranks that fail, and therefore we have a negative view of them.

    2. Clisby*

      What was fun about that? I don’t mean it sounds like bullying or being mean, just … what’s fun about putting staplers around someone’s workplace? He gets a bunch of staplers he can donate to Goodwill?

      1. New Jack Karyn*

        It’s just goofy! You put your hand in your coat pocket, looking for your keys, What the heck is THAT!?! It’s silly.

  50. I need coffee before I can make coffee*

    What does anyone recommend doing when you see a prank being set up, and you’re pretty sure the prankee is not going to take it well? I had this happen years ago when a group of people from the logistics department decided one afternoon to pack up someone’s office cubicle for shipping – they put everything on pallets, shrinkwrapped it, and created shipping invoices. I did speak up and say I didn’t think he would find it funny, but I was ignored, so I made it clear I wanted no part of it. I was not looking forward to coming in the next day, and sure enough, I could hear the yelling as soon as I got off the elevator. The guy was furious, as I thought he would be. The boss had to send him home for the day so he could calm down. I think a few people were counseled about it, but I don’t think anyone was fired over it. I don’t know what else I could have done but to speak up at the time.

    1. fposte*

      I might alert the manager or pre-warn the victim. But with something like this where it’s not convincing somebody they’re going to jail or physically hurting somebody, I wouldn’t necessarily spend a ton of energy averting it, either; sometimes the consequences just play out, and that’s okay.

    2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      I would alert the victim immediately and talk to management because that’s a massive waste of time to say the least.

      As the boss, everyone involved would be on notice and it would be their one step towards termination because they have such limited ability to understand that’s not an acceptable thing to do.

      1. Clisby*

        Yeah, don’t these people have any real work to do? If they have time for something this elaborate, they have time to looking for a new job because they’ve been fired.

        1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

          Seriously! I’ve had to palletize and shrink wrap, even at my quickest, it’s not a fast “job” and can cause actual damage if you’re not careful.

          Shrink wrap is also expensive AF, not gonna lie.

          If it takes more than 5-10 minutes, the prank is exhausting and unacceptable IMO. Most should be something you can quickly take down or undo, like a picture taped over another one that’s behind a frame or decorating a cube with streamers and a banner.

    3. mark132*

      I wonder if there was “bad blood” already? That sounds much more like harassment rather than a prank.

  51. Holy Carp*

    I had a colleague who conspired to “prank” both me and the rest of my workplace by taking and hiding two different pieces of equipment that were being used. One was an expensive piece of equipment that I’d temporarily taken out of storage, that was mysteriously gone the next day when I came into my room. The other was being used in another team’s project that had to be suspended until the item was found. “Ransom notes” appeared with photographs of the this latter item, which led to security becoming involved. By chance, some junior people offered clues to me about my equipment, which led to its recovery. I was extremely surprised and then very angered to find out who was involved, as I had thought this person and I had a good working relationship. I was not surprised that the same prankster was involved in both pranks. Bottom line: the colleague was suspended for two days without pay for unprofessional behavior, and soon asked for a transfer to another branch.

  52. Um...*

    I used to throw a fake cobra on call center staff after being told to make work more fun.

    That lasted 20 minutes before I got called in.

  53. fogharty*

    Yeah, I had a relative tell me about a “prank” he and his fellow workers pulled on the lone female staff member: by blocking the door to the woman’s restroom when she went in to use it… trapping her in the bathroom for several hours.

    He didn’t understand why I didn’t find it “hilarious” and kept getting more and more defensive about it until he gave the universal excuse “Well, she was a b**** anyway and so had it coming.”

    I’d like to think he’s more enlightened these days (this was many years ago) but I doubt it.

  54. TheWonderGinger*

    At OldJob, we had a co worker who liked to enter sweepstakes, play the lottery, etc. A few years ago she talked about winning the Clearing House sweeps for a few weeks, what she was gonna do with the money, the pool party she’d have for us, etc.

    We filled her cube with balloons and made a giant fake check to hand to her when she walked in, she was so tickled and pleased.

    Another time when a coworker resigned, I strung heaps of black streamers in her cube on every surface I could attach too.

  55. Chocoholic*

    I used to work at a nursing home and shared an office with a nurse educator. We had a full-sized mannequin that was used for things such as demonstrating correct transfer techniques, bathing techniques, etc. This mannequin traveled between our sister facilities and it was always fun to move it from one place to another since it had to basically be strapped into the seat in the car.

