A Weekly Q&A Column About Professionalism, Etiquette and Problems in the Workplace
by Sue Morem
Joking Around at Work
Dear Sue: Is it okay to play practical jokes on people? I
supervised a worker who always slept at his desk during his lunch break.
As he slept during lunch one day, I conspired with the rest of the staff.
We set the clock ahead so that it was a few minutes after quitting time.
We took our coats, left the office, and waited outside the door. We called
the office to wake him up, and then watched him bolt through the door
toward the parking lot as he headed for home. He took it good-naturedly.
Another time when I was traveling in Europe with our division VP, he
asked me to hand-carry home a large box of delicate wine glasses, while he
stayed on for more business. I did him the favor, but evened the score by
opening the box, replacing the glasses with castoff laboratory glassware,
then stomping on the box until the contents were broken beyond
recognition. I left the mess on his conference table for him to discover
when he returned. He, too, took it good-naturedly. Is anything wrong with
having some fun?
Sue says: Obviously, you enjoy playing practical jokes, and have
gotten by with your shenanigans over the years. However, there must be a
reason you are asking my opinion, and I wonder if it is because not all of
your “victims” are as good natured as the two you wrote about.
The problem with playing practical jokes on people is that you
literally are “playing” with them. The more people you involve, the more
likely someone will feel embarrassed or picked on. Jokes can backfire, and
you never know when you might really upset someone by something you did in
the name of fun.
The two situations you describe both took a considerable amount of
effort, time and planning. I can’t help but think you should be able to
find more constructive ways to use your time. What do you gain from
playing jokes? Is it really just for fun or do you derive pleasure out of
temporality upsetting or embarrassing someone? And what will you do when
one of your jokes backfires and someone becomes upset with you?
I’m all for adding some fun to the day, but beware; what’s funny to one
person can be humiliating to another. You are better off looking for other
ways to have fun and bond with the people you work with.
Dear Sue: The person who follows my shift is making petty
complaints about me. My supervisor has no problem with the things this
coworker is complaining about, but it still bothers me to have these
things in writing. I don’t want to duplicate his behavior, because it
accomplishes nothing, but I don’t like being made to look bad either. How
do I deal with this?
Sue says: Aside from talking with your supervisor and the
employee who is complaining, to determine the real problem, if you are
concerned about looking bad, think about things you can do to compensate
and make yourself look good. Some people are impossible to please—and
don’t forget, the more you react to others, the more of a reaction they
will seek from you. Sometimes the best reaction is no reaction at all.
Sue Morem is a professional speaker, trainer and syndicated columnist. She
is author of the newly released
101 Tips for Graduates and
How to Gain the Professional Edge, Second Edition. You can contact her by email at
firstname.lastname@example.org or visit her web site at
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