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Some Companies Pick Up the Tab for Help Hired to Run Employees' Errands

October 18, 1998|AMY JOYCE

Who can worry about such a trivial thing as work when the cable guy is coming, the pipes are leaking, a weekend getaway has to be planned and the ever-reliable watch needs a new battery?

Employees of companies such as Andersen Consulting and Netscape Communications can--they have the benefit of company-hired concierge services.

With back-to-back meetings, Michelle Rose, a marketing and communications manager with Andersen Consulting's Minneapolis office, couldn't find the time to get a new watch battery.

She did, however, have the time to run to Andersen's in-house concierge service and ask the staff there to do it. She went to her meeting and returned to find a ticking watch sitting at her desk. "You can count on" the service, she said. "It really helps you focus."

Andersen's Minneapolis office contracted with the concierge service after taking an employee satisfaction survey about six years ago. The company found that employees wanted more balance between their personal and professional lives. The concierge service was one of Andersen's solutions.

Employees were very receptive to the service, said Deb Meyers, director of human resources in the Minneapolis office. "We demand a lot from our employees, and we want to give back too," she said. The concierge service gives employees "peace of mind that their life can continue on and they can be spending time" on the things they want to spend time on.

The service, after an Andersen subsidy, costs the employees $5 an hour. It is open to all employees and handles a wide range of requests, even when employees are not at work. When Meyers went into labor with her second child, she used the concierge service to pick up her mother-in-law at the airport. "I trusted the service and trusted them to bring her home," Meyers said.

In today's tight labor market, companies are adding "soft" benefits, such as concierge and child-care services, to help them hold on to the talent they have. With companies vying for the attention of prospective employees, more perks are popping up to attract new workers and to retain veteran employees. The cost of such benefits is minimal to companies when the results include employee retention and increased productivity.

Benefits such as a concierge service "make sense," said John Challenger, workplace consultant with Challenger, Gray & Christmas, a Chicago-based outplacement consulting firm. "Companies get employees who don't feel that they have to interrupt what they are doing to . . . do the things that are mundane. [Employers] can really retain those people who just love that extra touch."

David Lima, president and chief executive of Burcorp at Your Service, a Cincinnati company providing concierge and errand services to large corporations, including Andersen, Ernst & Young and SC Johnson Wax, said this is a growing phenomenon.

"Companies are coming to understand that offering [these kind of] benefits . . . actually helps address their major concerns: retaining and attracting employees," Lima said. "Employees can be more focused on their work."

Lima said the requests his company gets "run the gamut." Some have included waiting in a client's home to listen for "leaky, noisy pipes" and relaying that information to the plumber, ordering flowers, setting up a romantic night at a restaurant and dropping off dry-cleaning.

"Not everybody has child-care needs, but this is [a benefit] everyone can use," he said. "Companies are interested in being the company of choice. This is the pragmatic way to do it."

Netscape, an Internet giant based in Mountain View, Calif., contracts with LesConcierges, a concierge company with headquarters in San Francisco. LesConcierges, which has served Netscape for two years, provides personal and business-related help to employees.

The service "helps employees become more productive" and is "used as employee retention," said Danielle Bennion, account manager for LesConcierges. "They really rely on us. We have some employees call on us every day. . . . It just creates a better quality of life."

Bennion added: "The companies around here expect the employees to do a lot of their personal life at work because they work such long hours. Now they don't have to do these things on the weekend."

Amy Joyce is a writer at the Washington Post.

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