Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Benefits Play a Big Role in Nurses’ Employment Decisions

By E’Louise Ondash, RN, contributor

There’s no doubt about it. Benefits are important to nurses when they consider where to work or whether to remain with an employer, but the benefits they want can vary with age, marital status, health, family situation and career path.
“You need to have flexible benefits (because) there is a much greater emphasis now on balancing work life, and because throughout the life cycle of your career, you’re going to have a need for different benefits,” explained Veronica Zaman, RN. She is executive director of workforce development and talent management at Scripps Health in San Diego, California, a nonprofit community health system that employs more than 3,000 nurses. “We have an aging workforce and we also have a multi-generational work force—new grads who are coming to nursing as a second career.”

Scripps Health has given a lot of attention to benefits, she added, and it watches what the competition is offering.

“The trend a few years ago was to have huge sign-on bonuses, and there are some pockets where that is still a strong attraction. We offer a strong flexible benefits plan so we can focus our efforts on retention rather than bringing people through the door for signing bonuses.”

Ask nurses and they’ll tell you that they expect other benefits beyond major medical, according to Ric Spurgeon, RN, a Seattle nurse and caseworker for Medicare recipients for a large insurance company.

“The benefits are a huge deal, especially since many nurses are single mothers,” he said. “They want items such as subsidized child care, long-term care insurance, legal insurance, retirement accounts, pension plans, employee stock plans and several choices of medical and dental insurance.”

Although not a single mother, Spurgeon likes having six medical plans from which to choose. He said he picked one that meets his needs.

“Your choice will depend upon your state of health, utilization and where most of your expenses lie—whether it’s medications, hospital or doctor visits because of chronic conditions. I prefer a health savings account (HSA).”

Spurgeon uses pre-tax deductions from his paycheck to fund an HSA.

One St. Louis nurse who works part time as evening nurse manager at a large teaching hospital, continues to “toy with thoughts of retirement.”

“I look at it seriously every six months,” said Patricia, a 40-year-veteran who asked that her last name not be used. “But as long as working is still something I enjoy and I have a schedule I can manipulate, I find it hard to justify giving up the great medical coverage we have at the price we pay. So I suppose you could say that insurance is certainly a factor in keeping me working at the moment.”

Even though she works only two days a week—the minimum to receive benefits—Patricia has health, vision and dental insurance, vacation and sick time, tuition reimbursement and an employer-matched 401K. And although she has remained at the same hospital since her 1967 graduation, “I continue to get lots of recruitment-type mail from other hospitals,” she said. “The information I get always highlights benefits, so I can only assume it’s pretty important. Interestingly, the tuition reimbursement and the 401K seem pretty important to young nurses also.”

A national telephone survey of 250 nurses, conducted in October by Aflac Insurance, confirms that benefits play a big role in the decision-making process for nurses when determining where they should work. Nearly nine out of 10 of the nurses said a hospital's benefits package is one of the most important factors when determining where they choose to work.

More than half of those surveyed reported that they would switch jobs solely based on benefits.

Some nurses even want so-called “voluntary” accident and disability insurance; that is, they are willing to pay the full premiums if their employers offer it.

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