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Amy Joyce: Life at Work

Keeping Colleagues In Good Humor

April Fool's Pranks Can Help Boost Morale

By Amy Joyce
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, March 27, 2005; Page F06

Friday marks a huge holiday for some people. After days or weeks of scheming, it's finally time to put the plan to work. It's April Fool's Day. Even (or maybe especially) in the office.

Tony Knight and his former co-workers used to live for this day. One year, April Fool's marked the start of the coffee-mug prank. Fill the mug with water, put shrink wrap over the top, and quickly flip it over on a co-worker's desk. When he or she picks up the mug to use it, yes, water everywhere. Believe it or not, people kept falling for that one long after the first April Fool's Day attempt.

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The employees at the company also once took the tires off a co-worker's El Camino. He just happened to be the sales guy with many appointments that fine April Fool's Day. The intern had to drive him to his stops all day. His tires eventually reappeared on his car that evening.

"We were all right out of college. It was almost like a fraternity and sorority," said Knight, now a senior account executive with a different company. But he's not complaining. The people who pulled the pranks later had pranks pulled on them, which kind of evened things out.

Mariann Stopyra was the assistant to the senior vice president of international operations several years ago at a manufacturing company in Columbus, Ohio. She persuaded her entire 10-person department to call in sick one April 1. The employees all showed up to work, watched for the boss to drive into the parking lot and gave him enough time to get to his office. Then, while hiding on a different floor, they all called him, one after the other. Some at the same time. Stopyra claimed her dishwasher flooded her kitchen. One co-worker who had been sick said she was home sick with her daughter. Another man called shortly after her to say he had caught what she had, and yet another called in to say his cattle got out of the fence and he had to round them up. When the employees went back upstairs with a box of doughnuts as a peace offering, they saw their poor boss running around, answering all the phones.

"It's a great holiday," said Stopyra, now director of human resources for Pathlore Software Corp. Even though she's in charge of the department that essentially writes the company rules, Stopyra maintains that joking in the office can be a good thing.

"I think people pretty much know they can do some pretty darn funny things without stepping outside the typical bounds of harassment," she said. "You gotta have fun."

Many people would echo that sentiment.

Kathy Albarado, founder of HR Concepts, a human resources consulting firm in Herndon, is a lifelong prankster. She has taken that personality into the office, which has also made her the target of a few jokes.

Several years ago at a former job, Albarado opened her office to find everything shrink-wrapped: her desk, her file drawers, pens, pencils, computer. She took it like a champ and then tried desperately to find out who did it.

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