All play and no work?

For several weeks, whenever I got off the elevator on the 57th floor of our office building, I saw guys behind a glass partition playing ping pong. When I went to the men’s room, they were playing ping pong, and when I left for lunch, the game was still going on.

All day long, people were at the ping pong tables, paddling the ball back and forth and working up a sweat, and I had to wonder: Were they preparing for the Olympics? Doing cardiac rehab? Or goofing off on company time?

Later I learned they worked in an investment firm and this was the play area where they came to burn off energy in company-sanctioned playtime. Whenever I was on the elevator with these guys, they didn’t talk about the stock market or making money for their clients — they talked about their ping pong game. Clearly, I’ve missed out in my career. Not enough playtime.

I’m probably the only American who doesn’t play on company time, I concluded after seeing a USA Today video titled, “At JibJab, work is play and play is work.” I didn’t know what JibJab was, but everyone seemed to be having fun, playing Foosball and Nerf games and engaged in all sorts of frivolous activities. (If your idea of fun is playing canasta, bridge or checkers, a job at JibJab isn’t for you.)

The California company creates humorous e-greeting cards, and to help the staff loosen up, they play games. They even have slides in the middle of the office so they can get from the upper floor to the lower without using the stairs, which makes me think this is either outrageously innovative or outrageously silly. Since I’m not a member of the Millennial Generation, I’ll stick with silly.

“You’re not in your average everyday office,” the narrator said. “This is not a normal work environment.” That’s absolutely true because in the average office, there’s bickering and backbiting, pain and posturing, deceit and dalliances. Did I forget anything? Oh yeah, there’s work and/or the illusion of work.  You’ll never see anything like this at, say, the coal mines in West Virginia or a dry cleaners on Lexington Avenue or Popeye’s Louisiana Chicken.

Watching the video made me feel like Robert De Niro in that movie The Intern, in which an older guy goes to work at a hip Internet company, where everyone acts like they’re being held hostage at a daycare center. The boss rides her bicycle through the office and they ring bells and have shout-outs all day long.

(I grew up in a workplace where you never got positive reinforcement. You only got criticism, so all the “atta boy” stuff frightens me. And if you tried to ride your bike through the office, someone would beat the dickens out of you, which, of course, made your coworkers chortle with delight. Celebrating someone else’s misery was how we got our jollies.)

If you’re like De Niro, you’ll be the only guy in the office wearing a tie — and it’s constricting blood flow to your brain, not to mention impeding your oxygen intake — so you can’t be as happy-go-lucky as the kids who are wearing tee-shirts and Birkenstocks.

Maybe I’m too much of a traditionalist, who believes you go to work to work. Besides, isn’t work supposed to be suffering? That’s what Yahweh told Adam and Eve after they ate apple and were banished from Paradise. No more free lunch. Adam had to get up every day and work. “Cursed is the ground because of you,” God told him. “In toil you shall eat its yield all the days of your life. By the sweat of your brow …”

At least we’re not tilling the barren soil — not this week anyway. Come to think of it, if I had to cultivate the land, sow seeds and watch the skies for rain, I’d want a ping pong table out in the fields to break up the monotony.

Don’t get me wrong. I spent 30 years in newsrooms, which is about as close as you can get to Howdy Doody Time … or tilling the soil for that matter. There were Nerf basketball games and some people — usually the managers — played solitaire on their computers, which was a good thing because it kept them out of trouble.

Others looked at Internet porn, but they we disciplined since that activity didn’t fit into the prescribed definition of playtime. Come to think of it, maybe if they played ping pong, they’d still have their jobs.

 

Contact Joe Pisani at [email protected]

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