Tillie Hidalgo Lima

Looking for creative ways to add to employee benefits, some healthcare organizations are offering concierge services.

At a Glance

  • Balancing work and personal life can add to workers' stress level.
  • Inevitably, handling personal needs can conflict with work commitments.
  • Some healthcare organizations are offering concierge services to help employees manage some of their time-consuming personal chores as well as provide some corporate services.

Imagine arriving at work only to receive a phone call from your son or daughter at school saying he or she left an important assignment at home that morning and needs it right away. Then your boss stops by and asks whether you would mind taking over an upcoming fund-raising drive. And last night, your washing machine quit working, and you need to arrange for a repairperson to fix it as soon as possible. Wouldn't it be nice if you could just wave a magic wand and have all of these things taken care of for you?

Finding the time to run errands, have a home appliance repaired, take the car in for an oil change, or make vacation arrangements, much less do the grocery shopping and laundry or taking on an additional project at work, can be hard when you work full time. Employers realize that balancing work and personal life is challenging for their employees, especially those who work in the demanding healthcare industry.

Many employers today are looking for creative ways to make the work environment desirable to a diverse workforce. Some healthcare organizations are finding that offering employees concierge services fits the bill.

Today's Diverse Workforce

In the face of shortages of qualified workers, many healthcare organizations want to retain the ones they have. A low retention rate can mean large expenditures for recruiting, hiring, and training new employees. Because today's workforce is diverse and spans four generations of employees, providers need to take a creative approach to retaining employees. Each generation of employees has its own reasons for choosing to take a job and then choosing to keep it. Although younger workers may be more vocal about it, one common factor important to all four generations is the ability to balance their work and their personal lives.

Ensuring personal time helps alleviate stress, which is all too common throughout today's workforce of any age. A new survey from Watson Wyatt and WorldatWork reports that 24 percent of workers say stress is the reason they leave their jobs. The 2005 Study of Employment Benefit Trends (MetLife) found that 56 percent of responding employees say work-life balance is a job selection criterion and four in 10 cite their benefits as an important reason to remain with their employers.

Bottom line: Employees of all generations are increasingly finding themselves torn between obligations at work and at home.

Enhancing Work-Life Balance

One practical approach for supporting the need to better balance life's duties is to leverage an idea used successfully in hotels for years: concierge services. HealthONE in Colorado anticipated that investing in their employees by offering concierge services to offload simple but time-consuming personal chores would pay off in employee retention.

"We are committed to enhancing work-life balance," says Roger Smith, senior vice president of human resources for HealthONE. "Concierge services add significant value to our benefits package while taking some real pressure off our employees."

Bronson Healthcare Group in Michigan agrees, having implemented concierge services not only for its employees' benefit but also as part of the journey of one of its hospitals to become a 2005 Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award winner.

"We wanted to provide our employees, primarily a female population, with some relief from their busy lives and we wanted those services to be as convenient and efficient as possible," says Susan Ulshafer, former senior vice president of human resources at Bronson.

At Your Service

Organizations typically include the concierges as part of their benefits offerings so that employees pay only for expenses directly associated with the services, such as a car repair bill or a dry cleaning charge. The most popular services are personal shopping, automobile services, postal services, information research, and dry cleaning/laundry services.

Concierges can make a big difference during the back-to-school crunch. Services range from registering a child for school to shopping for school supplies and clothing. These activities are in addition to the typical "emergency" service of picking up things a child has left at home and taking them to school, such as homework, lunches, musical instruments, and play costumes.

Another frequently used service is party planning. The HealthONE concierges have taken treats to school for children's birthday parties. One concierge planned a birthday party for a busy parent, including finding the party location, purchasing all of the supplies, and delivering the cake. Another concierge organized a graduation party, relieving the parents of the details, even down to balloon delivery.

A third, highly prized service is planning family vacations. Concierges can make airline reservations, find hotel accommodations, and procure rental cars. Many times they find real bargains, saving the employees money as well as time.

A particularly useful concierge service is corporate support. In providing such support, the concierge coordinates a number of organization-wide services, thereby relieving staff for other functions in the organization. For example, the concierge office might:

  • Administer a laptop-computer rental program for patients and guests
  • Arrange for the dry cleaning and laundering of employee uniforms
  • Assist in conducting annual giving campaigns, such as the United Way fund drive

Many other types of services are possible. The types of services concierges provide are limited only by the imagination of the customers. Anything that saves employees time and provides a better work-life balance (and is not illegal or immoral) is considered fair game.

