The notorious April Fools’ Day is upon us, which means it’s the time of year when an office prank or two are most likely to pop up, even with a lot of us hybrid working.
Whether everyone is back in the workplace or not, there are lots of opportunities for your employees to play pranks on their co-workers or even you.
Office-based pranks can be a great source of fun and can help teams bond together for everyone’s benefit, which would be ideal after two years of home and hybrid working.
However, there is a balance that is key to making sure this day runs smoothly without any long-term issues arising and it’s important to make sure that what should be just a bit of fun doesn’t tip over into actual workplace bullying or harassment.
So, if you’re an employer who is concerned about preserving worker wellbeing this silly season, then make sure you follow these three simple steps.
- Talk to your employees
As with a lot of workplace conundrums, having open and fair communication between you and your employees will help to maintain a culture of trust and happiness at work. If your team have good dialogue between themselves and with you, then everything else should follow easily.
It may be that an employee has an allergy and therefore a prank with food could have serious consequences, or a member of your team may suffer with anxiety and so some pranks could be harmful to them.
Because of this, if you think office pranks are likely (e.g. they have happened before!) it might be wise to speak to your staff to remind them that everyone has different limits.
- Set clear boundaries
Unfortunately, in the past some jokes about work can be more trouble than they’re worth.
In the case of Otomewo v Carphone Warehouse Ltd  two employees took their manager’s phone and changed his Facebook status saying that he had “finally come out of the closet” and that he was “gay and proud”.
The employees knew that the manager was not gay; however, the manager subsequently brought a claim for sexual orientation discrimination against the company. He was successful in the employment tribunal, which held that the behaviour of the two employees was “in the course of employment” and that Carphone Warehouse was liable.
This is an extreme case, and no not every prank could accelerate to a tribunal claim, however making sure that your employees are aware of what is appropriate, within reason, and not harmful to someone’s role is vital to ensuring that situations like this are avoided at all costs.
Similarly, you should be make it very clear to anyone in a management role that it’s never okay to ‘joke’ about someone being fired. No-one expects you to go there, so an employee doing their best Alan Sugar impression and telling someone they’re fired is a certain way to upset people, and maybe even get a manager into a great deal of trouble, particularly as we enter a phase of inflation in the UK and your employees may be relying on secure employment.
However, you can also remind your staff that these guidelines are not to stop you or them from having fun and enjoying a prank for a laugh. They are simply there to make the day safe and inclusive for everyone. If your team think you are simply imposing restrictions with no justification, then they will think you are a kill-joy and may not try and have fun in the future.
- Manage the day with action if needed
Like with regular projects and workload, good staff management when it comes to a prank is all about following through.
If you have spoken to your employees and outlined your expectations and boundaries of office jokes or a prank, having discussions with specific employees may be necessary if they don’t respect the guidelines in place or if they simply go too far.
Remember, April Fool’s Day is supposed to be a time of having a bit of fun and giving your team a sense of ‘togetherness’. If the actions of one or two employees have caused harm, distress or upset to any other member of staff, then the situation could be rectified quickly through a direct chat to show you are managing the situation.
However, if you follow steps one and two above first, hopefully there will be no need to resort to step three!
In the office…
Just before you go, here’s a few of our favourite office-based ideas, that are safe but still funny.
That’s a wrap!
An oldie but a goodie. Give the gift that keeps on frustrating by gift wrapping everything on your colleague’s desk. And by everything we mean everything. If you don’t have time to pop to the shop and buy a lot of foil, why not get creative with your office supplies when your colleague goes to a meeting? Cover every inch of their desk in post it notes in a funky pattern, and they will have fun peeling them off before they can get back online. Now that is a prank we can all get onboard with!
The Broken Mouse
Here’s a classic that will have some co-workers questioning their sanity yet again. Tape over the sensor on your co-worker’s mouse and watch as your co-worker tries to figure out why they can click, but can’t scroll, no matter how hard they flail their mouse around. Don’t forget to send them a friendly message for when they finally figure it out.
Does one of your team have framed photos of their family and friends on their desk? If so, this is a perfect time to swap those photos and see how long they have a portrait of Steve Carell watching them as they work. Very office on-brand.
Working from home…
While the above pranks would create some laughs, what about pranks that are inclusive for remote employees? These pranks are ideal for the digital office:
Virtual Background Mani
There’s a lot of pranking potential with virtual background features whether you use Zoom or Teams. For example, can you make a background that shows you bringing yourself a cup of tea or doing chores in the background, leaving your co-workers scratching their heads wondering if they are having one of those days or you have a secret twin?
You’re Not on Mute
You may expect that we have all got used to muting ourselves after two years of video calls and have may have heard the horror stories of users who thought they were on mute and went on to say something embarrassing. One easy prank could be to stage this situation and make co-workers think that you think you’re on mute. You may need help from another co-worker or someone in your household to say something really embarrassing or completely outrageous, the goal being to see how long your co-workers will watch in horror before letting you know you’re on mute.
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