We've reached the official end of the ping pong and pool period. Couldn't come soon enough for me. Something just feels different these days and maybe that's the need to hunker down a bit and take the task of "taking care of business" a lot more seriously.  Let's dial back leisure in the office, lower the volume on the whining and worrying about hurt feelings, and double down on sweat and toil. We've always called it "work" for a reason and, while it can certainly be plenty stimulating and rewarding, work is not intended to be all fun, all the time. Never was. There's still no substitute for hard, purposeful work and no more likely path to eventual success. Talent and creativity are great, and should certainly be encouraged, but effort and execution are what really matter.

If those happy and halcyon days ever made sense, they're already on their way to the dustbin, soon to be long gone, and utterly unmourned by the people trying to build real businesses. These aren't the frothy, kombucha-and-beer times of yore anymore. Global competition is rising, a recession is almost certainly on the horizon (it's only a question of "when"), and when the market and the investors start seriously keeping score,  all the touchy-feely awards for "the very best place in the whole wide world to work" ain't gonna matter much if your team isn't monetizing your business and putting some real numbers on the bottom line.

The thought of a bunch of clowns playing pong (analog or throwback digital) in the middle of the day while other team members are busting their butts trying to get a new software release out the door no longer computes. Camaraderie is critical in any new business, but it's important to make sure that it comes from the shared pride of completing what needs to get done, not solely from Thursday night shots, smelly cigars and card games. That also includes the pinball machines, foosball games, and the old pool table, which is just as passé today as the phony masse shot that Matthew McConaughey makes in the latest Lincoln Navigator ad. Time to pull the plug, people.

Real company cultures are built on respect, recognition and well-earned rewards, not free food, laundry services and recreational resources. Your customers don't really care about the perks, the toys, or the cereal selections in your break room or any of the other lovely snack options. When their system's not working, they want the best software engineer on the case, not the guy who racked up the highest score playing pinball.

And, even more importantly, your best and most important employees don't really care about all this crap, either. They're the ones who are head-down and have no time to fool around. These rabbits are worth a dozen happy and sensitive little turtles and pong players. Businesses rapidly become the behaviors that they tolerate, and it only takes a few slackers and snowflakes to suck the life, energy and momentum out of any startup. Part of the job is to make sure that doesn't happen.

When people are struggling to answer too many incoming customer calls or polishing a PowerPoint for an important funding pitch, or cold-calling piles of prospects, it seems somewhere between petty and perilous to show up at a critical meeting with blue cue chalk dust on your fingers. You don't really want to be the office's social director and party person. The goal is to be the "go-to" guy - not the mope you'd probably have a drink with, but never count on for much of anything else.

Late night and "after hours" bonding activities might still be okay, but what authentic entrepreneur has ever had regular office hours to begin with? In the real world, you work 'til you're about to fall over and then you go home so you can pick yourself up in the morning and do it all over again. And you desperately hope that your family recognizes you when you finally do get home.

If you want to build a serious business, that's the behavior you want to model. That's what people inside and outside the business pick up on. Passion and commitment. You want to build a team that finds its satisfaction in achievements and accomplishments and not one that's fixated on freebies and fresh fruit. If you have to bribe your people with goodies or otherwise convince them to work hard and do their best, you've got the wrong people and you're sending the wrong message.

It's all about revenues and results, and not refreshments and recreation.

Published on: Feb 12, 2019
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.