Fun for fun's sake is like sugar in kids. It sends you up but you come down hard, and it doesn't last long. It lacks substance. Your soul isn't touched if it's not part of something lasting.
We do fun stuff. But there's always a reason. Employees ride Razor scooters around the office, but that's because the office is a thousand feet long. Scooters make us more productive. At our user conference this year, our people from client operations came dressed like the Beatles--in flawless Yellow Submarine regalia--and as the Pink Ladies and T-Birds from Grease. Why? Because in service companies like ours, when something goes wrong people often get defensive. We want our clients to see we're not like that--that we're human and accessible.
Keeping employees healthy is also good business. We had one guy who was overweight and in danger of developing Type 2 diabetes. I made a deal with him: Lose 70 pounds and the management team will dress as superheroes for one day. What's more, we won't explain our getups to customers, staff, or anyone else. The day we did that I had to give an overview to this huge prospect…in full Batman costume. I said, "Good afternoon citizens. I am Batman. What you will see here is that we have combined technology…What you will see here is we have designed a single integrated system…" Our head of sales was terrified. But that prospect became a customer.
There are lots of ordinary ways for companies to practice philanthropy. Here's how that stuff happens at Athenahealth. Our department that handles medical claims turned down by insurance companies put together a beefcake calendar, called "The Men of Denial Management." One month had a photo of a guy wearing a sash and headband, lifting a weight. Another had a guy in the bathroom shaving. It was hysterical. They sold the calendars for $20 and donated all the proceeds to a group we support called Project Health.
Sometimes we like to feel we're doing something naughty, but not a lot. Fortunately, you can take fun pretty far before it stops serving the mission.
Jonathan Bush is founder and CEO of Athenahealth, a $76 million company that helps medical practices in their interactions with insurers. Athenahealth is based in Watertown, Massachusetts.