From the perspective of many business leaders, there are two types of workplaces: Workplaces that have ping-pong tables, and workplaces that don’t. Ping-pong tables have long demonstrated a certain type of organization’s commitment to its employees. Placed in a high-traffic space within business offices, ping-pong tables have been seen as one of the major employment perks, an indication that a company cared about making its staff feel comfortable and relaxed. Plus, playing a friendly round of ping-pong seemingly gives workers a way to connect with one another, building their camaraderie in a way that can benefit teams in their work, too.
Unfortunately, the supernatural power of the ping-pong table is nothing more than a myth. The COVID pandemic and resulting Great Resignation have shown that the office ping pong table is not effective at building or maintaining company culture, and that employers need to do more to provide employees with perks that make a difference.
The Ping-Pong Table Does Not Affect Workplace Culture
Twenty years ago, most workplaces did not encourage much fun. Cramped with identical, impersonal cubicles and dominated by low-hanging fluorescent lighting, office spaces were supposed to improve efficiency and productivity — but because workers were not encouraged to form a community with those around them, they grew despondent, and performance tanked. In a bid to improve morale, progressive workplaces added fun elements to their office design. Ping pong tables, bean bag chairs and street art made became perks to show workers that their employers want them to feel comfortable and have a good time at work.
There was just one problem: Workplace design changed, but workplace culture did not. Despite the increasing prevalence of games like ping pong in business offices, most employees continued to feel pressure to be highly productive, wasting not a second on activities that are not directly related to their work. In organizations that have not committed to updating their workplace culture and ensuring the safety and happiness of their staff, the ping pong table becomes a dusty, disused symbol of low morale.
Workplace culture is incredibly important, and it is incredibly difficult to change — but organizations with weak cultures must update them for the sake of the wellness and performance of their workforce. A strong culture coordinates the attitude and efforts of staff and executives and builds trust within an organization, improving cooperation, retention, engagement and productivity. However, a negative culture cannot be improved in a single step or with a few perks — like installing a ping pong table. It requires concerted effort from all business leaders to alter their behavior and introduce policies that provide workers with appropriate support. A few good places to start are with commitments to diversity, equity and inclusion and with participation in employee recognition programs.
The Ping-Pong Table Does Not Provide Work-Life Balance
Employees cannot devote every waking hour to their work responsibilities. Even the most passionate and committed worker needs time away from their desk to eat, sleep, socialize and otherwise fulfill their hierarchy of needs. Yet, many employers want to squeeze as much productivity from the workday as possible, which has historically meant keeping employees in the office for as long as they can. Instead of requiring workers to go home to find sources of relaxation and fun, an organization could place a ping pong table in the break room, so workers can give themselves a meaningful break without stepping too far from their desks.
Unfortunately, a ping pong table does not provide the work-life balance that employees need to maintain high performance and high morale. Workers need to be able to disconnect completely from their workspaces and engage with other aspects of their world, like their non-work friends and family and their non-work hobbies. Otherwise, employees will experience burnout, reducing productivity drastically and radically increasing turnover rates within an organization.
As with a positive workplace culture, a work-life balance can be difficult for employers to encourage amongst their workforce, especially if an organization has long replaced true work-life balance with an office ping pong table. One of the best ways for employers to give workers more opportunities to develop a work-life balance is to provide all workers access to flexible scheduling and remote work. This, and measuring outcomes instead of hours worked, gives employees more autonomy, which helps them structure their work and life in ways that best suit their health and wellness.
As more and more workers look for remote work opportunities, the office ping pong table becomes even more useless at promoting cooperation and good cheer in the workplace. It may take more effort from business leaders to build a functional workplace culture that is founded on the importance of work-life balance, but it is high time to retire the ping pong table as a sign of the progressive workplace.