Stay Vigilant, CFOs: Your Compensation Strategy Matters More Than Ever

https://www.forbes.com/sites/paulmcdonald/2022/06/15/stay-vigilant-cfos-your-compensation-strategy-matters-more-than-ever/?sh=697b638f18f7

There’s been some speculation in the news lately that wage growth in the United States might be topping out. This could be the case for some employers, especially smaller companies that don’t have much more give in their current staffing budget. However, don’t think for a moment that compensation is suddenly losing its power as a tool to help secure top talent in a market where unemployment is low, the quits rate is high, and there are nearly twice as many open jobs as there are available workers.

The suggestion that employers are becoming more conservative in their salary offers also might be hopeful thinking for those trying to control rising inflation. Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell, for example, recently referred to the labor market as “unsustainably hot.”

While some big companies may be considering cooling down on hiring, some are paying higher wages to median-salaried employees than they did before the pandemic. (Significantly so, in some cases — think six figures.) And although the U.S. economy has seen some job-shedding in recent months, layoffs overall are at their lowest level on record.

The takeaway for chief financial officers (CFOs) is that you can’t afford to sit back and wait on wages. You can never really be sure when or if it will “top out,” especially in this unusual economy and candidate-driven hiring market. Your business needs to be prepared to provide standout compensation packages to hire stellar candidates — and keep your best people, too.

Compensation remains the not-so-secret weapon for besting competitors targeting the same talent, including the high performers who are already part of your organization. The trick is to use compensation as an offensive strategy that gives you more control. Following are three ways to help your organization make that pivot:

1. Review Current Employees’ Compensation Levels Now

While its name has been overexposed in the media, the Great Resignation is real and still in motion. Some are even referring to the phenomenon now as the “Forever Resignation”— a cycle of voluntary turnover that may never end. Buzzy labels aside, the pandemic has fundamentally changed the way people look at work, and what it means to them. They aren’t as willing to put up with things they don’t like about their job — like a low rate of pay. They know they have options, and they will seek them out.

Nearly two-thirds of U.S. workers who left their jobs in 2021 cited insufficient compensation as a reason for quitting, according to a Pew Research Center survey. To avoid turning your company’s valued staff into part of the “Class of 2022,” don’t wait for them to ask for a raise. Make sure to review their current compensation and if needed, bump it up, or extend another financial perk, like a spot bonus or paid time off.

And, if you find that employees are beating you to the punch, encourage an open discussion about pay. For example, if this person’s job responsibilities recently expanded or they’ve gained new skills, an immediate raise (or the promise of one soon) may be in order. If the employee is just feeling the crunch from inflation, offering a flexible work arrangement to reduce the burden of a costly commute might be an alternative solution for in-office workers.

2. Designate an Expert to Oversee the Compensation Process

In addition to taking stock of staff compensation levels as soon as possible, consider putting a formal process in place to ensure these levels will be monitored and adjusted proactively.

Compensation analysis will require, among other things, keeping tabs on the latest salary research and market trends, analyzing and updating job descriptions, and setting pay ranges and communicating them to staff. Look for someone in your human resources organization who could take the lead on managing this critical process. Because the market has changed so fast, it’s critical to keep continual tabs on what’s happening with pay rates and hiring dynamics for your company’s most mission-critical roles.

3. Watch Out for Pay Compression

The need to pay higher salaries to top candidates is in many cases resulting in new hires earning more than existing staff. Even small differences in pay between employees who are performing the same job, regardless of their skills or experience, can turn into big staffing headaches — namely, turnover. Feelings of resentment and disengagement can especially rise in the workforce when new hires with less experience are paid the same as, or more than, tenured employees in the same positions, or when individual contributors are paid more than their managers.

Inflation, competition for in-demand talent and the company’s failure to keep up with current market rates for compensation can all lead to pay compression. Conducting regular pay audits as described above and quickly bringing up the base salary of underpaid employees are solutions for resolving and, ideally, preventing, pay compression.

When raises aren’t an option, consider offering compelling non-monetary perks such as upskilling opportunities, better benefits, health and wellness programs, a more welcoming corporate culture, or all of the above.

That said, you can be sure that, no matter what, leading employers will continue to pay salaries that will attract the top talent they need to drive innovation and stay competitive.