Providers Benefit, Too

Results have shown that these services deliver value not only to employees but also to their employers. Positive outcomes include reduced turnover, increased productivity, and enthusiastic acceptance of the services.

Reduced turnover. Bronson Healthcare Group documented an overall decline in turnover from almost 21 percent to just over 9 percent, while nursing turnover fell from 13 percent to 7.5 percent.

HealthONE reported a similar outcome in overall decreased turnover:

  • From 15.6 percent to 13.9 percent at North Suburban Medical Center
  • From 18.0 percent to 15.6 percent at Rose Medical Center
  • From 23.5 percent to 17.3 percent at Sky Ridge Medical Center

The concierge service was definitely a factor in these improvements, according to HealthONE. One employee commented, "The new staff is very impressed that the hospital provides such a service."

The ramifications of keeping employees satisfied and therefore on the payroll are not trivial. Replacing an employee in a specialty position can easily cost $50,000 or more. In fact, the Nursing Center, part of The Advisory Board Company in Washington D.C., reports that replacement costs are likely to be 114 percent of annual salary for a medical/surgical nurse and 156 percent for a specialty nurse. Michael Sherbun, author of Caring for the Caregiver, pegs replacements costs at between $60,000 to $80,000 per nurse. Bronson reports that costs associated with recruitment were reduced by at least $250,000 after the group implemented concierge services.

Increased productivity. One concierge services provider reports that, based on survey results, employees have saved an average of two hours for each concierge request. Half of those surveyed say they put that time back into their work. Ninety percent of respondents reported that the service decreases their stress and helps them balance their work and personal lives. One HealthONE staff member says, "Most [of mine] were business requests. I had more time to devote to taking a lunch break … [or for] work-related paperwork … the service makes my life easier."

Acceptance of the concierge service. Assuming that higher employee engagement will follow increased usage of the service, acceptance of the service is a key performance indicator. At Bronson, for example, usage of the service grew 381 percent and the percentage of the workforce using the service grew from 23 percent to 74 percent in just four years. In the same time frame, the number of requests handled nearly quadrupled.

Feedback from employees, another important measure of their engagement, has been enthusiastic, with 99 percent of users reporting the service helps balance work and personal responsibilities and 96 percent saying the service increases their commitment to their employer.

Here's what some participants are saying about the service:

  • "It's an everyday reminder that Bronson cares about its employees."
  • "I think this is our best benefit."
  • "I can focus more on my work responsibilities because I am not distracted by my personal to-do list."

Investing for Results

Showing employees that they are valued by investing in their well-being helps improve employee engagement and motivates them to stay with their employers. Even more important, from a financial standpoint, the impact of reduced recruiting and hiring costs easily pays for this new employee benefit, creating a positive ROI for the hospital.

Jaime Weslowski, former president of Riverside Community Hospital in California, puts it this way: "It is a great way of showing this facility's commitment to each and every employee. We offer concierge services that will meet the pressing day-to-day needs of our team in order to free up that valuable personal time that could be spent with family, friends, or doing activities that make life enjoyable."

What Can Concierges Do?

Concierges can provide many services, such as:

  • Errand running--handling personal and/or business errands, such as courier services, vehicle services, shopping, home-sitting services
  • Convenience services--dry cleaning, shipping/mailing, buying stamps, gift wrapping
  • Transactional services--obtaining tickets, buying gifts, making reservations
  • Home-based help--waiting for a service person, handling lawn maintenance, watering plants, bringing in the mail, arranging for pet care
  • Corporate support--conducting fund-raising campaigns, implementing service excellence initiatives, administering recognition programs
  • Information research--information and referrals on a wide range of topics, such as product research, travel, contractors, recreation, sports, financial services, volunteering
  • Child/elder care--researching care options, identifying programs and services, exploring adoption
  • Event planning--planning an employee recognition dinner, a business meeting, a company picnic, a birthday party, a reunion, or any other event
  • Travel planning--obtaining passports, arranging airfare/hotel/car rental, exchanging currency
  • Guest relations--arranging for travel or accommodation needs, providing tours, taking care of floral and gift delivery

Tillie Hidalgo Lima is president/CEO, Best Upon Request Corporate, Inc., Cincinnati (thl@bestuponrequest.com).

Publication Date: Friday, August 01, 2008

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