    Anyhow, the mannequin used to occasionally show up sitting at a conference table or someplace similar. Those were funny because it caused everyone to jump slightly and then laugh and as more people showed up to the meeting everyone would say “I know, I jumped too”. I always joked about putting it in the bathroom, but I never did because it was one of those things that was funny in theory but probably would not be in reality.

    1. TPS Cover Sheet*

      My weird teacher in highschool told her son had nicked a Resuci-Anne, and stuffed it into her wardrobe, so it fell out when she opened the door…

  56. Rob aka Mediancat*

    One thing that is mandatory: If someone makes it clear they don’t want to be involved in pranking, don’t involve them. Even if it’s an office that is otherwise prank-friendly, even if the prank is a genuinely harmless kind of thing, even if this ruins your perfect setup. To do otherwise reveals yourself as a jerk.

    1. mark132*

      A corollary to this “law” would be if you don’t want to be pranked, you should never prank anyone else.

  57. Other Meredith*

    When I worked at the copy center in college (we would print out the tests and syllabus for professors), our daily prank was to find the silliest thing you could on the internet and change the home page before the next shift started. So one day you’d pull up the internet and it would be a picture of a horse wearing a sweater, the next it would be a fan page for Attack of the Killer Tomatoes. Lots of fun, no one got hurt.

  58. Dan*

    At my last job, there was a young kid who fancied himself the office prankster. For the most part, his pranks were harmless and annoying, and TBH, not even all that funny.

    For April fools, one of the senior guys decided it was time for payback — he took prankster’s keyboard and mouse and put it in prankster’s drawer. It took him like an hour to find his stuff, and he was crying foul the whole time. The rest of us were amused because apparently he could dish it out but couldn’t take it. We all nodded along with approval, and I think prankster got the hint and his antics died down.

  59. in the file room*

    It is truly bizarre how many responses on this thread are “someone did this thing that they knew I would personally like, because they know me well, and it was great” followed by “well I would hate it, so it’s bad and wrong and therefore all pranks are bad and wrong”. Talk about ignoring the sandwiches rule.

      1. CommanderBanana*

        It’s the “But some people don’t even HAVE sandwiches!” thing – like when people start piling on in the comments by taking the whole “some people X Y or Z” to extremes.

    1. Mk*

      I mean, I think the distinction isn’t there that you’re saying is. The ‘because they know me, it was fine.’ Allison gives the advice to only do pranks if you know the person well enough to know if they would like it. But that doesn’t add that ‘because they know me’ as an implication to all the posters giving examples of harmless pranks.

  60. Clisby*

    The point at which anyone even thought of this so-called “prank” was Too Far. They should have been fired, and whoever was impersonating a law enforcement official should have been reported for possible prosecution.

      1. Detective Amy Santiago*

        I wonder how that LW is doing now. I hope they found an amazing job.

  61. KehSquared*

    I’m on team No Pranks Ever. The whole point of a prank or practical joke is to upset, embarrass, or inconvenience a specific person or group of people for your own amusement (and having to clean up someone else’s prank in order to do your job counts as being inconvenienced). It’s mean spirited and I don’t understand why people think it’s okay in any situation, let alone at work.

    Decorations and fun traditions that don’t target anyone, don’t upset anyone or interfere with their job, and are optional/opt outable are not pranks. That’s why they’re okay. The line being drawn by most people between what’s acceptable and what’s not is pretty much the line between what’s a prank and what’s not.

  62. Lady Kelvin*

    We are currently planning a prank on a coworker. Said coworker was just named employee of the year, said employee also goes into another coworker’s office and eats his peanuts (with permission, while meeting with him). So in “honor” of said employee’s win, we are buying him 4 Costco sized jars of peanuts to place on his desk for the awards day, which also happens to be the day he and I return from a work trip. Harmless, tasty, and he will think it is hilarious.

  63. I'm Not Phyllis*

    Theoretically I have no issue with pranks, but the problem with them is that they often seem to escalate and eventually someone will take them too far. That and the added thing where you have no idea what’s going on in a person’s life – they could be overly sensitive for reasons that have nothing to do with the prank, but it would still suck to make someone upset when you just intended a joke. So in reality, I’m on team no pranks at work.

