Companies Stretch the Perks To Pacify Precious Employees

Companies Stretch the Perks To Pacify Precious Employees<@VM>Taking the Reins

Stephen Rohleder

By Calli Schmidt, Contributing Writer


When Debra Cammer bought her new house in the District of Columbia, it looked like the rigors of moving would mean she would need considerable time off from her job.

But as the principal consultant to the Federal Housing Administration's Office of the Comptroller at PricewaterhouseCoopers in Arlington, Va., she could little afford to miss any time. So Cammer did what any professional consultant worth her salt would do: She called for reinforcements.

Foyer convenience service workers at the auditing and consulting company waited in line at the district's motor vehicle department to register Cammer's car for her.

"It saved me a lot of time," Cammer said. "I didn't have to worry about skipping out in the middle of the day to run errands."

Cammer even had the service workers ready to supervise the packing and moving, a job far too stressful even when one has the time, she said. But then her mom volunteered to do it instead.

The foyer convenience service "is like having a personal assistant, really," said Cammer, who also has used it to pick up wedding gifts at Tiffany & Co. and run other errands. "Once you start to use them, you think of other ideas."

The concierge service, according to Caryn Perrelli, human resources director for PricewaterhouseCoopers' D.C. area offices, "is a small price when a person has to travel, meet with clients, work long hours. ... It's hard to stay home to have the guy measure for your shutters and maintain your professional responsibilities as well."

The company's service is not free. Employees pay $5 an hour for the standard service, which might include dropping off dry cleaning, retrieving a car from the repair shop or picking up a few groceries. But if an employee wants those groceries waiting in the fridge, the cost jumps to $10 per hour. PricewaterhouseCoopers hires only bonded workers to perform jobs such as waiting for a carpet cleaner, taking delivery of furniture or other tasks that require someone to enter an employee's home, Perrelli said.

Increasingly, information technology companies are offering new and different benefits that reflect the increased competition for highly skilled employees who work ever-longer hours. From enhanced flex-time arrangements and child care support to concierge service and subsidized breast pumps, the perks and benefits reflect a recognition that, especially for younger workers, it takes more than a nice paycheck to win loyalty and reduce employee turnover.

Many benefits such as the one offered at PricewaterhouseCoopers are considered the norm, at least in the IT industry. "An alternate work schedule is a given," said Wendy Owen, who manages a huge NASA contract at Lockheed Martin Corp., Bethesda, Md.

Owen, who considers the company's privacy rooms for nursing mothers not too out of the ordinary, said she heard about a software company in California that hired a wedding consultant for an employee who needed to design software and plan a wedding, but could not possibly do both at the same time.

Lockheed Martin has not gone that far, she noted.

But others might, eventually. Les Concierges, a service provider that KPMG of New York has contracted, will coordinate weddings.

"I can't tell you if anybody has actually used that service, but it's there," said Sean Huurman, director of recruiting for KPMG Consulting LLC in Dallas. "They state that that's one of the offerings."

One local KPMG employee used the concierge service to book airline tickets, an ocean cruise and hotel rooms in the Caribbean for his family over the holidays, said Tim Gay, corporate communications manager for KPMG LLP's health care and public-sector practice in Washington, D.C.

"A lot of it is stuff that people's wives used to do," said one consultant, who asked that her name not be used. "In my office, their wives still do it. But I don't have a wife, and I don't have the time."

All those services, including drop-off dry cleaning, errand running and similar benefits, "is set up to help this work/life balance," said Huurman. "Some of the things that used to be done in their off time can now be taken care of, so [employees] can utilize the time away from work for family."

When more and more women entered, and then remained, in the work force through the 1980s and early 1990s, many employers started to pay more attention to dependent care arrangements and flexible hours. But that move has clearly extended beyond working moms.

Companies increasingly realize, Huurman said, "that everyone needs that help so they can find that balance between work and life. That's from a time and convenience standpoint and also from a financial standpoint."

Andersen Consulting of Chicago has a travel policy that spells out employees' right to spend weekends at home. This means that they can book flights that get them home by 5 p.m. Friday and that do not leave until Monday morning.

And Bell Atlantic Corp. of New York allows new parents to enjoy a reduced work schedule for up to a year after the birth or adoption of a new baby.

The search for balance also is seen in studies examining what most workers want out of their jobs. Employees in their 20s have a different view of the world than workers in their 30s, who have different ideas than the Baby Boom generation, according to Marilyn Moats Kennedy, president of Career Strategies in Wilmette, Ill.

Generally speaking, workers born in the 1940s and 1950s "work hard, play hard, spend hard and talk about it." And while family time is important, she said, they are motivated more by money and recognition than time off.

Workers born in the 1960s and 1970s seek extra free time, along with education, training and the opportunity to learn new skills.

Kennedy said businesses with a clearly defined mission and those that emphasize mentoring opportunities will be more successful in attracting and retaining these younger workers.

Last year, Andersen Consulting's federal operating unit had an executive retention rate of 96 percent, the highest of any Andersen unit, said Stephen Rohleder, managing partner for the U.S. government division in Reston, Va. One reason is that his company spends about $600 million a year for employee training on systems methodologies and interpersonal skills as well as new technology, he said.

"Gen X professionals are interested in individual branding, what kinds of skills they can put on their resumes that can increase their brand in the marketplace," he said. "They want to learn, grow and develop their individual brand."

The company wants its new employees "to have a clear view that the firm is going to invest in you and help you develop the skills. We don't want to just hire you for a specific [consulting] job then look for something else when it's over," Rohleder said.

Andersen also seeks employees who have "an altruistic gene," he added. "We really target our recruiting [for] IT professionals to those people who want to work in government, those that feel they want to give back to their community through their work. There is a common thread; by and large, they feel they can make a difference through the jobs they perform for their clients."

"The more you can align the personal and professional goals of the people you hire with the operating principles of your company, I think the higher retention you're going to have," he said.

And employees are more likely to go the extra mile when they have company-provided back-up child care or somebody to pick up their laundry.

"If we provide the various tools and resources to help them with their personal life, [we can meet] one of our goals, which is to attract and maintain highly skilled and motivated employees," said Sharon Beadle, a spokeswoman for Bell Atlantic.

Jack Hersey

Jack Hersey


Position

Business development manager, Microsoft Federal Systems, Washington, D.C.


Age

35


Hometown

Garden City, N.Y.


Present Home

Alexandria, Va.


Family

Married with three daughters, ages 5, 2 and 6 months


Education

Bachelor of Arts, communications, State University of New York at Albany


Most recent book

"A Man in Full" by Tom Wolfe


Music

"I've been a blues fan most of my life."


Quote

"Experience, the name men give to their mistakes."

Oscar Wilde


Best career advice you ever received

"Hey, you should think about joining Microsoft."


Your job at Microsoft Federal is a new position. What will that mean?

"Microsoft's core strategy is to enable business partners to sell, service, support and build solutions around our products. My responsibility is to work with our partners to develop these solutions and services areas and help them build their businesses."


What does that mean for the channel?

"Federal customers need help turning technology into solutions, and they already have a lot of the products they need to address their business requirements. My job is to work with our partners and systems integrators to help them identify and build service offerings to meet the emerging needs of the federal government."

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