While hourly wages and salaries typically are the most important factors in healthcare workers’ decisions on where they accept a new role, many medical groups are looking beyond take-home pay to round out their compensation packages.
A May 31, 2022, MGMA Stat poll found that almost half (45%) of medical groups added or increased benefits for employees in the past year. That’s a sizable increase from the results of a June 8, 2021, MGMA Stat poll that found about one in four (26%) medical groups had added or increased employee benefits in the previous year. The 2022 poll had 553 applicable responses.
The top 10 most common areas of expanded employee benefits among the 2022 poll respondents were:
1. Additions and improvements to paid leave offerings: Giving employees more time away from work was the most common answer, by way of adding paid parental leave, floating holidays, birthday PTO, flex days, and changes to PTO rollover/accrual policies to adjust when new employees can attain increased PTO accrual rates.
2. Wellness and employee assistance program (EAP) benefits: Access to paid counseling services and discounts for wellness retreats were frequently cited by practice managers hoping to address stress and burnout among healthcare workers.
3. Increased employer contribution toward health insurance costs: Many respondents said they worked to hold premium costs for workers at bay amid rising inflation, or by increasing employer contributions to employee health savings accounts (HSAs), often to be more competitive with nearby hospital systems and other nonhealthcare employers.
4. Improvements to retirement and 401(k) plan offerings: Several practice leaders increased the employer’s matching amount to 401(k) plans in the past year, while others updated plan qualification requirements for earlier entry.
5. Adding new coverage options to the benefits package: The most common new offerings from poll respondents were short- and long-term disability plans, life insurance, other supplemental health coverage, and pet insurance.
6. Tuition and loan assistance: Several practices added more funding to reimburse for professional development, licensure fees and to pay down existing student loans.
7. More remote work options.
8. Transportation assistance: Common examples of new benefits added include increased mileage reimbursement for employee travel between clinic locations, parking fee and bus/rail pass reimbursement and incentives for carpooling.
9. New or improved child care and elder care assistance.
10. Financial planning resource and identity theft protection.
Among practice leaders who did not add or increase benefits in the past year, only 19% said they are considering benefit plan changes for later this year, while 77% said they were not — often citing budgetary limits for new benefits or recent cost-of-living wage adjustments — and 4% said they were unsure. Most of the practices planning to add or increase benefits later in 2022 cited:
- Updating contributions to employee health insurance coverage
- Family support services
- Education benefits and tuition assistance/student loan repayment
- Wellness, EAP and mental health service offerings.
Benefit redesign amid compensation competition, compounded by inflation
A variety of nonphysician roles in medical groups have remained in heavy demand, as noted in an April 5, 2022, MGMA Stat poll, which found medical assistants (MAs) and nurses to be the two most-difficult roles to recruit this year. The tight labor market has led many practices to raise wages, adopt flexible schedules, hire temporary workers and utilize several other tactics to address staffing shortages, including:
- Improved employee engagement efforts
- Increasing paid time off and/or reducing schedules
- Outsourcing/offshoring for scribe work and medical coding
- Providing pre-emptive salary increases ahead of schedule
- More opportunities for remote work
- Taking on entry-level college students from local schools to build talent pipelines and developing those workers, such as preceptorships
- Adding referral bonuses for existing staff who help bring in new hires.
In the intense recruitment environment, hospital and senior-living system Trinity Health Michigan redesigned benefit offerings to begin on a worker’s first day of employment, plus new signing bonuses for certain positions, as reported by Crain’s Detroit Business.
“We’re dealing with situations that two years ago just simply didn’t exist,” said HR legal expert Judy Holmes, JD, cofounder, The Compliance Clinic, during her MGMA Insights podcast appearance. “Many medical practices are having a difficult time finding qualified candidates to help fill their job openings.”
These factors point to an ongoing need for practice leaders to focus on employee retention efforts for team members who went through the worst months of the pandemic — employees who are experiencing burnout and wondering how to restore work-life balance.
- Healthcare worker burnout has become so prevalent, a recent advisory from U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy suggests that it’s crucial to address the “societal, cultural, structural, and organizational factors that contribute to burnout among health workers.”
- Read more about how talent management leaders at Nestlé are working to support employees’ mental well-being (via HRM America).
“Employers are just going to have to be creative to attract talent,” Holmes says, suggesting it’s time to “think outside the box” on areas such as incentives, bonuses, flex schedules and telework opportunities “until we all get back to normal.”
Updating benefits and containing costs
In an upcoming episode of the MGMA Insights podcast, Jim Holder, vice president of MGMA BenefitsPlus, said that work in employee benefit consulting for employers has recently focused on two primary motivations: Strategies to help lower clinical risk and costs for employers, and improving pharmacy benefit manager (PBM) contracts for better terms and definitions that align with the clinical risk reduction strategy.
This is especially important because the hopes for lowered costs have not been realized more than a decade following the passage of the Affordable Care Act (ACA). “We continue to see hyperinflation in healthcare, both for individuals and businesses, and it’s the No. 1 expenditure for our federal government,” Holder noted.
“The last six months, the No. 1 issue [for consumers] has been inflation,” Holder added, whether that’s increased prices at the gasoline pump or the grocery store. “There are some real things that are crowding out healthcare” for individual spending, on top of the growth in out-of-pocket healthcare spending in recent years as more employees shifted into high-deductible health plans.
Holder said that medical groups and health systems as employers typically have an advantage when it comes to taking a closer look at health insurance contracts for employees, as they understand the clinical risks that often lead to poorer outcomes and higher costs. However, making investments of time to get data from insurers about what clinical elements are driving those costs is difficult to do for busy practice leaders.
“Don’t think of your health insurance employee benefits as a once-a-year event,” Holder said. “It needs to be managed,” which can involve establishing transparency around claims data and connecting it to “a plan that allows them to manage their healthcare expense in a meaningful way.”
Redoubling engagement efforts
Beyond benefit offerings, it’s also important for medical practice leaders to consider engagement efforts and the overall connection to work their employees have. A recent study on recruiting and retaining top performers from Laura Gassner Otting found that more than 9 in 10 workers:
- Want their work to be part of what inspires them to get up each morning
- Feel that it is vital to them that they feel appreciated in their work
- Do better work when they see how the quality of their work matters to the big picture
- Do their best work when they feel like an important, contributing member of the team.
However, the report found that only about half of workers ages 25 to 45 — among those with the highest turnover rates amid the Great Resignation — felt like they can connect their tasks to organizationwide initiatives.
- Read Otting’s recent Harvard Business Review article, “How to Re-Engage a Dissatisfied Employee.”
The good news for organizations that may not have as much flexibility to alter salaries or wages is that only about one-third (36.7%) of workers say the most important thing about a job is that is pays them enough to live the lifestyle they want.
- The 2022 MGMA DataDive Management and Staff Compensation launches in late June, with industry-leading compensation benchmarks for job titles throughout a medical group practice, from the C-suite to the front desk. Last year’s national survey included total compensation responses for almost 23,400 MA positions nationwide, as well as hourly rate data from more than 33,000 respondents. Learn more.
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- Want to learn more about how MGMA Better Performers are navigating the tight labor market? MGMA members get exclusive access to the July 2022 issue of MGMA Connection magazine, which will include a feature article on one organization’s quest to build its own certified medical assistant academy to bolster its clinical staffing.
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