  64. Willow*

    We filled my boss’s office with balloons once. We discussed beforehand, though, whether she would appreciate it or be annoyed–and knew her well enough to know she’d enjoy it. What we didn’t predict was that she’d love it so much that she kept the balloons for several days. (Meetings were hilarious.) Then she asked that we clean it up one evening, and we stayed late popping balloons.

  65. jDC*

    One day my boss came out of the office confused that a small lotion bottle had ended up on her desk when she was in a meeting. She asked me about it. I knew nothing. She then proceeded to jokingly hide the bottle in/on my desk and id do the same. Went in for months. Totally stupid but it was funny and nice to have that silly bonding with my boss. She was an awesome person.

  66. jDC*

    Oh I didn’t replace the faces on every pic in one guys office with a cut out of my face. Took way too long to cut that many out but was so worth it. He took a pic of it and sent it to me a couple weeks ago. We were good friends so had a very polite but silly constant prank war.

  67. Pipe Organ Guy*

    Many years ago, back in the mid-1960s, a major record company had assembled the finest cast possible along with the Vienna Philharmonic for the first studio recording of a particular Wagner opera, Götterdämmerung. Recording something on this scale is long, exacting, intense work. However, it had become something of a tradition for the producer and the engineers to play pranks on the leading soprano, who enjoyed them and had come to expect them. Well, the sessions were finally approaching their end, and nothing had happened yet. The soprano was getting curious!

    There is a moment in the final scene of this opera where Brünnhilde calls for her faithful horse, Grane. Now the horse is often omitted in stage productions, but this recording was intent on honoring every single one of Wagner’s stage directions. So, in the middle of this very intense session, when Brünnhilde called for her horse, the producer obliged. A horse (who had been prepped for this very moment) was led onto the recording stage. Everyone (especially Brünnhilde!) dissolved into gales of laughter. A few minutes were lost, and then the session continued. No one was hurt or diminished in any way. And the final recording was a triumph for all concerned.

  68. Alexander Graham Yell*

    I’m actually shocked realizing how different the definition of “prank” is for some people and wondering if that’s part of the problem? Somebody up thread said that the point of a prank is that it upsets somebody and that shines a huge light on some of this discussion for me and why people react to it so strongly. That hasn’t been my experience or understanding of pranks basically since middle school.

    I’m much more likely to use the word prank to talk about something that AT MOST startles somebody, always with the intention of making the person I’m pranking laugh – it should surprise and delight them, even if there is a minor inconvenience. It seems like using the same word with two wildly different definitions is really causing a lot of us to talk past each other on this particular topic.

    1. pamela voorhees*

      I agree — and I think another part of the problem is how people have experienced pranks in the past. If someone was bullying you in middle school, but referred to everything they did as “pranks”, then of course you’re going to associate pranks with something awful. It also leads to people not trusting when someone swears that a prank is fun and light hearted, because they’ve been taken advantage of /abused by that before. The bullying behavior is super fun to the bully!

      1. Curlz*

        I think practical joke might be a better term for the positive version: you are making a joke that happens to be “practical” (put into practice/implemented) instead of verbal. As with all jokes, know your audience, but most people aren’t against tasteful jokes. We just don’t have well-defined rules about what counts as tasteful when it comes to practical jokes.

        1. Alexander Graham Yell*

          Yeah, I’m realizing anything I would refer to as a “prank” would probably fall under the “practical joke” category, and when I hear people getting really, deeply upset about a “prank” I’d call it straight-out bullying. Definitely helps me understand the disconnect a lot better.

        2. Pibble*

          And oddly enough, for me, it’s “practical joke” that always means bullying, while “prank” can be enjoyable for all.

  69. Dwight*

    Jim put my office supplies into jello three times. It wasn’t funny the first two times either. My manager Michael just laughed.

  70. Anony*

    I don’t like pranks for a lot of reasons. 1) you don’t know someone’s day – a prank could be the breaking point, 2) no one asks to be part of a prank; let people work at work if they come there to…work? (I’m being redundant but the job comes first, don’t be disruptive), and 3) a laugh at someone else’s expense isn’t funny, and 4) none of my coworkers know me well enough for a prank to come off as anything other than annoying and at worse, mean-spirited

    That said, if your office is always ok with this sort of thing then that’s whatever but offices are rarely full of the same type of people. I think if people are friendly enough with each other then pranks are fine as well, as long as everyone else isn’t impeded.

