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Concierge eases load on workers

MIAMI — Memorial Healthcare System's employees can get an oil change and their clothes dry cleaned without leaving work. General Mills workers can skip traffic and long lines when they mail packages or get jewelry repaired. Ernst & Young staffers need only pick up a phone to have someone plan their vacation or research nursing homes for an elderly parent.

And then there's Google Inc., which is in a class by itself, offering employees a diverse menu of perquisites, including free car washes, oil changes, massages, haircuts, dry cleaning, child care and on-site medical care.

These workplaces are part of a growing number offering benefits packages with "concierge services" — everything from flower deliveries and car detailing to restaurant reservations and clothes alterations.

About 5 percent of the nation's companies, according to one survey, have hired personal assistance firms to handle at least some services for their workers.

"Anything we can do to make life easier (for employees) is something we're interested in doing," explains Erin Dunn, corporate services director for General Mills

Memorial Healthcare Systems pays $399,500 annually for concierge service for its 10,000-plus employees. Chicago-based Errand Solutions runs the benefit for them.

Admissions director Jean Romano-Clark uses it to get her Honda Pilot scrubbed — she leaves it at a designated parking space in the hospital garage and finds it gleaming at the end of the day. She goes to the service's onsite office to buy gift cards, develop photos and even get a watch fixed — leaving more time to spend with her 11-year-old daughter and 8-year-old son.

"Instead of doing all of (those errands) on Saturday, I can go with them to a football game or soccer game," Romano-Clark said. "It's hard to balance work and children, and this has helped put balance back."

Errand Solutions founder and CEO Marsha McVicker said she started her company "because I wanted somebody to do my errands ...." For some, the structure doesn't matter as much as the services themselves. Sandhya Ganesha, a risk management specialist at Ernst & Young, said she has used the concierge perk offered by her firm "for a million different things," including outsourcing the tasks of finding a kickboxing class, booking a trip to Belize and procuring concert tickets.

"It saved a lot of time," Ganesha said. "I love it."