Office Pranks that Went Too Far

Is there anything better than a well executed prank, at the office or otherwise? No. No there is not. Good pranks are the very lifeblood of a cohesive office environment, and without them, everything becomes meaningless and grey (perhaps I’m overstating).

But there is a science to them. A good prank needs to be funny, but not cruel. It should be relatively quick to setup, and even faster to clean up. It shouldn’t run the risk of physically hurting someone. Ideally, it should be free or very low cost. Go too big too often and the cost involved can skyrocket.    

Case in point: those of you familiar with the US version of The Office know about the often testy relationship between Jim Halpert and Dwight Schrute, with the former often playing elaborate pranks on the latter. Well, one fan (with too much time on his hands) added up the cost of each prank over the show’s nine seasons, and estimates that Jim spent about $5600 in total. Sheesh.

“Good” pranks (which is obviously a subjective term) will give everyone a brief chuckle and keep employee morale up. The office is fun, and co-workers get along and like each other. “Bad” pranks make you the office asshole (and will very likely get you fired).

But what’s the definition of each? Good question...and essentially impossible to answer. It really depends on the people you work with, your immediate supervisor(s), and the corporate culture that exists. What makes you the Prank Master General at Google might see you thrown to the curb at Lululemon. Common sense must prevail.

Some “good” pranks might include replacing apples with onions and making caramel “apples” for everyone at Halloween, or changing someone’s autocorrect to replace their name with Butts McGhee every time they type it. Fast, quick, painless, and easy to move on.

“Bad” pranks? Well, they go too far. Just a step across that imaginary line in the sand between “ha ha” and “wow, the must have taken you hours and/or hundreds of dollars to do”. Between a brief 30 second pause out of a busy day, and disrupting the entire office for an unacceptable amount of time.

Yup, pranks can go too far.

1. BlackBerry in the Water Cooler

Get ahold of someone’s smartphone (difficult in an age when we take it with us everywhere), and then hide it somewhere unexpected. It’s a classic. In this video, they decide to hide the BlackBerry inside the water cooler. When their victim - I mean colleague - returns to the office, they call her phone (saying she has “the most obnoxious ring tone in the office”, and when “Who Let the Dogs Out?” starts to play, they’re proven correct). She looks around, gets up, and finds her phone floating inside the cooler.

Why is it too far? Think about how much a smartphone can cost. Yes, they put it in a waterproof bag, but that could have leaked and the phone could have been ruined. Not worth it.

2. The Disappearing Hallway

This one takes pranking to a whole new level. It involves hours of preparation, hundreds of dollars, and total preoccupation (putting actual work on the backburner). These pranksters made an entire hallway - a major artery at this office - disappear. Fake wall, paintings, photocopier in front of it, air vent concealed in the ceiling. The results were admittedly funny, and as the video shows. Their colleagues are dumbfounded. They have no idea what has happened or how to deal with it.

Why is it too far? By their own admission, the joke “brought productivity to a screeching halt for two days straight” at this workplace. That’s a lot of lost time. A less understanding boss (the CEO thought it was hilarious) would have unceremoniously shown them the door. And it was costly to boot.

3. The Fake Sneeze

This one is a simple setup. Cubicle neighbour pretends to be sick, and then loudly sneezes while spraying a misting bottle of water over the wall. The guy next door - apparently a germophobe that believes everyone is always sick - freaks out with thinly veiled rage at being sprayed with the sneeze. It’s all over his hands, his computer monitor, his desk...everywhere.

Why is it too far? The guy is mad. And also…eww.

4. Michael "Fires" Pam on The Office

Remember that rule about not being cruel? It’s kind of a big one. Jim Halpert wasn’t the only prankster on The Office (although many would argue he’s the only one that’s any good at it). The lovable but inept boss, Michael Scott, fancied himself a damn funny opinion not shared or supported by anyone. In the first season, while going over a few things with the new intern, he decided to pretend to “fire” the hardworking receptionist Pam. The results were disastrous.

Why is it too far? Pam cries. She doesn’t understand how this could happen. Michael accuses her of stealing. She believes, even if only for a few moments, that she’s unemployed and terminated. All bad, and not even remotely funny.

5. Air Horn Chair or Door

Step 1: buy an air horn. Step 2: attach it just below someone’s air-cushioned office chair, or on the wall behind a door, so that when someone sits down or opens said door, the button will be pressed, and the air horn will go off. Step 3: watch “hilarity” ensue.

Why is it too far? It’s loud, obnoxious, and could cause accidents. An air horn is incredibly loud. The entire office - perhaps even the entire building - will hear it, and it’s jarring enough that people might fall down, drop something, or even have a minor cardiac event (unlikely...but possible). Want to be the jerk that put Phyllis in the hospital with his “hilarious” joke? No? Didn’t think so.

6. Filling an Office or Cubicle with...Something

You need an office to make this one work, or at least a cubicle with three walls. The premise is simple enough: fill the space with something that makes getting into it tricky or impossible. It could be inflated balloons, or packing peanuts, or dozens of cups of water on every surface, or even Cheetos. The unsuspecting occupant shows up in the morning or after lunch and can’t return to work. Funny, right?

Why is it too far? The cleanup could potentially take a very long time, effectively killing productivity for that individual. Maybe they have an important report to polish, or a sales call scheduled, or they simply need something from their desk drawer. Whatever the reasons, they can’t do them. The balloons would need to be popped (loud and distracting) before being thrown out. The packing peanuts are just irritating (and many people can stand the sound of touching or grabbing styrofoam). The cups of water? Messy and time consuming (you have to take them - two at a time - and dump them in the break room or washroom. And the Cheetos? Don’t even...think about how hard it is to get the cheese dust off your fingers. Now, multiply that by “office” or “cubicle”.

7. Stapling a Colleague's Tie

Here’s the scenario: this is a prank of opportunity. Your colleague has fallen asleep at his desk. You quietly place his tie on the desk, quickly and forcefully staple it to the surface, and then slap or yell to awaken the individual. They’re startled and jump up...only to be slammed back to the surface of the desk by the tie. Ha ha ha!

Why is it too far? Let’s count the ways: 1) It damages not only the tie, but the desk. 2) It could seriously hurt someone.

Pranks are a part of life. Put enough people together for long enough (school, at home, at work), and someone will eventually start pranking and playing jokes to break the monotony and tedium of life. No harm, no foul. But don’t take it too far. To be honest, most of these are actually pretty funny...but only when viewed from a distance. Would you still be laughing if it was done to you? Maybe, maybe not.

What’s the worst office prank you’ve ever encountered, either online or in real life? Can a joke ever go too far, or is it all in the name of fun? Leave your answers in the comments below.