  71. palomar*

    I stopped enjoying pranks when I worked for a large international software company as an admin, because cleaning up after the pranks was part of my job. Like the time a guy was out on paternity leave and his direct reports decided to turn his office into a garden, with flower beds on the floor and his keyboard replaced with one they’d been prepping at home for a few weeks full of live sprouts. It was funny to the tech bros who planned the whole thing… not so much to me, the already overworked admin who had to clean up all the dirt. It was nice that they used plastic painting dropcloths as a layer between the dirt and the carpet but that didn’t actually make cleanup a whole lot easier.

    I drew the line at dismantling the actual wooden deck and garden trellis they’d constructed in another office. Especially since they’d hidden it from admin staff until about 6 hours before the office was required to be vacated for a full division space reorganization.

    1. Close Bracket*

      ” as an admin, because cleaning up after the pranks was part of my job.”

      The hell! Who made that decision? They should have cleaned it up themselves.

    2. KoiFeeder*

      I’ve heard of the rent-a-duck prank, but an /actual garden/ sounds… Was all that effort really worth it?

    3. Rob aka Mediancat*

      Who ended up dismantling the deck and trellis? The original pranksters?

  72. nnn*

    I saw an analogy somewhere that said humour is like sex: to be good at it, you have to do it in a way that’s good for the other person. If your attempt doesn’t give the other person pleasure, you’re the one who’s bad at it, not them. And the weirder the thing you’re trying, the more certain you have to be that the other person consents and will enjoy it.

    I’d say the same goes for pranks.

    1. Natalie*

      Yes! And, you can’t argue someone into enjoying anything by telling them that they ought to like it!

  73. nnn*

    Also, the absolutely 100% of the time rule should be that whoever did the prank cleans up, mitigates the damage, covers for the victim if they need to step away from their work to recombobulate, etc.

  74. Lonely Aussie*

    Someone filled our water cooler with dead rats once. The work site we’re on has rats in plague levels, and there’s a massive operation to be rid of them with various pest control companies involved. (I personally think it’s a doomed mission and they’re only slowing their gradual take over.) someone found the pile of rats after the pest guys had been and half filled the bottle with the bodies. Super gross, resulted in no access to cold and safe drinking water over summer (there was a another safe tap about 1km away) and when I rocked up in that area to help them out (short staffed) about a week after it had occurred, the manager on asked me to do the clean out. My response was not the most professional…

  75. Argye*

    Pranks are too often barely-hidden hostility. A coworker one day decided to not let me speak in a staff meeting. These meetings were horrible, anyway, once a week with little to talk about, but HAD TO last at least an hour, because the Dept. Chair insisted. Anyway, one time this coworker said something EVERY SINGLE TIME I opened my mouth. He literally never let me say a word. The Dept. Chair, who hated me, kept dissolving into giggles. She thought it was *hilarious*. I was furious and miserable. I was later reprimanded for having no sense of humor for getting upset. It was just a prank! To make things extra gross, coworker was male, I am female.

    1. pamela voorhees*

      No one should do this because it’s next level unprofessional but god, I would have been so tempted to just start screaming over him.

  76. TPS Cover Sheet*

    Meh… it depends on the culture. Some workplaces its a definite nfw… some workplaces… it can be an educational experience. Long time ago when mainframes roamed the earth and you could smoke in the office, I worked in a cubicle farm you were leaving your desk supposed to a) lock your computer, b) if you had a laptop have it security cabled and c) keep your ID tag on you at all times…. Well, if you didn’t… I went two days as daffy duck as my ID photo… laptops were usually in the office fridge having a cooldown… and omg you went for lunch we would screenshot your desktop and hide your icons and put the screenshot as background in seconds flat… Our department had the best security record.

  77. Unfurloughed Fed*

    Wow. Some of these are breathtakingly bad.

    I will admit I’ve done a prank at work. Back in my secretarial days, I shared open space with another secretary , who had a goldfish in a 10 gallon tank. Of course, he was named Mr. Fish and he got his own name placket next to the tank.

    As fish are prone to do in such a small tank, he eventually began floating sideways. She tried the normal things to help (something about a bladder?) Anyway, I ordered some get well balloons for Mr. Fish to be delivered and asked the woman to include one black one, just in case. (I did explain that Mr. Fish was, literally, a fish).

    My coworker loved the balloons, even though Mr. Fish did not recover. We wrote an obituary in our company newsletter and included a picture of Mr. Fish and the balloons.

