Office pranks are the worst. Pranks in general are really best left to close friends who fully understand how the victim will react, whether it's how upset they'll be, or what direction they'll spray their fear pheromones. The lack of familiarity most co-workers have with each other, combined with the stunning unoriginality that plague most forms of office humor, almost always results in office pranks that are unfunny, professionally damaging, or dangerous.
"Sorry Kenny. That cushion was perhaps a little too 'whoopee' now that I consider it."
Although office pranks can strike at any time, late October is when we're most vulnerable, as this is when all of the most unexpected April Fool's jokes occur. So then, in the interest of disaster-preparation, and also for robbing dimwitted co-workers of the guffaws they so desperately crave, here are four ways that you can respond to office pranks that ruin them for the prankster.
You're an important businessperson with important business stuff to do. (If not, at least pretend you are. It will give you the confidence you need to succeed.) And as an important business-spewing person, you don't have time for this Mickey Mouse shit (referring to the classic office prank where mouse feces are left on a co-worker's desk). So as soon as someone springs a prank on you, you report it to HR.
"Do they know who I am, goddammit?"
"Dave, you're a junior accounts coordinator. No one needs to know who you are."
The downside to this technique is that, dude, lame. When you spend 40 hours a week around these people, even if they're rotten garbage people, it's kind of important that you can get along with them. Running off to your manager or HR with formal complaints will throw up a big wall between you and your co-workers, which has a good chance of making your work life less pleasant, rather than more. This can have financial impacts, as well; your ability to get along with your co-workers is an asset that managers look for, and you don't want to do anything that will mark you as an outsider. That makes you more likely to be passed over for promotions and perks, and it will put you first in line for layoffs.
"Officially, because of valid business reasons. Unofficially, because people hate you like an open wound, Dan."
"Why are you still here, Darren?"
Obviously, if a prank is really horrible, or a case of repetitive, targeted bullying, then yeah, you should escalate it to your manager or HR (and seriously look at other employment options). But otherwise, there are better ways of dealing with this. Like ...
The whole point of a prank is for the prankster to see the reaction of the victim, to experience the singular joy of hearing a co-worker cry out as a fountain of blood spouts over a cubicle wall.
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"April Fool's, chump."
But if you can recognize a prank for what it is before you react and then deny them that reaction, you'll ruin the prank and make a mockery of all the effort they put into it. If they put three hours into this, then fuck them and their three hours. This is called "being a grown-up," and it is, admittedly, a little boring.
Though a man can live for days on a smug sense of self-satisfaction.
For example, if someone puts a sticky note on your mouse sensor to stop it from working, remove the sticky note, and then go spreadsheet the hell out of some spreadsheets. If someone messes with your chair to make it tip dangerously backwards, fix it, then approach your co-workers and ask a work-related question. Don't show any anger or annoyance or otherwise acknowledge that this is in any way an unusual event.
"What? No, my chair always collapses dangerously on Tuesdays, whatever. Hey, do you have the Q3 ledger ready?"
Even if you have to react to the prank, do everything you can to be a self-serious dick about it. Like if you find your cubicle filled with balloons, quietly ask whoever's snickering to clean that up because you have an important call in 20 minutes. It doesn't matter if you have a call or not. Call your mom in 20 minutes.
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"Just wanted to let you know that your special little boy handled a tricky work situation today. No, I don't
think they're my real friends either."
Most office pranks are carefully calibrated to do as little actual damage as possible. No one gets hurt, no one loses any money, no one's feelings are too badly bruised. But because these calibrations are made by someone dumb enough to pull an office prank in the first place, the margins are often dangerously tight, and by seeing a prank and plowing right through it, you can cause serious, non-hilarious damage. Damage you almost certainly won't be blamed for.
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That will teach them to fuck with someone who has a copy of The Prince on his desk.
For example, there are a whole bunch of pranks that rely on someone having access to your computer when you're not around. This can be something as simple as hiding all your folders and replacing your desktop with a screenshot, or as fiendish as messing with the autocorrect settings of your word processor or installing a text expander app to make you inadvertently replace your manager's name with something obscene.
"I don't remember addressing this report to Cmdr. Buttchugger."
In most cases, these pranks are minor annoyances, quickly caught and repaired. You're not going to do that, though. When someone messes with your computer, you're going to stop work for half a day and open an IT helpdesk ticket. This will waste your time, some poor IT dude's time, and when it's revealed that it was all some prank, it's going to make your idiot co-worker look like what they really are. Autocorrect is acting up? Then send that email to Cmdr. Buttchugger and watch as the shit hits the fan and (mostly) avoids you.
"I've actually wanted to do that myself for a loooooong time."
This can be done with almost any prank, pushing it right up to and past the point where it costs your company money. Someone fill your cubicle with cups of water? Then damage some fucking electronics while cleaning it up. Tampered chair? Lean back too far in it and hurt yourself. Crash through a cubicle wall if you can. If you're new, and they send you on a "snipe hunt," like say to go find a person or room that doesn't exist? Leave the office, never return, and get found days later, dead in a crawlspace. Won't they feel guilty then?
"That's the sixth new guy we've lost in the crawlspace this year. Do you want this place to get haunted?"
This is sort of the opposite of deliberately under-reacting to a prank: reacting just long enough to see the joy on the prankster's face, then turning the dial way, way up to see that joy turn to horror as you climb up on his desk and flex.
"COME AT ME, YOU MOTHERFUCKERS. WITH YOUR BLOOD I WILL PAINT A PORTRAIT OF THE END OF MAN."
Whether it's threatening to quit, actually quitting, or some kind of knife-play, a well-timed overreaction can ensure no one in your office ever pranks you or experiences joy again. I should point out here that you may not keep your job or your clean criminal record when all this is done, but it goes without saying that some things are more important than that. Also, most courts will look favorably upon defendants when their revenge is thematically appropriate.
"This court finds that the defendant's actions were, legally, awesome."
For example, if someone's messed with your computer, you respond by setting up a bomb-making/animal-husbandry/bomb-husbandry darknet site on their computer. Or if they've put something of yours in gelatin, you kidnap their pets and suspend them in gelatin. If they've wrapped everything in your office in aluminum foil, then you fuck with the brakes on their car.
"Aluminum is a metal, and cars are also metal, so that was kind of my thinking."
"The court will allow it."
And then, when all is said and done, and the river of gore ebbs, and people crawl out from under their desks, apologize to you, and kiss the blade of your ax, only then will you say, "Nah, I'm just kidding, that was funny, you guys. You got me."
And they will never get you again.
For more from Bucholz, check out The 6 Biggest Dick Moves People Pull in the Workplace and 4 Jokes No One Should Tell (For Good Reason).