Subject: Office Folklore. Pranks and comradery.
“Interviewer: So… you have an employee in your office who is in a band… what type of music does her band play?
Interviewee: Death metal.
Interviewer: And what is the name of her band.
Interviewee: Unicorn death.
Interviewer: Now, for her birthday or before she’d go on tour, is there anything, any hijinks the office would get into surrounding her band?
Interviewee: So, she only wears black, and so we took her office and we covered it all in pink posy-notes, and then we saran wrapped her chair, um… we put Justin Bieber… pictures and we stuck them inside her notebook and inside her drawers and…
Interviewer: Why Justin Bieber?
Interviewee: Because he is a music genre she would not be interested in… um, we all put on a unicorn hat that was pink with like a purple horn… and um we um forced her to wear it.”
Background Info: Sehi Computer Products is in San Clemente, CA and consists of an inside office and an outside warehouse division. They have roughly twenty employees at any given time with most employees sitting at open work stations in one larger room. Conversation is open with side banter occurring intermittently with tasks and projects. My mother has worked in the office since 1989.
Context: This story was given over dinner with my mother and father while discussing jokes and events to parts of our lives unique to the rest of the family.
Analysis: It is now part of office culture to collect and send photos of unicorns to workplace associates. By the time clock, there is a bulletin board of photos of different employees wearing a unicorn hat in honor of the employee and her participation in the band. Such actions allow for employees to feel involved in one another’s personal lives within the often impersonal and task-based office setting. Now that the employee is touring with her band, the employees still mention and joke about unicorns, allowing her to stay relevant in the office community and actively works to integrate her into their social circles. Furthermore, all levels of personnel in the office participate in the tradition which helps to break down the traditional structures of command that can lead to negative feelings between manager and staff.
Being told the backstory around the unicorns is a rite of passage for employees, marking them as participants and contributors in the office community. Often, summer employees clock in and out every day without understanding the significance of the photos. However, to people in the office at the time of the employee going on tour, it marks a tie to a dear friend and a spirit of kinship, originating in being part of the “in” group in the office.
Furthermore, there is an element of play in the pranks that plays on subverting the individual’s personality. The people playing the prank purposefully choose items they knew the individual being pranked would not like and augmented them. The prank is tailored specifically to her interests, and this level of care communicates to the individual that they are known and valued in the office environment. The prank was not malicious, but rather a celebration of the individual and her unique personality .