  78. Little Tin Goddess*

    The switching pictures one is great. I wonder how long before people noticed.

    At an old job of mine, a couple of my coworkers put post it notes all over my cubical – desk, phone, monitor, keyboard, etc. It was hilarious because I was out the day before so they had a whole lot of time to do it. The funny part was were had recently been talking about those kinds of pranks done in offices and I walked into that.

  79. Adjuncts Anonymous*

    I pulled a prank on my class for April 1 this year, but no one noticed it! I have a paper calendar in my room, and instead of changing it to April, I changed it to August. If a prank is going to go wrong, it’s better that it is so innocuous that it goes unremarked than that it hurts someone physically or emotionally.

  80. Work In Progress*

    The only “prank” that was actually enjoyable involved a shared restroom among several different offices on our floor.

    One day, inexplicably, a framed photo of that botched Spanish restoration/pop culture phenomenon known of Ecco Homme (sp?) appeared on the counter by the sinks of the women’s restroom. (We assumed it came from the office that housed some local museum staff). So, feeling playful, I added battery powered votive and a flower to the new “alter.” Others quickly picked up on this and soon more and more random trinkets began to appear until it was a full blown “shrine.”

    Each day my coworkers and I delighted in seeing what new addition made it to the alter. And apparently, the men’s restroom started their own “shrine” with a nautical theme once they heard about what was going on in the women’s restroom.

    I left my job shortly after, so I have no idea if the shrine is still there. (It was going 2mo strong). However, it was the one spotlight of joy during a rotten work situation at the time.

    I think it also worked bc it didn’t involve touching or messing with anyone’s stuff. (This was a neutral location and didn’t interfere with function or cause any damage). People could easily participate, but it was “out of the way” enough that you could easily opt out and avoid it (without fear of being labeled a “killjoy”). And lastly, it wasn’t aimed at any particular person/group.

    But otherwise, yeah, I would put myself firmly on Team No Pranks.

  81. Rikki Tikki Tarantula*

    Where on earth do some of the pranksters mentioned in these comments work? They obviously don’t have enough work if they can devote this much time and energy to what amounts to silliness at best and cruelty at worst.

  82. SKTeacher*

    I feel like it also is based on your work environment. I use to work management in retail and we were all really friendly with each other. When the store manager was retiring, we pulled a nice prank on him. He was a well-known fan of a certain football team, so we decorated his office with streamers and balloons in the color of his favorite football team’s rivals. It was fun, harmless, and he found it hilarious.

  83. Bowserkitty*

    I say this because I receive a surprising number of letters about pranks at work, and they inevitably provoke a flood of outraged responses from anti-prank readers, followed by a wave of replies insisting those people are killjoys who don’t understand fun.

    I enjoy that this proved true for the comments on this post as well. lmao

  84. tamarack and fireweed*

    It occurs to me that there are a number of parallels between being open to doing a prank and to pursuing a romantic relationship at work. (And I use the singular intentionally because it seems like, if at all, there should only ever be very very few during one’s work life.)

    1. At some workplaces, it’s a complete NO. For good reasons. See the poster above at a hospital. No pranks if you deal with life-threatening situations, time-critical operations, or anything else that could be expected to jeopartize participants’ or third parties’ life circumstances.
    2. Only the most gentle approach. Nothing you set out to do can ever humiliate or frighten your target or bystanders.
    3. The proof in the pudding is in the eating. A prank (in a not-a-priory-no-pranks-ever environment) is ok if and only if everyone involved fully enjoys it. And that doesn’t just include the target of the prank, but also downstream consequences suffered if someone with less good judgement tries to replicate it. A high-risk prank is not ok even if it succeeds (this time around, by pure luck): next time someone tries the exact same thing, it might just fall wrongly.

    (I’m a no-pranks person, but there are certainly some harmless, non-aggressive, charmingly funny things that, in a low-key non-hazardous office environment would be fine and enjoyable. No issues with wandering googly eyes, or the magnetic letters on the wall of one of our washrooms, where people leave inoffensive absurd poetry, for example. Similarly, I know that 90% or more of people considering approaching a coworker for dating should JUST NOT DO IT, but recognize that in reality, people DO find their soulmates at work — especially in creative occupations where people bring a lot of their personality into their workplace, and jobs take up more than just the actual work hours.)

