I can pretty much tell you the precise moment I realized Fun had died. It was like one of those movies where people walk into a darkened room to check on a friend they haven’t seen for a while. They think the body in bed is sleeping — until they take a closer look. “Hold on,” says one. “He’s not asleep … He’s … dead.” Then there is a dramatic silence as people consider what they have lost.
At any rate, Fun is clearly dead. It happened about 10 a.m. last Thursday. I got an e-mail from a guy just back from the annual boondoggle in Sanibel Island. “Terrible time,” he said. “Meetings around the clock. Lots of whiteboards. Nobody disgraced themselves.”
Où sont les boondoggles d’antan? That’s French. It means “We’re not having the kind of fun we used to.”
A boondoggle like that before Fun’s untimely demise? Forget about it! Careers were destroyed. Guys running around the hallways late at night in their bathrobes. A gaggle of vice presidents in the outdoor Jacuzzi at two in the morning, drunk on their butts, some in a state of inappropriate habiliment, in the sense that they didn’t have any. Faces would have been slapped throughout the week. People went missing! Not now. Now we know where everybody is. They’re drinking freshly squeezed tangerine juice in a breakout session.
Work? Ha! I’m trying to remember what “work” might have gotten done. Maybe, like that time in Vegas, a short confab in the morning to talk about where Moran might have spent the previous night. He showed up late for the 10 a.m. meeting, finally, but the amazing thing was that it seemed his driver was still missing. So was the car! They asked Moran what had happened to the guy. He couldn’t remember. They found him several hours later, wandering in the desert! Fabulous!
Afternoons at these things were off, you know. Unless you were in Scottsdale, in which case you could go out into the desert with the Sales guys and shoot tin cans with .44 Magnums. Other than that, it was golf for the grownups, who were followed around the course by a cart loaded with booze. Booze!
Où sont les boozes d’antan!? It means … aw, you know what it means. We are awash in a sea of Pellegrino. Nobody drinks at lunch anymore, let alone breakfast, not even at getaways! At Sanibel, I hear the biggest event was the daily run at dawn, which took place before the first group sessions in the main ballroom, which immediately preceded the think-tank breakout workshops, which drooled over into the working lunch that preceded the mandatory afternoon lecture from the inspirational football coach. Then a short break. Then cocktails and assigned seating at dinner, casual business attire suggested. Very worthwhile expenditure of corporate resources, to be sure. But Fun? Really?
I blame all the very serious businesspeople who came into the workplace after the years of disgusting excess and greed and automatic double-digit revenue growth. I blame all the dudes in Silicon Valley, whose idea of fun is going to TED. Or Gstaad. Or any conference featuring themselves on a panel. I blame Human Resources, for having standards and communicating them effectively. I blame all of us, for getting so frickin’ respectable.
Let’s make a promise to each other. We spend 80% of our waking hours doing whatever the hell this is for a living. We have a right to play it the way we want. Fun is over? Only if we want it that way. I’ll start by throwing out my whiteboard. After that I’m going to take Sales out and get hammered for no reason whatsoever. You come too. You can’t win if you don’t play. So … let’s play!
This story is from the June 10, 2013 issue of Fortune.
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