Younger hospital nurses leaving the profession altogether

https://mailchi.mp/3390763e65bb/the-weekly-gist-june-24-2022?e=d1e747d2d8

The prevailing opinion earlier this year was that the hospital registered nurse (RN) shortage was being driven by older nurses retiring early or leaving hospital employment for less-demanding care settings during the pandemic. However, recent data shown in the graphic below paint a different picture. 

Hospital RNs with over ten years of tenure actually turned over at lower rates in 2021, compared to 2019. Meanwhile, the turnover rate for nurses with less tenure (who are typically younger) increased in 2021. While less-tenured nurses have always turned over at higher rates, we are seeing a new uptick in younger RNs leaving the profession

The size of the total RN workforce decreased by 1.8 percent between 2019 and 2021and the decline was twice as steep for hospital-employed RNs. Younger RNs disproportionately drove this decline: nurses under age 35 left the nursing workforce at four times the rate of those over age 50. 

A recent survey suggests younger RNs are less likely to feel their well-being is supported by their organization, and more likely to define themselves as “emotionally unhealthy.” To keep younger nurses in the profession, hospitals must increase the support available to them. Investments might include expanding preceptorship and mentorship programs, many of which were cut during the pandemic, and increasing behavioral health support and job flexibility.  

Hospitals face increasing competition for lower-wage workers 

https://mailchi.mp/8e26a23da845/the-weekly-gist-june-17th-2022?e=d1e747d2d8

Although the nursing shortage has attracted much attention in recent months, the healthcare workforce crisis is hitting at all levels of the labor force. As the graphic above shows, the attrition rate for all hospital workers in 2021 was eight percentage points higher than in 2019. 

Among clinicians and allied health professionals, certified nursing assistants (CNAs) have the highest turnover levels. Given the demands of the job and relatively low pay, CNA openings have been consistently difficult to fill. But it’s become even harder to hire for the role in today’s labor market as job openings near an all-time high. 

Although labor force participation rates have rebounded to 2019 levels, pandemic-induced economic shifts have led to a boom in lower-wage jobs. In 2021 alone, Amazon opened over 250 new fulfillment centers and other delivery-related work sites. The company is competing directly with hospitals and nursing facilities for the same pool of workers at many of these new sites.

In fact, our analysis shows that more than a quarter of hospital employees currently work in jobs with a lower median wage than Amazon warehouses. Health systems have historically relied on rich benefits packages and strong career ladder opportunities to attract lower-wage employees, but that’s no longer enough—Amazon and other companies have ramped up their benefits, such that they now meet, or even surpass, what many hospitals are providing. 

The time has come for health systems to reevaluate their position in local labor markets, and better define and promote their employee value proposition. 

What the “org chart” can reveal about physician culture 

https://mailchi.mp/ce4d4e40f714/the-weekly-gist-june-10-2022?e=d1e747d2d8

A consultant colleague recently recounted a call from a health system looking for support in physician alignment. He mused, “It’s never a good sign when I hear that the medical group reports to the system CFO [chief financial officer].” We agree. It’s not that CFOs are necessarily bad managers of physician networks, or aren’t collaborative with doctors—as you’d expect from any group of leaders, there are CFOs who excel at these capabilities, and ones that don’t. 

The reporting relationship reveals less about the individual executive, and more about how the system views its medical group: less as a strategic partner, and more as “an asset to feed the [hospital] mothership.” Or worse, as a high-cost asset that is underperforming, with the CFO brought in as a “fixer”, taking over management of the physician group to “stop the bleed.”

Ideally the medical group would be led by a senior physician leader, often with the title of chief clinical officer or chief physician executive, who has oversight of all of the system’s physician network relationships, and can coordinate work across all these entities, sitting at the highest level of the executive team, reporting to the CEO. Of course, these kinds of physician leaders—with executive presence, management acumen, respected by physician and executive peers—can be difficult to find. 

Having a respected physician leader at the helm is even more important in a time of crisis, whether they lead alone or are paired with the CFO or another executive. Systems should have a plan to build the leadership talent needed to guide doctors through the coming clinical, generational, and strategic shifts in practice. 

