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Harmless Work Prank or Serious Misdemeanour?

Rob Dolbear

The fine line between harmless workplace pranks and serious misdemeanours is the focus of an investigation this week – following an incident among firefighters in Southend. Comment HCR managing director, Rob Dolbear.

A fire crew was allegedly involved in an incident whilst taking part in community work, wrapping one of the team’s children in cling film. “This was all supposed to be a joke – and by all accounts the youngsters enjoyed the prank, but the entire crew has been suspended from community work, pending investigation,” says HCR managing director, Rob Dolbear.

“Photographs of the incident were sent to the BBC by a concerned onlooker, prompting Essex Fire Service’s internal disciplinary procedure to kick in. And this case highlights the need for clear guidelines setting out appropriate behaviour at work.

“It is clear that neither the children nor their parents were upset by this event, but somebody else was. And that’s always the danger. With so many people using smartphones and social media, we all have the potential to be a ‘photo journalist’ – and woe betide anyone behaving in a manner that falls in any way short of professional.

“In this case, bosses have said the firefighters involved are ‘embarrassed and regretful’ – but mainly in how the incident has been interpreted. So it really is all about perception.

“A friendly atmosphere at work is a very good thing. It’s great that employees can enjoy what they’re doing, knowing they have a close-knit relationship with colleagues. We all like to have a joke and I believe it’s absolutely essential for achieving increased productivity.

“But balance is the key. Everyone is different, and team dynamics are quite fascinating. As relocation specialists, we at HCR know how important it is for everyone to know where that fine line is…especially if new recruits are joining.

“Often, we’re asked to help workers move from one part of the world to another. Our role is to ensure they’re fully aware of the culture they are becoming a part of…but it works both ways. Making sure the team they are joining knows what is acceptable is just as important.

“A successful relocation is dependent, not only on the employee settling into a different home – but also on how they are integrated into their new place of work with unfamiliar colleagues and practices.

“It’s great to have a laugh at work, but ‘fun’ can be subjective – and it only works if everyone is in on the joke…”

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