A few goofy diver­sions never hurt any­body

Athenahealth eases work­ers’ ten­sion with a lit­tle fun


You don’t have to look too hard to fig­ure out that man­age­ment at Athenahealth wants em­ploy­ees to en­joy their jobs. You just have to scroll through the list of cor­po­rate ti­tles un­til you get to the min­is­ter of fun. Com­pany ex­ec­u­tives at the Watertown, Mass.-based health in­for­ma­tion tech­nol­ogy com­pany say they need to let em­ploy­ees have some fun be­cause the typ­i­cal work­day can be de­mand­ing and stress­ful. Co-founder and CEO Jonathan Bush has said he en­vi­sions mak­ing Athenahealth, which had fo­cused mostly on pro­vid­ing in­sur­ance billing soft­ware, the “in­for­ma­tion back­bone for the health­care industry,” pro­vid­ing a broad set of in­for­ma­tion tech­nol­ogy so­lu­tions for med­i­cal pro­fes­sion­als.

Athenahealth is one of two large sup­plier com­pa­nies on this year’s Best Places to Work. It ranks No. 46 in the sup­plier cat­e­gory and No. 90 over­all.

The com­pany, which had $753 mil­lion in rev­enue in 2014, now works on a range of health­care IT, in­clud­ing elec­tronic healthrecord sys­tems and Epocrates, a suite of soft­ware for doc­tors’ mobile de­vices.

“We’re mak­ing some­thing that is fun­da­men­tal to our so­ci­ety— health­care—work bet­ter,” said Rosa Car­son, who pre­vi­ously held the min­is­ter of fun ti­tle. She’s since changed jobs and now has the more mun­dane ti­tle of se­nior man­ager of ad­min­is­tra­tive ser­vices.

“While it’s in­spir­ing to be part of a so­lu­tion to a prob­lem, it’s not easy,” Car­son said. Peo­ple who work at Athenahealth, she said, can “spend the whole day bang­ing their head against a prob­lem.”

Be­ing able to in­dulge in a few goofy diver­sions is a nice way to blow off steam, she said. The com­pany cel­e­brates Ninja Day and Talk Like a Pi­rate Day (Bush, a first cousin of former Pres­i­dent Ge­orge W. Bush, once con­ducted an en­tire meet­ing in pi­rate speak.)

“We’re work­ing on hard prob­lems, but ev­ery­one is hu­man, and just be­cause you’re work­ing hard doesn’t mean you can’t have fun,” Car­son said.

Bush’s al­most-evan­ge­lis­tic—but off­beat—meth­ods for build­ing a com­pany that wants to do every­thing in health­care IT have raised some eye­brows. For­tune Mag­a­zine last year called it a “gonzo ap­proach to cor­po­rate lead­er­ship.”

But the com­pany’s se­nior vice pres­i­dent of op­er­a­tions, David Tas­soni, said it’s a great place to work, in part be­cause of Bush’s spir­ited lead­er­ship, and be­cause peo­ple feel they’re on the same mis­sion. He said the com­pany fos­ters a co­op­er­a­tive spirit.

“In­di­vid­ual su­per­stars ... don’t re­ally suc­ceed here,” Tas­soni said. “We look for peo­ple who are re­ally good at bring­ing oth­ers along, help­ing oth­ers suc­ceed. Our core foundation of be­ing teach­ers and learn­ers, I think, is what makes it such a great place to work.”

Liv­ing the “work hard, play hard” phi­los­o­phy, em­ploy­ees at Athenahealth take pool breaks, and even have a “Talk Like a Pi­rate Day” to keep work fun.

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