Hospitals feel the brain drain

Hospitals are feeling an enduring consequence of experienced employees’ early retirements and resignations: collective knowledge loss. 

“Even when missing people can be replaced, missing knowledge cannot,” Ed Yong wrote for The Atlantic May 18. 

Beyond hospitals’ challenges in recruiting and retaining employees are the stubborn and sometimes subtle problems resulting from decreasing median tenure within their organizations. The ripple effects of losing older, seasoned employees to resignations or early retirements can be harder to quantify, but are nonetheless felt by colleagues who stay, newcomers to the organization, and patients and their families.  

Team tenure is a significant determinant to the cost and quality of hospital care. For example, a one-year increase in the average tenure of registered nurses on a hospital unit was associated with a 1.3 percent decrease in length of stay, a 2014 study from researchers at Columbia University School of Nursing and Columbia Business School found. 

“I don’t think the public really understands how great the loss of this generational knowledge is,” Kelley Cabrera, a nurse based in New York, told Mr. Yong. She described the six-week orientation for her current job, led by some people who had been in the ER for less than a year, as “shockingly short.” 

“When inexperienced recruits are trained by inexperienced staff, the knowledge deficit deepens, and not just in terms of medical procedures,” Mr. Yong wrote. “The system has also lost indispensable social savvy — how to question an inappropriate decision, or recognize when you’re out of your depth — that acts as a safeguard against medical mistakes. And with established teams now ruptured by resignations, many healthcare workers no longer know — or trust — the people at their side.”

National data on average tenure in healthcare has not yet caught up to compare with pre-pandemic longevity numbers. The median years of tenure with current employers for healthcare practitioners and technical occupations was 4.7 years in 2020, according to the most recent data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, ticking up to five years for workers in hospitals.

The benefits of lengthy tenures are felt at the front lines as well as hospitals’ most senior levels. Marc Boom, MD, CEO of Houston Methodist, told Becker’s this year the cumulative tenure of the health system’s executive team was a game changer throughout the pandemic. At the start of the pandemic, Dr. Boom had been CEO for more than eight years and at the institution for almost 22. The executive team of nine leaders, including him, collectively shared more than 150 years of tenure with Houston Methodist. The team had worked together without any changes for about seven years, when the most recent person joined. 

This longevity lends itself to major systemwide decisions almost feeling instinctive due to their familiarity working together. “I had a team that was very tenured,” Dr. Boom said. “To work with people who you’ve known for a long period of time — you know the ins and outs, the strengths and weaknesses. You have almost an understood language. You can talk in five-word sentences, move on and everyone goes and does their thing. There are a lot of advantages to that.”

Companies should brace for a culture of quitting

Organizations should prepare themselves for a continuation of quits as a new culture of quitting becomes the norm as the annual quit rate stands to jump up nearly 20 percent from annual pre pandemic levels, according to Gartner

The pre pandemic average for quits stood at 31.9 million, but that figure could rise to 37.4 million this year, said executive consultancy Gartner in an April 28 news release

“An individual organization with a turnover rate of 20 percent before the pandemic could face a turnover rate as high as 24 percent in 2022 and the years to come,” Piers Hudson, senior director in the Gartner HR practice said in the news release. “For example, a workforce of 25,000 employees would need to prepare for an additional 1,000 voluntary departures.”

The reason for the likely increase in quits is new flexibility in work arrangements and employees’ higher expectations, according to Gartner. A misalignment between leaders and workers is also contributing to the attrition. 

“Organizations must look forward, not backward, and design a post-pandemic employee experience that meets employees’ changing expectations and leverages the advantages of hybrid work,” said Mr. Hudson.

Don’t pin your hopes on the “Great Regret”

Businesses who suffered from the Great Resignation, in which large numbers of workers voluntarily resigned during the pandemic looking for more fulfilling work or higher wages, are now hoping the “Great Regret” might bring workers back. According to recent surveys, over 70 percent of workers who switched employment during the pandemic found that their new jobs didn’t live up to their expectations, and nearly half wish they had their old job back.

After scores of nurses left hospital positions for travel roles, health system leaders are seeing some nurses return. One physician told us about a favorite nurse on his oncology unit who returned from over a year as a traveler, ready to settle down and be closer to family.

