Online concierge

This new Web-based benefit is popular with firms trying to alleviate employee stress.
By Janet Kraus
|Canadian HR Reporter|Last Updated: 04/12/2001

Time. It’s a precious commodity and between work and family responsibilities, most employees believe there are simply not enough hours in the day.

According to a 1997 workforce study conducted by the Families and Work Institute, a New York-based non-profit research group, mid- to upper-level managers report they work an average of 48 hours a week, and part-time employees say they put in more than 35 hours a week. What’s more, some researchers suspect that a significant number of these people work nearly 55 hours a week. About 78 per cent of married employees have a spouse who is also employed, leaving no one to handle the responsibilities of everyday life.

Now add to this commuting 10 hours a week, transporting kids 15 hours a week, and stressing 150 hours a week.

Employers are realizing that the stress of today’s time-crunch takes its toll on employees both on the job and off. As a result, concierge and convenience services, which hit the mainstream when work-life balance surfaced as a critical employee need, are on the rise. Of the 742 organizations polled in the 1999 Society for Human Resource Management Survey, four per cent offer concierge services. Companies with more than 5,000 employees are 15 times more likely to offer concierge services than firms with fewer than 100 employees (15 per cent versus one per cent).

“Five years ago concierge benefits were unheard of and now we are hearing about them more and more,” says Robin Hardman, of the Families and Work Institute. “It is the next step in the growing trend of attempting to balance work and personal responsibilities.”

Web-based life management

As companies strive to attract and retain workers, the concierge and convenience services industry is seeing rapid growth. Offerings are moving well beyond the traditional on-site concierge.

Web-based services have two advantages over an on-site concierge:

•an on-site concierge can only meet the needs of employees at one location; and

•a Web-based concierge frees a company from the costs and time involved in employing a person on-site.

The Internet is a useful tool for time-starved professionals, and Web-based life management is becoming very popular. Employees can access their company’s concierge and convenience Web site from anywhere (home, office, while travelling), anytime. They simply input their personal to-do list, and everything is handled for them.

Concierge services free up more time for employees to spend with family or deal with work issues. Wouldn’t you rather have your top performers focused on work or enjoying well-earned relaxation time, instead of stressing over shopping or organizing repairs and bills?

And because concierge services are all about managing personal matters, you can expect some unusual requests.

Anthony Rauseo, of Microsoft, needed to have a chainsaw delivered to a client who needed it for a presentation. Having followed Rauseo’s specifics about the chainsaw, the concierge service found three companies that could deliver a chainsaw rental to his hotel for the presentation.

Rebecca Faulk, of Foote, Cone & Belding, asked for help finding an old tape of an episode of the television show The Price is Right because her grandmother was a contestant. Her grandmother had died before she was born, and she wanted to obtain a copy of the tape to give to her mother as a present.

John Malak, of Ernst & Young, LLP, wanted to buy a bullet-proof vest as a gift for a friend who is a police officer. He needed to know where he could purchase a vest and the cost of buying one. The service provided him with costs, as well as Web site addresses for stores that sell them. The concierge service also discovered that stores that sell bullet-proof vests are generally very careful about who they sell them to, so Malak was given a listing of the information he would need to provide in order to buy one.

These requests are unique, but helping employees with a wide array of personal needs and to-dos shows workers that you care. Progressive employers are realizing that they must alleviate off-the-job concerns in order to maintain on-the-job focus and company loyalty. And, more and more of them are recognizing concierge and convenience services as a valuable work-life benefit.

Janet Kraus is the CEO of Circles (www.circles.com) a provider of Web-based life management assistance, based in Boston, Mass. She can be reached at (617) 464-3535 or jkraus@circles.com.

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