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Don't Be April Foolish; Take Company Culture Into Account

March 31, 2013

Erich Schwartzel

April Fool's Day, office, workplace  

Hiding an airhorn underneath an office chair. Filling a colleague's cubicle with Justin Bieber posters. Repositioning the letters on a keyboard.

The list could be a guide -- or a warning -- for employees heading to work Monday.

It's April Fools' Day, or Christmas morning for office pranksters who want to bring some antics to cubicle life.

No one minds a little levity in the 9-to-5 world. But workplace experts say how pranks are received is often an indication of the larger company culture, and it's important to make sure your jokes square with what the boss says is acceptable.

The Web is full of prank suggestions for the digital age. You could change a colleague's email signature to say, "Love you lots and lots" at the end of every message.

Or, as John Poling did last April, stick a piece of tape under the tracking balls on computer mouses so colleagues can't scroll or click no matter how hard they try.

"Some people thought it was hilarious and others were breaking blood vessels in their head," said Mr. Poling, the division director of the Downtown office of Robert Half Technology. "Something that sophomoric usually goes over without a hitch."

But pranksters beware.

A division of Mr. Poling's Menlo Park, Calif.-based job placement and consulting firm surveyed executives to see how they view office pranks, and most weren't in on the fun.

Nearly 70 percent of the advertising and marketing executives polled in the 2010 survey said pranks weren't appropriate for the office. Only 3 percent found them "very appropriate," which makes you wonder what it'd be like if they all worked together.

It comes down to a key piece of advice, Mr. Poling said. "Know your audience."

Start by keeping an eye on the kind of workplace your leaders are trying to build.

A company's "culture" can shape an entire perception of an employer and the work it does -- think of Google's overflowing cafeterias or Warren Buffett's homespun letters to Berkshire Hathaway shareholders.

The look, feel and perks of an organization are recruiting tools and philosophy benchmarks, and Mr. Poling said meshing with a workplace culture can be as important in getting a job as having the skills needed to handle the position.

Online sites like Glassdoor.com compile company reviews from current and former workers, and can provide insight into whether you should pack your whoopie cushion when moving to the new gig. Company Facebook pages also can provide a sense of what life is beyond the lobby, he said.

Mr. Poling is clearly no killjoy -- just ask those co-workers who will be checking under their mouses tomorrow -- but he said the slightest inkling of doubt should veto any pranking plans:

"If you think it's possibly not acceptable or inappropriate, don't do it."

Erich Schwartzel: eschwartzel@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1455.


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