  85. Professional Merchandiser*

    I’m not a fan of pranks, and I don’t work in an office, BUT!! If I was going to do one, it would be leaving a cow figurine painted purple, or a llama in pajamas. Can you tell I’m an Odgen Nash fan?

  86. Professional Merchandiser*

    Okay, my oldest grandchild was reading over my shoulder and went WHAAA???? So let me explain. Odgen Nash wrote doggerel and two of them went as follows: “I’ve never seen a Purple Cow. “The one l lama, he’s a priest.
    I never hope to see one. The two l llama, he’s a beast .
    But I can tell you anyhow, I can bet a silk pajama
    I’d rather see than BE one.” There’s no such thing as a 3 l llama.”

    1. Decima Dewey*

      Gelett Burgess wrote the Purple Cow one. He also wrote a sequel”

      “Yes, I wrote ‘The Purple Cow’/I’m sorry now I wrote it/But I can tell you anyhow/I’ll kill you if you quote it.”

  87. Kristie M Evans*

    Many, many years ago, I shared an office with a coworker who had a really large bag of peanut M&Ms in his desk. He would eat a bit from the bag every day. One day I decided to buy my own bag and use it to fill up his bag a little every day so it seemed like he had a never-ending bag of candy. It took him a while to catch on…

  88. Professional Merchandiser*

    Ugh. My kingdom for an edit button. Let me do that again, I didn’t realize it wouldn’t format right. “I never saw a Purple Cow. I never hope to see one. But I can tell you anyhow, I’d rather see than be one.”
    “The one L lama, he’s a priest. The two L llama, he’s a beast. But I can bet a silk pajama, there’s no such thing as a three L lllama.

    1. Professional Merchandiser*

      One more comment about Odgen Nash. One day a farmer came to his office with a cow painted purple. All he said was, “Now you can say you’ve seen one!!

  89. Lady Librarian*

    I had a coworker who hated post-its (objected to them on principle, idk) so for his birthday we COVERED his office door in post-its like three deep but on every one we put a weird drawing or quote or compliment for him. He loved it.

  90. Catherine*

    My boss tends to return from conference tours to find his office redecorated.

    When he went on a particularly long sabbatical, I got a broken keyboard from IT, filled it with dirt, planted it with micro herbs, and watered it assiduously. I hid his actual keyboard under his desk, and replaced it with the lush green keyboard full of herbs, and hung a few fake cobwebs and vines around his chair and computer as though his office had begun to be reclaimed by nature. It looked beautiful, and the only reason it didn’t pass the five minute cleanup text was that he spent the whole morning taking photos and inviting people in to admire it.

  91. JJ*

    I used to work for… Lets say a fast food restaurant that competes with another fast food restaurant, both of which apparently have an overlapping factory that makes their cups.

    We received a single sleeve of cups with both logos not only printed on them, but printed in such a way that it appeared gorgeously intentional. On the fly our manager called in the assistent manager in, set a cup on the table and informed them very convincingly that there was being a merger between companies.

    I’m not someone who is normally fond of pranks, but I still laugh sometimes when I think of it. It was so perfect, but what made it work so well was that it was spontaneous and kind hearted.

  92. Doctor Schmoctor*

    I think pranks are fine, as long as:
    1) They don’t upset anybody
    2) The prankee enjoys it
    3) They don’t require any cleanup (eg. don’t cover someone’s desk in glitter)

    1. Bagpuss*

      Yes, I think that is a pretty good set of ground rules, and with your point (2) that does mean thateither the prnak needs to be very low-key / innocous OR you need to really know the person so you can accurately judge whether they will enjoy it.

      We had one ealrier this uear which I think met the criteria.

      Ouroffice junior,’Anne’ got a really got opportunity elsewhere so gave notice. Anne had been sharing an office with a coworker ‘Buffy’ who she got on reallly well with. Buffy is older and did a fair bit of mentoring when Anne first started, and made a lot of comments about how much she would miss Anne. Buffy happened to have a day of on Anne’s last day.

      Anne brought in a photo of herself and mde loads of copies of it in differnt sizes, and put them all over Bufy’s office – pitting her face ove rthat of Buffy’s family membes in a photo, over the faces of the footballers on Buffy’s wall calendar, printed off an A4 copy of the photo andfiled it in the front of the lever arch file that the hardcopy office handbook lives in (as it lives in Bufy’s room and she updates it) , a poster size version on the back of Buffy’s door, 2 of 3 copies at various points in Buffy’s in tray so she would come across them at different times, and so on. She even took a photo of Buffy’s desktop, on the picture replad all the icons with miniversions of her face and then taped the finished art work over Buffy’s monitor so it looked, as firstglance, as if her desktop had been altered, and as Bufy’s mug has a photoprint of it, stuck mini versions of her face onto the people on the mug, too.

