Employees’ Needs Are Changing – Are You Keeping Pace?

Like other industries, healthcare is experiencing recruiting challenges as the nation pulls out of the COVID-19 pandemic. The labor shortage that existed before the pandemic has intensified as some workers have left the healthcare field entirely. Offering new employee benefits such as flex time and student loan repayment assistance may help practitioners bring those employees back and attract new workers.

Because they are considered essential services, healthcare practices did not shut down during the pandemic and did not lay off employees. Dental practices were required to shut down for seven weeks, but when they reopened had to work long hours to catch up with the backlog of patients. Physician practices had to adapt to delivering services by telehealth and other strategies, requiring extra training and adapting to technology, in addition to caring for patients.

Consequently, stress and burnout skyrocketed in healthcare practices and many practices have lost employees.

To attract new employees, healthcare practices may want to consider adding employee benefits that are proving to draw more applicants in today’s marketplace. Here are a few to consider:

Traditional Employee Benefits

Start by making sure your traditional employee benefits are up to the standards of the local marketplace by consulting a human resources or employee benefit plan consultant.

  • Health insurance is vital to all workers, and if it includes dental and vision coverage, that’s a big plus. Some small healthcare practices don’t offer health coverage because of cost, and they are not required to do so under the Affordable Care Act because of their size. But the SECURE Act of 2019 (Setting Every Community Up for Retirement Enhancement) made it easier for small businesses to band together and get the bargaining power in the health insurance marketplace that their larger competitors have. If you haven’t checked out the cost of health coverage for your employees lately, it’s time to take another look.
  • Adding a retirement plan can be a low-cost or no-cost option as some plans have no requirement for an employer to provide a match for employee contributions. Retirement plans are becoming increasingly powerful recruiting tools as younger workers are jumping on the retirement saving bandwagon much earlier than their parents did.
  • Flex spending plans or Health Savings Accounts (HSAs) can help you offer employees a way to defray such costs as out-of-pocket medical co-pays and deductibles and childcare costs by deferring pre-tax dollars from their paychecks. These benefits became even more valuable with enactment in March 2021 of the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA), which increased annual limits for pre-tax contributions to $10,500 (up from $5,000) for single taxpayers and married couples filing jointly, and to $5,250 (up from $2,500) for married individuals filing separately. These higher limits are temporary, though, in effect only for the 2021 plan year. But employers may add this benefit at any time this year to take advantage of the higher limits, and employees whose workplaces already have flex spending plans may change their salary deferrals mid-year.
  • Optional insurance coverage plans such as “voluntary” plans that help employees pay for family and household costs during an extended sick leave, short-term disability programs, and life insurance cost nothing for the employer but give employees a greater sense of control over their financial well-being. For younger workers in particular, short-term disability coverage may cover some of the costs of unpaid maternity leave, making it an attractive benefit.

Non-traditional Employee Benefits

The world is changing, in part because of the COVID-19 experience and in part because of advances in technology. Increasingly more employees are able to work from home, at least sometimes if not full time. Moreover, parents of young children want flexibility in terms of part-time work so they can juggle the responsibilities of work and family care more effectively. Older workers may want the same flexibility as they care for aging parents.

  • Perhaps one of the most valuable non-traditional employee benefits today is a brand new one – student loan repayment assistance. The CARES Act of 2020 (Coronavirus Aid Relief an Economic Security) first created the provision that allows an employer to contribute up to $5,250 annually toward an employee’s student loan payments, and the payments would be excluded from the employee’s income for tax purposes. The $5,250 limit applies cumulatively to both the new student loan repayment benefit as well as other educational assistance, such as tuition reimbursement or money for books and materials. This provision has been extended through 2025. With student loan debt standing at $1.7 trillion, many younger workers would find this benefit extremely attractive.
  • If possible, consider offering flex time and part-time schedules that allow employees to meet their personal needs as they earn a living. This could require restructuring some positions; a human resources consultant can help you figure out what will work best for your practice.
  • A workplace wellness program can help employees meet personal goals such as losing weight, exercising more, quitting smoking and generally getting healthier. This can, in turn, help you shave a little bit off the cost of health coverage. Like other employers, you can turn that savings into incentives for your employees to participate, such as gift cards.
  • Creating a mentoring program in even a small healthcare practice can help cement relationships with your employees and ensure they will stay with you for a long time. Match up mature workers with younger employees who can benefit from their wisdom. If a mentor encourages a co-worker to study and obtain a nurse practitioner license it adds a more highly qualified professional to your staff and potentially helps you grow your practice. Engaged team members stay longer, and people are engaged when they have meaningful relationships with their coworkers, and when they have opportunities for growth and advancement.

Contact your Adams Brown advisor to discuss these and other strategies that can help your healthcare practice attract the strongest new employees.