Wealth Shift: The Decline of Ethics in America
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#1 - Coffee Breaks, Office Holidays, and Practical Jokes

Careerbuilder.com conducted a survey of how often employees take coffee breaks, and also asked respondents to write in and tell them what they like to do during their coffee breaks. According to that 2007 Careerbuilder.com survey, 49% of workers take a coffee break at least once a day, and 32% take two or more coffee breaks a day. Creative uses of coffee breaks included shrink-wrapping a co-worker’s car, conducting burping and “best legs” contests, grabbing a smooch from a co-worker in the stairwell, and spending years perfecting a 20-minute reenactment of the entire Rocky Horror Picture Show. (An interesting side-note of the survey revealed that 29% of respondents in the financial sector and 21% of those in the health care sector said they used their coffee breaks to look for another job.)

According to other Careerbuilder.com surveys, employees love holidays that take place at the office every bit as much as they love coffee breaks. 31% of workers said they dress up for Halloween and 29% of workers said they have either initiated, or been on the receiving end of, an April Fools’ Day prank at work. The pranks submitted to Careerbuilder.com range from putting a “random burping” program on a boss’s computer that would loudly burp every few seconds, to putting dry ice in the men’s bathroom urinal. One CEO/owner responded by saying that he had recently celebrated April Fools’ Day by putting a For Sale sign up on the entrance to his building. Another respondent left a message for a co-worker to “Call George” along with the telephone number for the White House.

We all love playing pranks – especially on the deserving. During my stint at Trammell Crow Company, we had a practical joker who simply refused to let up. Every day he took it upon himself to embarrass his co-workers in various and sundry tacky ways. Rather than make a big deal out of it, we all got together and decided to give as good as we got – a good idea, but one which made pranking this particular jokester harder and harder as time went on. More times than not, he’d catch the plots that were being hatched against him before they had time to play out. Instead of getting pranked, he’d turn the tables and play a prank on the prankster, instead.

When my turn came, I knew the best way to get him was to keep it simple. For weeks I collected paper hole punches (aka paper assholes) in a nondescript Styrofoam cup. When it was full, I used a piece of paper to turn the cup over on the edge of his desk and then slid the piece of paper out from underneath the cup so it looked like someone had simply left an empty, overturned coffee cup on the edge of his desk. I then opened the desk drawer below the cup just about an inch. I didn’t tell a soul what I had done in the wee hours while nobody else was in the office.

Later that morning, at about 8:30, I heard a loud, “Oh, shit!” We all hurried around to Jerk’s cubicle. There he stood, empty cup in hand, with paper assholes all over his desk, his chair and his floor. Hundreds of them had cascaded into his desk drawer. Frankly, the whole thing turned out even better than I had planned. He spent about an hour picking up all the paper assholes he could find (did I mention that Jerk was a neat-freak by nature?). Weeks later, he was still picking little round bits of paper from out of his desk drawer and the crevices of his desk and chair.

If Trammell Crow, himself, had personally appeared and asked me to reimburse the company for Jerk’s lost wages incurred while Jerk was cleaning up his assholes, I would have written that check in a heartbeat. Sometimes you’ve just gotta do what you’ve gotta do.

But goofing off has gotten totally out of hand. And managers, who are sick of trying to police this particular Wealth Shift practice, have completely given up trying. Hell, if you can’t beat them, join them, right? I know, let’s have a parade! Or better yet, daily on-premises happy hours! Hooray!!! Three cheers for what a fun place this company is!

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