      Buffy loved it (Anne left 3 months ago and Buffy still has some of the pictures up)

      1. tamarack and fireweed*

        I’d even qualify point 2 and say, if the prank needs deep knowledge about the prankee’s personality and sense of humor to succeed, it should be out. You don’t want a situation in which a particularly thoughtful prank is so successful that it later gets replicated with increasingly less enchanted targets. There area always interns / apprentices / office juniors who may not yet have developed a good sense of what’s professional and what not (plus people who will never develop one).

        (I used to wonder if the old letter, in which a woman felt confused and disrespected when she got a get-well present from her co-workers which consisted of nicely wrapped trash, came from a misfired prank. It’s the sort of thing that some people with really oddball sense of humor might enjoy. So I’ve been thinking that maybe a few months later, unbeknownst to that letter writer, a co-worker was pranked with a trash gift, and found it hilarious.)

        1. cmcinnyc*

          Good point. I once produced an event and was surprised on stage at the end with a florist box–with nothing in it but tissue paper. I played it off and tossed the tissue paper into the audience with a big smile. And then one of the participants (and gifters) sneered at me, “Yeah we saw your face–you were going for the roses!” I never worked with any of those people again. I’m still in my industry. They are not. That’s none of my doing but I’m probably not the only person who decided these people aren’t worth the effort and never rehired/reached out/gave a reference, etc., and you cut yourself off from enough networks and that’s it for you.

          1. Spencer Hastings*

            I am admittedly not versed in the etiquette of what to do when given a florist box, but removing the contents of a box that’s been publicly presented to you seems…kind of like the obvious thing to do, and not something to be sneered at or called out for? What a jerk move.

  93. On Anon Anon*

    I think I’ve commented somewhere here about this before but I couple of years ago when I was buying my first home (alone, aged 26) an ex-coworker thought it would be a hilarious prank to send a letter posing as me estate agents saying I had been outbid on the house (my dream house) after I had already spent hundreds on legal fees, surveys etc. I had a very intense panic attack in the office and when she started laughing and said it was all a joke I came the closest I have ever come to punching someone in the face in my non-violent life. Bad times. Thankfully I have now been living happily in said house for 2 years and the co-worker left the business in a cloud (unrelated to the prank).

  94. Ophelia*

    We did a White Elephant gift exchange at our office where everyone put a $25 gift into a pile and chose/stole as we went down the line. Some gifts were slightly jokey, like desktop waffle makers, but none were pure junk and all hit the $20-$25 mark. Until one poor guy opened up a gold wrapped… potato. JUST a potato. Not a potato and a gift certificate… just a potato. The facilities team ended up expensing him a $25 gift card to Starbucks to make up for the pranksters lack of class.

    1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      Someone in my group of friends made a similar White Elephant gift, but hers was cute and was liked by everyone. She brought in a large box wrapped in nice gift paper. Of course everyone wanted the huge box, and someone eventually won it. Inside the box was a smaller box. Inside the smaller box, more smaller boxes and so on, until after opening a dozen or so boxes, the recipient found a gift card. Like, a gift card somehow sticking out from the inside of a potato would’ve been great! Just a potato, not so much.

  95. lilsheba*

    I’m sorry but pranks are NOT fun for me and I don’t like them. I don’t think they are appropriate. I especially don’t like my things touched or moved. OR being told some lie.

  96. Brendan Morrigan*

    With the “Company closing” April Fool’s day joke — my company once had lay-offs on April 1st. I know it was the start of a quarter guys, but maybe consider waiting a day?

  97. Complicated Spirit*

    I’m going to be honest. I hate, hate, HATE pranks. I don’t understand the appeal of, “Hey, you know what would be hilarious? Ruining someone’s day.”

  98. Volunteer Enforcer*

    Indeed. At my current firm we once had a box that was big enough to hide an adult in. The Business Relationship Manager hid so he couldn’t be seen, and jumped out in time to scare the CEO. The CEO acted as though it was giving him a heart attack but quickly laughed for real. It was hilarious for all who saw.

