What is Cubicle Warfare?

Tara Barnett

Cubicle warfare is a type of office interaction characterized by playful battles involving toys or pranks. These battles are usually consensual in nature and intended to foster community rather than divide the office. In some cases, people become aggravated by this kind of behavior and the interaction is no longer playful, but detrimental to the work environment. In most cases, people recognize interpersonal boundaries, and no serious emotional or physical damage is inflicted.

Pranksters can get a kick out of cubical warfare.
Pranksters can get a kick out of cubical warfare.

Offices with an open layout using cubicles or tables are designed to foster interaction and cooperation between workers. The constant access employees have to one another provides a unique opportunity for pranks and games at work. Toys and pranks used for cubicle warfare may be store-bought or home made. Most toys are miniature with a very minor ability to inflict harm, and pranks are usually performed using a work-related tool or space.

Cubicle warfare occurs when an office is laid out in an open fashion so everyone can see each other.
Cubicle warfare occurs when an office is laid out in an open fashion so everyone can see each other.

It is important to recognize that these activities are primarily consensual. A person who has a prank played on him or her usually expects such a prank to occur, and may take it as an invitation to play a prank on the person who has done it. The use of toy weapons on one another is likewise consensual, and may even take on an aspect of performance for other workers in the area. Non-consensual cubicle warfare is usually called harassment.

Toys used in cubicle warfare may be specially designed for an office setting, or they may be compact children's toys. Catapults, guns with foam pellets, and small electric devices are all popular toys. Objects that have a combat theme, such as slingshots or swords, may be used so long as they are modified to prevent grave physical harm.

Pranks may be very simple, such as removing all but one staple from a stapler, or complex, such as covering an entire cubicle with foil or post-it notes. Many pranks are enacted on special occasions, such as birthdays or promotions. These are less aggressive than affectionate in nature, celebrating an aspect of a fellow employee that is particularly comical. For instance, if the employee is known to love a certain candy, the cubicle could be filled to the top with that kind of candy.

A supervisor may not look kindly on cubicle warfare, and may see it as a distraction from productive activity. Some employees do not enjoy pranks or games, and may place complaints with management about either taking place. This kind of play is therefore most appropriate in offices with little hierarchy where all employees feel comfortable voicing concerns to one another, rather than to a higher party. So long as there is office-wide consent, the interaction is always enjoyable and no one suffers professional setbacks.

Cubicle warfare often occurs because workers have very little privacy.
Cubicle warfare often occurs because workers have very little privacy.

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