Work: a productive activity
Play: an intrinsically motivated activity
Is there any benefit to the office ping pong table? It does seem to serve as a distraction from the pressures of work, as well as a place for employees to clear their minds and socialize. What about for the serious player? If you are serious about playing, that table may serve as a source of frustration and as a constant reminder that you would really rather be playing, even if you can’t find any competition at your place of employment.
While playing comes naturally for children, work is normally seen as something we have to do and is the expected activity of mature adults. Put a table tennis area in an office and at least some employees are now faced with a moral dilemma, possibly many. How much time is acceptable to be playing? Wouldn’t it be more productive to stay at my desk? Why won’t the receptionist ever play, and why do I care? Will it be weird if I bring my own paddle, or should I use the ones the company bought? What if I beat my boss?
Playing at work does not come easily for everyone. If you become the office champion, you now have nowhere to go but down. Every new hire, intern, and temp threatens to steal your crown. Maybe mixing work and play was not such a great idea. There has always been some overlap between work and play. If you love your work, it may seem like play. If you play in tournaments and train regularly, it can begin to be a lot of work.
Over the years, play has sometimes gotten a bad name. Playing around comes naturally. Normally one has to be trained to work. Play can be productive as long as your definition of productivity includes creating joy, interacting with others, physically moving your body, and using your imagination. For these things, table tennis might be what a few more companies need.