  99. My Name is Not Jane*

    The only time I’ve been involved with work pranks was when I worked with my best friend. For example – we both had a collection of random, decorative objects on our desks and when one of us was gone to lunch, the other would create funny (and usually somewhat NSFW) scenes with them. Or while I was on vacation she would “steal” my good pen and text me pictures of it in various places around the office. I can’t imagine playing pranks or being the victim of pranks with co-workers that I’m not friends with.

  100. Ms Jackie*

    I think this is a case of middle ground and know your audience.
    Little pranks can be fun (post it not on bottom of mouse so it wont move etc) and if your audience enjoys little pranks then pranks are okay. If not, avoid them. Neither group is 100% right or 100% wrong

  101. Database Developer Dude*

    Good prank: leaving stuffed kittens all over a cat person-coworker’s desk when they come back from vacation

    Bad prank: Putting a whoopee cushion on someone’s chair

    Horrible prank: Convincing a (female) co-worker she’s pregnant (Yes, this happened. I’ve told the story in the comment section before. So glad I’m not there anymore).

  102. Beep boop*

    I knew of a place were suddenly lots of pranks were being played, which went on for a few months. Then I found out that it was my friend who was basically persuading the younger and more impressionable colleagues to do them to each other – and secretly enjoying the control of it. I was truly horrified, despite the pranks being rather lame low level.
    The group of new professionals were labelled a clique and got informal warnings by management. The (ex) friend later got promoted twice, totally consequence free.
    They never thought they did anything wrong, because ‘it was just a prank’

  103. Luna*

    I suppose “anger” is listed as part of “the ER” for these pranks?
    I’m not one to go for pranks because most of the pranks I’ve experienced or seen/read about are generally not very entertaining for anyone involved but the original prankster; as in, nobody is giving off a genuine laughter of funniness within seconds of the prank occuring.

    Some can be fun, I’m sure. As long as they don’t go on too long, and everyone involved is okay with them. I read of someone deciding to prank a coworker by changing the language setting of their keyboard on the PC. I found this one okay because, well, nobody was physically or emotionally harmed, it went on for less than a minute, and the way to fix the ‘problem’ was very fast.

    But I guess pulling a prank is akin to telling a joke by default: Know Your Audience.
    If you know this coworker doesn’t go for pranking or such while at work, it’s a good idea to not do them.

  104. BagLadyFromHell*

    I think the difference between a prank and a silly joke is that the former involves lies/deception, exploitation of sensitive areas or major inconvenience to the “victim.”

    Example #1: It is well known in my office that Hugh Laurie is my celebrity crush. I have a photo of him as my desktop wallpaper and a “Keep Calm and Think About Hugh Laurie” poster on my bulletin board. If I came back from vacation to find a life-size cardboard cutout of Hugh in my cube, I’d love that. If someone called me up pretending to *be* Hugh and asked me to come meet him/go on a date/sing with his band, and I believed them … not cool.

    Example #2: It is also well known that I have a very sensitive startle reflex, and my workstation faces a wall, so the only way to approach me is from behind. I joke about this. I even made a sign for my cube that says, “Warning: Easily Startled Person.” I tell people that the only way to avoid startling me is to email me in advance that you’re coming over. I’ve also quipped about needing a rearview mirror for my monitor so I can see them coming.

    If I got a ton of simultaneous emails saying, “BL, I’m coming over in two minutes; plan accordingly,” or someone gifted me with that monitor mirror, I’d enjoy the joke. If someone hid a bunch of startly things in my workspace (alarm clocks, jack-in-the-boxes), not so much.

    Things like filling my cube with some object? It would depend on the object and the occasion. Balloons for my birthday? OK, although I would be somewhat annoyed at having to get rid of them before I could get to work. Object I’ve expressed a liking for, like a particular food or drink? OK, I appreciate the sentiment, but again, I might be a bit annoyed at having to get them out of the way so I could work. Object I’ve expressed dislike for or maybe even fear (e.g., spiders — even rubber ones freak me out)? Not cool. Ever.

    Bottom line: If you can’t be sure that your joke is *not* deceptive, physically or emotionally harmful, or hugely inconveniencing to the target, don’t do it.

  105. Anonymous prankster*

    I once pranked some officemate’s by leaving stuffed tribbles on their desks and writing “warning: do not feed the tribbles” on the whiteboard. Nobody seemed to mind, and two years later several people still have the tribbles.

Comments are closed.