A chief nursing officer relayed that her system was seeing nurses who took agency positions to work toward personal financial goals, like earning a down payment for a house, wanting to come back now that they’ve reached it: “Travel roles are intense, and most nurses can’t do them forever”.

But other nursing leaders caution that they’re preparing for agency nurses to become a permanent fixture in the workforce: “More nurses will see travel as an option for different points in their career, when they have personal flexibility or need the extra money”.

The “Great Regret” might help some hospitals lessen their reliance on agency nursing in the short-term. But building a stable clinical workforce will require addressing underlying structural challenges, through changes in education, rethinking job roles and care models, and finding ways to build individualized job flexibility and customization.   

Retail wages are rising. Can hospital pay keep up?

While healthcare workers battle burnout, hospitals have been ramping up wages and other benefits to recruit and retain workers. It has created a culture of competition among health systems as well as travel agencies that offer considerably higher pay.

But other healthcare organizations are not hospitals’ only competitors. Some hospitals, particularly those in rural areas, are struggling to match rising employee pay among nonindustry employers such as Target and Walmart.

“We monitor and we’ve been looking and we ask around in the community and we can ask who’s paying what,” Troy Bruntz, CEO of Community Hospital in McCook, Neb., told Becker’s. “So we know where Walmart is on different things, and we’re OK. But if Walmart tried to match what Target’s doing, that would not be good.”

At Target, the hourly starting wage now ranges from $15-$24. The organization is making a $300 million investment total to boost wages and benefits, including health plans. Starting pay is dependent on the job, the market and local wage data, according to NPR.

Walmart raised the hourly wages for 565,000 workers in 2021 by at least $1 an hour, The New York Times reported. The company’s average hourly wage is $16.40, with the lowest being $12 and the highest being $17.

Meanwhile, Costco raised its minimum wage to $17 an hour, according to NPR. The federal minimum wage is $7.25.

Estimated employment for healthcare practitioners and technical occupations is 8.8 million, according to the latest data released March 31 by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. This includes nurse practitioners, physicians, registered nurses, physician assistants and respiratory therapists, among others. 

In sales and related occupations, estimated employment is 13.3 million, according to the bureau. This includes retail salespersons, cashiers and first-line supervisors of retail salespersons, among others.  

While retail companies up their wages, at least one hospital CEO is monitoring the issue.

Healthcare leaders weigh their options

Mr. Bruntz said rising wages among retailers is an issue his organization monitors. Although Target does not have a store in McCook, there is a Walmart, where pay is increasing.

“I was quoted a few months ago saying Walmart was approaching $15 an hour, and we can handle that,” Mr. Bruntz said. “But when it gets to $20 or $25, it’s going to be an issue.”

He also said he cannot solely increase the wages of the people making less than $15 or less than $25 because he has to be fair in terms of wages for different types of roles.

Specifically, he said he is concerned about what matching rising wages at retailers would mean for labor expenses, which make up about half of the hospital’s cost structure.

“I double that half, that’s 25 percent more expenses instantly,” Mr. Bruntz said. “And how is that going to ratchet to a bottom line anything less than a massive negative number? So it’s a huge problem.”

Clinical positions are not the only ones hospitals and health systems are struggling to fill; they are encountering similar difficulties with technicians and food service workers. Regarding these roles, competition from industries outside healthcare is particularly challenging.

This is an issue Patrice Weiss, MD, executive vice president and chief medical officer of Roanoke, Va.-based Carilion Clinic, addressed during a Becker’s panel discussion April 4. The organization saw workforce issues not just in its clinical staff, but among environmental services staff.

“When you look at what … even fast food restaurants were offering to pay per hour, well gosh, those hours are a whole lot better,” she said during the panel discussion. “There’s no exposure. You’re not walking into a building where there’s an infectious disease or patients with pandemics are being admitted.” 

Amid workforce challenges, Community Hospital is elevating its recruitment and retention efforts.

Mr. Bruntz touted the hospital as a hard place to leave because of the culture while acknowledging the monetary efforts his organization is making to keep staff.

He said the hospital has a retention program where full-time employees get a bonus amount if they are at the employer on Dec. 31 and have been there at least since April 15. Part-time workers are also eligible for a bonus, though a lesser amount.

