Family-Friendliest Award: Employers offer rich benefits, perks and flex time

When it comes to employee benefits, Betty LeHew, vice president of human resources for the Educational Commission for Foreign Medical Graduates, knows what a crowd-pleaser looks like: generous health insurance benefits for employees and their family members.

“Every time we do any kind of survey of our employees, it's always up there on top of the list,” she said. “The appreciation for that benefit helps with our retention greatly.”

The commission, based in Philadelphia, provides a wide range of services to support international medical education. It certifies medical graduates—who make up nearly a quarter of the U.S. physician workforce—before they enter U.S. graduate medical education. The not-for-profit organization also helps international medical graduates apply for U.S. medical school positions; helps them obtain the necessary visas; and provides the verification that allows hospitals, state medical boards and others confirm the applicants are properly certified.

The commission employs more than 1,000 in five cities—Atlanta, Chicago, Houston and Los Angeles as well as Philadelphia—but works to differentiate itself from many large companies.

“We have kind of a family-style culture where people know each other and care about each other,” LeHew said. “That is very important to us as an organization, and we are a little more laid back than a fast-paced for-profit culture.”

That culture is supported by having many long-tenured employees, which means a low attrition rate. And that's where generous health benefits come in. The commission has a lower-than-average employee payroll contribution toward insurance premiums, low co-pays, and lower-than-average healthcare spending for the organization, LeHew said.

She attributed that to successful efforts to educate employees about the wise use of healthcare resources.

“We have very high usage of generics and mail-order prescriptions,” she said. “And our usage of the ER for non-emergency situations is very low. Our overall costs are fairly low—to the point where we have not considered a high-deductible plan.”

Another popular perk: Most employees are scheduled to work at home one day a week. That not only spares them from a big-city commute, but allows them to schedule plumbers or other home help without taking time off work. Even when employees are working in the office they are allowed flexible hours to accommodate family obligations, LeHew said.

Moreover, it helps the organization with business continuity because workers are prepared to work from home. During Philadelphia's major snow storm last winter, the commission maintained 98% productivity even though no one was in the office.

“Kids were out of school and it was dangerous weather to be driving, but we still had full productivity,” LeHew said. “It makes it easier to be able to say, 'Let's close the office,' because we can still run our business.”

The commission also provides adoption benefits that match the paid time off provided for maternity or paternity leave after the birth of a child. Additionally the company offers a reimbursement benefit of up to $5,000 for agency fees, travel fees and legal assistance.

While significantly smaller than the commission, Loma Linda University Surgical Hospital also employs some family-friendly benefits to keep staff happy.

The 28-bed surgical hospital employs just more than 200 people. Like their colleagues throughout the six-hospital Loma Linda University Health system, staff receive free membership for themselves and their family members to the Drayson Center, a 100,000-square-foot on-site fitness center that provides programming for the entire family.

Throughout the summer, the center hosts Swim-N-Cinema family-friendly movies at a shallow-water pool where parents can relax with their kids, said David Conkerite II, director of human resources management for Loma Linda University Health.

The center offers free yoga, aerobics and basic workout classes for free and additional programming for a fee.

“During the summers, we have the most diverse offerings for children—from swimming lessons to karate classes to exercise classes,” he added. Other options: ballet lessons, tennis lessons, and “team Broadway” performance classes—all of which make it easier for working parents to provide enrichment opportunities for their kids during the summer.

Providing access to those amenities reflects the health system's value of “wholeness,” said Lizette Norton, vice president of human resources.

“Part of wholeness is having a balanced life so whatever we can do to assist our employees in having a balanced life makes for better employees,” she said. “They are going to provide better care if we are able to meet their other personal needs.”

That perspective is borne out through the Living Whole Wellness Program, which includes a weight-management program, a support group for staff members diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes, webinars featuring wellness experts, healthy menu plans and other support.

The health system is always looking for new benefits that will appeal to workers, Norton said. Last year, it made an online financial wellness program called Smart Dollar available for free to all employees.

“It gives them education and budget tools that can be linked to their bank accounts,” she said. “It has been very, very popular.”

That's because the employees who enrolled in the program during the first year, on average, eliminated $9,000 in debt and saved $7,500, Conkerite said. Altogether, first-year participants improved their financial situation by $3.5 million.

At the same time, the health system also provided credit-monitoring and identity repair services to all employees at no cost.

Lola Butcher is a freelance writer based in Springfield, Mo.



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