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Sunday, June 23, 2024

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‘The work really never ends’: Former Epic Systems employees discuss company culture, work-life balance

With its headquarters in Verona and its founding in Madison, Epic Systems has become one of the most prominent technological employers in the region. While some former employees have praised the company's culture and structure, others have raised concerns about issues such as work-life balance and the company's strict hybrid work policy.

Founded in 1979 by Judy Faulkner, Epic started as a small software company providing billing services to healthcare providers. Over the years, the company grew and evolved, becoming one of the largest healthcare software companies in the world.

Epic has deep ties to the University of Wisconsin-Madison, employing over 1,200 university graduates. The company has also endowed three computer-science faculty positions, supporting various departments across the university. 

“Epic is consistently a top employer of UW-Madison graduates,” said Sara Lazenby, an institutional policy analyst at UW-Madison. “[The company hires] for roles like software developers, project managers, technical solutions engineers, quality managers, software engineers and other related roles.”

A youthful environment

Fifty-five percent of Epic employees are between 20 and 30 years old, according to Zippia. Combined with a majority of employees staying at the company for under four years, Epic has a young workforce. 

“I joined Epic as my first career job,” said Rishi Satpathy, former technical solutions engineer at Epic. “It was very interesting. A lot of people are very gung-ho about work [and] they're kind of still [figuring out] what to expect.”

Satpathy said the company's youthful environment should not be viewed as a negative characteristic.

“Epic puts you in a lot of [different] situations — some of the people I've worked with, who were there for five years, are in their late 20s and early 30s,” Satpathy explained. “They have a ton of insight and a ton of knowledge of both the product [and] working with our customers.”

However, this perspective is not universally accepted. A former Epic employee, who asked to remain anonymous, said the company's youthfulness creates a highly social and closed-off work environment.

“When I started, I [realized that Epic] is a very ‘fresh out of college’ sort of environment. People are pretty young,” the former employee said. “There's a lot of emphasis on people socializing together and going out together and joining clubs together. [The culture] creates a very insulated social bubble for you to live within.”

The insular culture does lend itself to productivity, Satpathy said.

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“We're working with people who are very driven [and] who want to get things done — there's nothing that falls to the wayside,” said Satpathy. “You can knock on people's doors. It's very easy to find people who are able to help you. There's a lot of structure around [collaboration] as you're working through these complex situations.”

The daily workload

The youthfulness of the company, for better or worse, tends to lend itself to higher workloads, former employees said.

“I definitely had mental health struggles as a result of being overworked, not having time to see friends or family, or pursue hobbies,” the former employee explained. “The work really never ends.”

The company currently holds a work-life balance rating of 2.4 out of five on Indeed

“I don't really ever recall a situation where an employee's needs were even talked about or mentioned — the client comes first. And if you're a customer or hospital, that's great. If you're an employee, not so much,” said the former employee. “You need to know what you need, and go ask for it. And then hope that someone is willing to help you with it.”

While the vast majority — 79% — of employees at Epic receive a salary between $60,000 and $100,000 per year, online reviews of the company mention a “work-work balance” and how the “work-life balance can be challenging if you don't set good boundaries.”

“Epic is definitely a company where they expect about 45ish hours of logged work from you a week, [but the workload is] also generally not treated as an unrealistic expectation,” said Satpathy. “It still felt both intrinsically [and extrinsically] rewarding — working on something that you feel makes an impact. If you're able to demonstrate value [and] communicate effectively, that's reflected in your compensation.”

In general, Epic’s culture lends itself well towards growth, former employees said.

“Most of the professional skills that I have at this point in my career, I learned at Epic. It's a company full of really highly motivated, driven people who get work done,” said the former employee. “It is really cool to get in a room with people and get work done. You can do a lot there if you are driven and motivated.” 

With such high turnover, Epic’s professional growth is important to employees, said Satpathy.

“A lot of the core project management skills, a lot of the technical skills … still transfer to other jobs,” explained Satpathy of his new career. “My experience at Epic and my ability to work with customers transferred very easily and helped me pick those things up as needed.” 

In a company-wide email sent in early July 2020, CEO Faulkner described the August 2020 process of the Epic campus’ nearly complete reopening. According to a May 2021 workplace study, a majority — 66% — of U.S. employees remained concerned about returning to the workplace at the time — seven months after Epic’s reopening. 

“Epic was one of the companies that really pushed for people to come back into the office very early,” said Satpathy. “Even afterwards, they had a pretty strict hybrid work policy where you only got a limited number of days [to work remotely] per year.”

The demands placed on employees at Epic Systems were notably high, often requiring long hours and a high level of dedication to meet the company's expectations, said the former employee.

“If you ever worked 40 hours a week, that was amazing. It was more in the 60 to 80 hours [a] week range,” said the former employee who asked to remain anonymous. “They would sort people by the most [hours] logged and even if you were above 40, but you were still at the low end, you were going to be the first person getting assigned stuff.”

“Why isn't the solution to decrease the amount of work or hire more people?” the former employee asked. 

However, Epic reported their work conditions were positive.

"At Epic, salaried employees work 45-hour weeks on average. The most recent data available from Gallup for the average work week of full-time employees in the U.S. was that a 47-hour work week is average," Epic's media team told The Daily Cardinal. "Of the staff that have chosen to leave Epic, 91% do not list workload concerns as the primary reason they were leaving."

Epic technology is currently used in one-third of US hospitals — requiring a large workforce that has traditionally siphoned off of UW-Madison, Lazenby says.

“I was looking for a change [and] I wanted to do something that would directly help people, that would make a difference in terms of their day to day work,” explained Satpathy. 

In a technology-driven field, Epic has grown into one of the biggest healthcare companies in the world, with deep ties to UW-Madison. And in a growing field, Epic will continue to play a large role in the job market.

“I'm super grateful that they took a chance on me,” said Satpathy.

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Jasper Bernstein

Jasper Bernstein is news manager for The Daily Cardinal. He previously served as the associate news editor, covering city, campus and breaking news. Follow him on Twitter at @jasperberns.

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