“It also encourages staff [who work on an as-needed basis] to go part-time or full-time, and [those who are] part-time to go full-time,” Mr. Bruntz said. “That’s another thing we’re doing is higher amounts for higher status to encourage that trend.” 

Additionally, Community Hospital, which has 330 employees, offers a referral bonus to staff to encourage people they know to come work with them. 

“We want staff to bring people they like. [We are] encouraging staff to be their own ambassadors for filling positions,” Mr. Bruntz said.  

He said the hospital also will offer employees a sizable market wage adjustment not because of competition from Walmart but because of inflation.

Graham County Hospital in Hill City, Kan., is also affected by the tight labor market, although it has not experienced much competition with retail companies, CEO Melissa Atkins told Becker’s. However, the hospital is struggling with competition from other healthcare organizations, particularly when it comes to patient care departments and nursing. While many hospitals have struggled to retain employees from travel agencies, Graham County Hospital has mostly been able to avoid it.

“As the demand increases, so does the wage,” Ms. Atkins said. “In addition to other hospitals offering sign-on bonuses and increased wages, nurse agency companies are offering higher wages for traveling nurse aides and nurses. We are extremely fortunate in that we have not had to use agency nurses. Our current staff has stepped up and filled in the shortages [with additional incentive pay].”

To combat this trend, the hospital has increased hourly wages and shift differentials, as many healthcare organizations have done. It has also provided bonuses using COVID-19 relief funds.

Overall, Mr. Bruntz said he prefers “not to get into an arms race with wages” among nonindustry competitors. 

“It’s not going to end well for anybody. We prefer not to use that,” he said. “At the same time, we’re trying to do as much as possible without being in a full arms race. But if Walmart started paying $25 for a door greeter and cashier, we would have to reassess.”

More than 4K Stanford nurses vote to strike in California

UPDATE: April 14, 2022: Nurses will begin striking April 25 if they are unable to reach a deal with the system by then, according to a Wednesday statement from the union. The two sides have met with a federal mediator three times, and the strike would be open-ended.

Dive Brief:

  • Unionized nurses at Stanford hospitals in California voted in favor of authorizing a strike Thursday, meaning more than 4,500 nurses could walk off the job in a bid for better staffing, wages and mental health measures in new contracts.
  • Some 93% of nurses represented by the Committee for Recognition of Nursing Achievement voted in favor of the work stoppage, though the union did not set a date, according to a union release. It must give the hospitals 10 days notice before going on strike.
  • Nurses’ contracts expired March 31 and the union and hospital have engaged in more than 30 bargaining sessions over the past three months, including with a federal mediator, according to the union.

Dive Insight:

As the COVID-19 pandemic has worsened working conditions for nurses, some unions have made negotiating contracts a priority. Better staffing is key, along with higher wages and other benefits to help attract and retain employees amid ongoing shortages.

The California nurses’ demands in new contracts focus heavily on recruitment and retention of nursing staff “amid an industry-wide shortage and nurses being exhausted after working through the pandemic, many in short-staffed units,” the union said in the release.

They’re also asking for improved access to time off and more mental health support.

Nurses say their working conditions are becoming untenable and relying on travel staff and overtime shifts is not sustainable, according to the release.

The hospitals are taking precautionary steps to prepare for a potential strike and will resume negotiations with the union and a federal mediator Tuesday, according to a statement from Stanford.

But according to CRONA, nurses have filed significantly more assignment despite objections documents from 2020 to 2021 — forms that notify hospital supervisors of assignments nurses take despite personal objections around lacking resources, training or staff.

And a survey of CRONA nurses conducted in November 2021 founds that as many as 45% were considering quitting their jobs, according to the union.

That’s in line with other national surveys, including one from staffing firm Incredible Health released in March that found more than a third of nurses said they plan to leave their current jobs by the end of this year.

The CRONA nurses “readiness to strike demonstrates the urgency of the great professional and personal crisis they are facing and the solutions they are demanding from hospital executives,” the union said in the release.

No major strikes among healthcare workers have occurred so far this year, though several happened in 2021 and in 2020, the first year of the pandemic.