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The Do’s and Don’ts of April Fools’ Day

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april1homespunweb.jpgRISMEDIA, April 1, 2008-(CareerBuilder.com)-April Fools’ Day pranks are nothing new. When done in good taste, they can trigger a laugh or two and lighten up the mood in your office. However, although April Fools’ pranks are rooted in humor, there is a line that should not be crossed. While that line varies from office to office, there are some April Fools’ pranks that won’t go over well anywhere.

Company standards vary significantly, so what may be considered laughable in one environment may be seen as highly offensive in another.

Generally, pranks that qualify as “problems” include those that cause you or someone else emotional or physical harm, induce panic or involve a real and serious threat, or are embarrassing or damaging to someone’s reputation. In addition to these general guidelines, it is also important to be aware of your company’s culture. Company standards vary significantly, so what may be considered laughable in one environment may be seen as highly offensive in another.

The sensitivity of situations is often amplified in a work environment, so it is a wise idea to run through a mental checklist before executing what you might initially consider to be a silly or harmless joke.

We’ve broken down the Dos and Don’ts of April Fools’ pranks for you here, with examples of what not to do, followed by fun and work-safe alternatives to the extreme pranking temptation. After all, we don’t want to see you turn “a little fun” into “a little fired.”

1. Don’t: Start an intercube food fight in the office – you might hit an unsuspecting co-worker in the face, or worse, injure them with a sharp item of food such as a carrot, ice cream cone, or piece of corn on the cob.

Do: Plan an organized food fight – outside of the office environment. Large, open spaces with no traffic coming through are recommended. If you happen to have an extremely laid-back work culture and your boss actually encourages you to partake in a food fight in-office, do make sure that you cover expensive equipment with water-resistant material and use soft food with an easy clean-up factor. Oh, and document it for us – we would love to see it.

2. Don’t: Replace the water in the water cooler with vodka (or any alcoholic substance, for that matter).

Do: Sponsor an after-work happy hour at a nearby watering hole; that way, everyone can enjoy each other’s company in a relaxed environment, let off a little steam, and mingle with co-workers who they might not regularly come into contact with at work.

Alternately, round everyone up to have lunch together or plan an outing to a museum exhibit, baseball game, or theater showing.

3. Don’t: Experiment with potentially hazardous materials on others. Super glue is not super when it’s applied all over the bathroom toilets. Do we really need to explain this one?

Do: Know your adhesives. A little arts and crafts collage for a co-worker’s desk with the help of crayons, magazine clippings, and a (kid-friendly) glue stick or a smattering of sticky notes covering their cube is much different than a prank which can cause extreme embarrassment, bodily harm and a hospital visit to someone you work with.

4. Don’t: Tell co-workers that there are cookies in the break room, when there in fact are NOT. People actually hate that. We’ll admit, this one won’t actually get you fired – but we still wouldn’t recommend it – food is not often a laughing matter.

Do: Think about bringing free cookies or donuts into work one day; it is not only a nice thing to do, but it will win you the adoration of hungry co-workers.

5. Don’t: Turn in your resignation letter as a joke – or you might not get your job back. Generally, anything related to official work proceedings such as hiring, firing, and benefits is hands off for April Fools’ pranks. Of course, if you pull off one of the other “Don’ts” listed in this article, you might be fired before you get a chance to try this one anyway.

Do: Write a nice letter or note to a colleague who has helped you out with a project, gone out of their way to take work off your plate – or just made you smile. A funny card is a nice gesture to say thank you or hello and to make someone laugh after that difficult meeting they just had.

“Against company policy” will always trump the fact that it’s 4/1 on the calendar.

6. Don’t: Change a colleague’s screen saver to a pornographic image while they are running to the vending machine to get a soda. Not only should you not be on those sites at work, but you are now pulling someone else into your ill-advised scheme and forcing them to explain a very embarrassing situation. If anyone, whether they are a supervisor or subordinate, walks by, they will likely find it highly offensive. “Against company policy” will always trump the fact that it’s 4/1 on the calendar.

Do: Change your own screen saver to a funny yet PG image, tape (not super glue – see #4) a silly picture with your own written-in dialogue to a co-worker’s computer, or e-mail a joke to those in your department if mass e-mail is acceptable at your workplace. Keep it clean and be respectful of others’ privacy. You may all work together, but everyone needs their personal space.

7. Don’t: Run through the office screaming, “They’re right behind me and they’re coming after all of you next! Run for your lives!”, causing everyone to abandon their work and dash for the nearest exit. This will not only cause panic and bring life to an imaginary threat of danger, but will likely have legal ramifications for you as well (as if losing your job wasn’t enough). Remember Oliver Wendell Holmes’s “shouting fire in a crowded theatre” ruling?

Do: Organize a run around the office in order to encourage exercise and teamwork. If you really want to go all out, you can intersperse running with jumping jacks and push-ups, or even host a lunchtime dance party to get everyone’s blood pumping. After all, that Sally in accounting can do a mean rendition of YMCA.

8. Don’t: Post a message on your home page to employers saying, “Hey! Free Job Postings!”

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