She Moves, He Moves: Traverse City companies address needs of ‘trailing spouses’

tcbn-cover-11-16Diane Arnold had never been to Traverse City when Munson Healthcare recruited her husband, Matthew, earlier this year to work there as a neonatologist.

As a “trailing spouse,” Arnold was faced with having to make new friends, find a neighborhood attractive to her young family and establish professional connections in an unfamiliar community.

But a four-year-old program at Munson that takes the needs of the spouse as seriously as those of the physician the health care system hires smoothed her transition.

“I feel like we have such a busy calendar because of Munson,” she said. “They’ve scheduled us with events, dinners and parties. And we’ve met so many other wonderful young families. It’s made the transition easy.”

The Arnolds, who have a two-year-old daughter, bought a home near downtown Traverse City in June after living for the past three years in Louisville, Ky.

Trailing spouses are a big concern for companies that recruit new workers from around the country and beyond. The process of attracting and hiring employees is expensive, and those costs are compounded if a company loses a key employee because the spouse or partner is unhappy in a new community.

Munson began a formal process of addressing spouses’ needs in its physician recruiting process in 2012. Munson tries to learn as much as it can about the physician, spouse and their interests from the minute they identify the physician as a potential addition to the region’s medical community.

“It’s a very big issue, given the changing nature of families today,” said Ellen Kossek, an expert on work-family life at Purdue University’s Krannert School of Management and who lives part time in Traverse City. “There’s a shortage of workers in Traverse City. If companies are going to get talent, they’re smart to give them this assistance.”

Andrea Ludka, director of physician services at Munson, said addressing spouse and family concerns is crucial in competing for talent with larger health care systems.

“We have to look at the family as a whole,” said Andrea Ludka, director of physician services at Munson. “We have to understand a lot about the spouse and the kids. If we don’t, we can’t retain physicians.”

For example, Ludka said she discovered that one physician and his wife that Munson was recruiting this fall were huge Michigan State University football fans. During their recruitment visit, Munson connected the couple to other MSU fans in the area.

And when a San Diego physician Munson was recruiting expressed concern about figure skating opportunities for his daughter, Munson recruiters connected him with community resources.

“You don’t want spouses to sit back in a hotel room” during a recruiting visit, Ludka said. “You make sure there are outings with our families. You get them together with other spouses. It’s all about making connections to the community.”

Hagerty Insurance, which specializes in insuring classic cars, also helps meet the lifestyle needs of spouses of workers it hires.

But sometimes, it’s the employee who has more trouble adjusting to a new community.

Beverly Hallfrisch relocated to Traverse City from Chicago in November to become Hagerty’s manager of actuarial services. She sought the job in part because her husband, Andrew, was a forester and couldn’t find work in the Chicago area.

Andrew was working as a part-time forester in the Upper Peninsula and “he only lived with me seasonally,” Hallfrisch said.

But after the move to Traverse City, Andrew acclimated quickly and found a job as a forester in the area with the state Department of Natural Resources. A native of Sault Ste. Marie (Beverly is from there, as well), Andrew found he had a number of college friends living in Traverse City who helped him feel comfortable in the community.

“I got lucky,” he said. “I found a job in my chosen field that was within commuting distance. Traverse City is busy, but it’s not as busy as Chicago. I’m glad to be here.”

Beverly struggled a bit to find a life outside of work.

“Andrew integrated faster than I did,” she said. “He’s more social than me. He knew people and I knew no one.”

But Hagerty’s supportive work culture, and workplace programs such as a fitness center and book clubs, helped Hallfrisch feel she was a part of the community. Hagerty’s workplace programs also are open to spouses.

“The culture at Hagerty is friendly and welcoming,” she said. “That was a bit of a shocker” after working in Chicago.

Hagerty often connects veteran employees with new hires to help them find a good fit with schools and other organizations, said Coco Champagne, Hagerty’s vice president of human resources.

“Someone might not pursue a job with us if their family isn’t comfortable coming here,” she said. “We believe in the whole employee and that includes their family.”

Ludka said because Traverse City is relatively small, it can be difficult finding a job for the trailing professional spouse.

That’s been an issue for Arnold, a former prosecutor. She said she’s received networking assistance in the legal community from several Munson lawyers, but so far hasn’t found a good employment fit.

Munson and Hagerty sometimes solve the issue by offering employment opportunities to the spouse. When Munson recently recruited Bobby Kong, a cardiac surgeon from Ann Arbor, it introduced his fiancée, a nurse, to one of its nursing managers.

“They made every effort to make sure I was connected to the nurse in charge of acute care, said Barbara Dilisio, who had worked for 13 years at Beaumont Hospital in Royal Oak. “They could not have been nicer or more accommodating.”

Dilisio said she’s not sure if she wants to return to work, but said Munson has “done a great job of making me feel important, too.”

Champagne said communication technologies sometimes allow new hires at Hagerty to work remotely if they can’t relocate to Traverse City because of a spouse’s job. About 650 of Hagerty’s 800 employees work locally.

She said Hagerty puts an emphasis on business growth as a way of increasing job opportunities for trailing spouses. The way Champagne sees it, more jobs at Hagerty increases overall economic development in the area and results in more job opportunities for spouses of Hagerty employees.

But she said the growing recognition of Traverse City’s livability makes it easier to hire top talent from other areas of the country.

“There’s been a huge increase in people across the nation becoming familiar with Traverse City and wanting to raise their families here,” she said. “The wonderful thing about Traverse City is that it’s such a desirable place.”
Arnold, who grew up in southern Illinois, agrees.

“It’s been really nice. Everywhere we go we know people,” she said. “I feel like I’m a new person.”