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Bonnie Shelor

Under her tenure, Bon Secours becomes a leading family-friendly workplace

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Print this page by Paula C. Squires

For working mothers, it sounds too good to be true. At Bon Secours’ seven Virginia hospitals there’s more than one way to work:  full-time, part-time or simply on-call. Employees who opt for part-time are eligible for health-care insurance.

News If child-care is needed, workers can apply for a spot at one of the company’s three on-site, subsidized day-care centers. There’s assistance for elder care, too. Bon Secours Richmond will pay half the cost for health-care professionals to care for an employee’s aging relatives 10 times a year. Care sessions can run from a four- to a 10-hour stay.

This family-friendly approach is part of a corporate culture that’s making Bon Secours Virginia Health System a nationally recognized leader in work/life balance. “An employer of choice means that you create an environment where people can be their best,” says Bonnie P. Shelor, senior vice president for human resources.

That’s especially important in the stressful health-care environment, she adds, where nurses and other staff tend to the sick and dying. “Our nurses run the gamut from just out of nursing school to the baby boomers and older workers. Within that life span, people need different schedules.”

Shelor has worked for Bon Secours for 15 years. She moved up through the ranks, starting as a director of human resources for Bon Secours Stuart Circle Hospital in Richmond. Her next move was as administrative director for human resources for two of Bon Secours’ Richmond hospitals. In 2000, as a senior vice president, she assumed responsibility for the entire 7,000-employee Richmond health-care system. 

In 2008 Bon Secours merged its facilities in Richmond and Hampton Roads, creating one of the largest health-care systems in Virginia. Today, Shelor is responsible for developing and implementing the human resources program statewide. She likes to think of it as the “human potential” of 11,000 employees.
When her team proposes policies that ease the juggling act between work and home, “My job is to say yes,” says Shelor.  Never far from her mind is the fact that women make up 83 percent of Bon Secours’ work force.

Many of the innovative programs Shelor and her team rolled out in Richmond are now being put in place in the other hospitals. While she can’t always say yes due to resources and other issues, Shelor has answered in the affirmative enough for Bon Secours to win national acclaim.

The National Association for Female Executives has recognized Bon Secours Richmond Health System as one of the top employers in the country for recruiting, developing and advancing women. For 11 years running, Bon Secours Richmond has made the list of 100 Best Companies for Working Mothers, published by Working Mother magazine. And the health-care system was one of four Virginia companies named to the 2009 list of Best Employers for Workers 50 and over by AARP.

“They’re really leading the way in flexibility,” says Jennifer Owens, senior director of editorial research for Working Mother. “They give employees the ability to work the way they need to work.” 
Case in point: Courtney Cook.  Back in 2006, with the premature birth of her fourth child, Cook seriously considered quitting her job as administrative director for the Richmond area. “At the 12-week mark, I had this tiny baby, and I wasn’t physically or mentally ready to come back.” So she told her supervisors, and they agreed to give her a leave of absence, until she could return.

In the meantime, they asked Cook to help them with a special project from home and provided her with a Blackberry, computer and other equipment to get the job done. “That made me realize that I didn’t need to step down from my role, that I could manage this by working remotely. And that still allowed me to be a mommy.”

After five months, Cook returned to work. She has since had another child and been promoted to administrative director for all of Bon Secours Virginia.  The mother of five continues to work from home during early morning hours, so she can help get her children off to school. 

News The 24-hour needs of hospital staffing require schedule flexibility.  Still, Owens of Working Mother points out that Bon Secours is ahead of the curve. “They give full benefits at 16 hours a week. On average, 20 hours a week tends to be the trigger for that.” Nationwide, only about 35 percent of companies offer health insurance for part-timers, according to Working Mother.

Unlike some companies, Bon Secours did not cut back on employee perks during the recession. In fact, it expanded benefits in 2008 and 2009. The health system added additional leave for new parents, created economic and fuel assistance programs, offered free counseling to the spouses of employees who lost jobs and boosted the health system’s minimum wage, from $8.88 to $9 per hour — $1.75 more than what state law requires.

With that type of support, it’s no wonder that 45,000 applications came in for 2,800 positions in 2008. Shelor realizes that a nonprofit, self-insured health system can be more nimble in the area of work-life balance than for-profit companies. Still, at Bon Secours, she says, tremendous effort goes into providing an environment that recruits and retains talent. While some programs cost money — the company spends more than $100,000 a year to subsidize the three day-care centers — others cost very little. 

In the long-run, supporting employees has proved to be a good business strategy. In the competitive field of nursing, Shelor says the annual turnover rate for nurses at Bon Secours is 12 percent. That’s lower than the national rate of 15.5 percent and better than the Bon Secours’ overall turnover rate of 14 percent. “If we can reduce that — it’s been as high as 25 percent in years past — that will have a significant impact on financial outcomes.”

In her career, Shelor can testify to the case for employee empowerment. After joining Bon Secours in 1994, she earned a master’s degree in adult and human development by taking advantage of the company’s tuition reimbursement program. She also benefited from the company’s policy of filling 75 percent of its jobs from within, gaining several promotions through the years. 

Shelor’s efforts to shape a family-friendly workplace were rewarded this year when she was named the 2009 Human Resource Strategist of the Year by the Titan Group and the Richmond Society for Human Resources Management. 

And she and her team aren’t through yet. Currently in the works is an affinity group for young professionals and a professional networking program for women that may focus on improving the health status of women in the community.  With so many incentives to stay, she’s hoping new, young workers won’t find a reason to leave.


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