Company Culture: Is A Ping Pong Table The Same As “Fun?”

While talking about company culture, a friend recently accused me of confusing ping pong tables and fun. “Just because a company has a ping pong table, doesn’t mean it’s fun.” I have to admit that there’s some truth there, and not just because I prefer foosball.

But I like to think of things such as ping pong tables and mentorship programs and green initiatives as being cultural artifacts. (Yes, I took a few anthropology classes in college.) They are not the same as the company culture, but they reflect and inform the culture. They are the face of culture, the aspect we can quantify.

Carrying my friend’s comment to its logical extreme, should we get rid of all of our good stuff because it may be interpreted as a superficial approach to culture? Of course not. Things matter. As a new agey friend once told me, “things are thick thoughts.”

I agree. And here are a few thick thoughts that I believe are noteworthy embodiments of company culture…

A special chair.

I worked for a company that expected managers to work 50-60+ hours a week — in the office. So they bought us top of the line ergonomic desk chairs. The message was unmistakable: “if we expect you to be at your desk for that many hours, we’re going to make it as healthy and comfortable as possible.”

Plants.

The same company (not a big company, so every dollar mattered) spent several hundred dollars a month on a tropical plant service. When the idea was first broached at a management team meeting, I thought it was silly and frivolous. It turned out I was way wrong. These plants not only made a positive visual impact, they also made a noticeable difference in the air quality in the usual “hermetically sealed” workspace.

A car safety seat.

Huh? Well, I’ve worked with a lot of employers who claimed to be family friendly … but really couldn’t point to specific examples. So I was impressed by an employer that made a practice of buying employees a car seat if/when they had their first child. Not very inclusive in its interpretation of “family,” and hardly a major investment, but the real point here is that they actually walked their talk.

Photos.

A local company set up a huge bulletin board in their lobby — employees walked past it on their way into work, and on their way out of work, every day. On this bulletin board, employees were encouraged to post photos of anything that represented the reasons they spent so many of their waking hours at work. Family, pets, friends, parents, hobbies — the company didn’t set parameters. I thought this was an interesting spin on work/family balance.

So … what are some of the coolest cultural artifacts you’ve seen?


by George Blomgren

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