Selecting Staff Benefits for Your Medical Practice Team

March 12, 2015

Benefits are an important part of employee compensation. But, they also bring value to your practice in terms of attracting and keeping quality staff.

Studies show that losing an employee and subsequently conducting a search and rehiring for that position can cost an organization one-fifth of that person's annual salary, according to The Center for American Progress. You owe it to your practice to invest just as much work and care in retaining quality staff members, as you do hiring new ones. One way to do that is to offer a competitive benefits package. Many practices can't offer significant raises or bonuses. And most can't compete with the local hospital system. But what you can do is find out what is meaningful to your staff members and then make it happen.

Maybe that will be a dedicated parking spot for those cold, wintry days in Northern Wisconsin. Maybe a flex schedule for new moms? It's up to you to find out. We talked to a number of staffing and practice management experts to identify that magic mix of benefits that will warm your staff members' hearts. Here's what they recommended.

REASONS TO OFFER BENEFITS

In Physicians Practice's 2014 Staff Salary Survey, 87 percent of respondents said they offered their staff paid vacation and sick leave, nearly three-quarters said they offered health insurance, and half offered a retirement plan with an employer match. Dental insurance and short-term disability insurance rounded out the top five benefits that practices said they offer their staff. If the other practices in your community are offering a close facsimile of this type of benefit package and yours doesn't, it will put your hiring manager at a distinct disadvantage.

Find out more about staff salaries and benefits; view our 2014 Staff Salary Survey at bit.ly/staff-salary-14.

Joe Capko, a principle with Capko & Morgan, a San Francisco-based consulting firm, says that benefits should be viewed as a significant part of the practice's culture. "We like to think of the benefit package that is offered to employees as one of the components to building, really, a culture of appreciation among the management and the staff," he says.

Here are some other reasons to offer a high-quality benefits package:

• Staff loyalty and retention. Apart from salary and robust benefits, practices can engender staff loyalty by offering small, extra perks that may not cost a lot of money. Even a heartfelt thank you can go a long way to creating happy, loyal staff members. Happy people like to stay where they are, and they also work hard for a practice that appreciates them. If your staff takes ownership of their roles and their commitment to patients, then everyone benefits.

• Strong competitor. Like many other professions, regional healthcare can be a small, intimate community. Everyone pretty much knows everyone else. Sometimes the grass can look greener in the next pasture, especially if your employee is feeling overworked and underappreciated. Offering great benefits, or individually tailored ones, can make your practice a competitive employer that attracts the best employees.

Carol Stryker, principal at Symbiotic Solutions, a Houston-based consulting firm, says it's the "absence" of benefits that will take your practice out of the running for a top-notch employee. "I'm never sure that benefits, with the exception of health benefits, ever attract an employee. … The lack of them can eliminate your practice for consideration," she says.

• Well-qualified staff. The best staff members have their choice of employers, and they will look first at salary and benefits as major determinants in selecting one practice over another. A good compensation package will also help keep the best employees in your camp. Capko says that smaller practices have an advantage over larger ones because, "It's easier for the management to know all of the employees, allowing management to tailor a benefit package that offers the biggest staff benefit per dollar."

COST VS. BENEFIT

Just as highly productive, well-oiled practices tend to staff at higher ratios, those that are willing to spend a bit more on their staff benefits tend to retain top employees. Yes, that means greater expense, but there are ways to find economies of scale. Sometimes you may even be able to join up with a professional association to get more bang for your buck.  

Capko says his firm advises administrators to network with other practice administrators, "So, for example, you can very easily find yourself reinventing the wheel. Someone may have already found out, 'Hey, this is great coverage through this professional association,'" he notes.

Stryker says, "Continuing education benefits are huge for people," but she cautions talking to staff first. She adds there's nothing wrong with being transparent and telling your staff that you only have a certain amount of money to spend. Ask them what they want. Spending money on a benefit that's not wanted is a waste, and won't endear you to staff either.

WHAT BENEFITS SHOULD YOU OFFER?

What are some of the perks that great practices offer? And what are the perks that you should slip off your radar? It depends: on your community, your staff, your schedule; even your specialty.

Daniel Bernick, a principal at The Health Care Group, a practice-management consulting firm based in Plymouth Meeting, Pa., says, "The most popular benefits are vacation, sick days, personal days, paid days off - PTO [paid time off] in one form or another is very popular and expected by staff."

Bernick notes that benefits are an important part of any compensation plan, because of the value they bring. "It is a tax-advantaged way of compensating employees," he says.

Aside from paid days off, health benefits are an essential component in most benefit packages. While Capko notes that many practices are spending less on the type of health insurance plan they offer to employees because of financial pressures (like choosing a plan with a greater deductible, or more cost sharing), there are other ways to make it up to employees - for example, offering flex schedules to young parents.

If a practice wants to offer full-time employees a basic benefits package, Bernick says it should include paid vacation time, sick days, personal days, a 401K plan, and health insurance with a cost share. However, he notes that a practice can use discretion in determining how much of a benefit they wish to offer.

"You could offer a larger amount or a smaller amount. Simply because you are offering vacation doesn't mean that you offer six weeks of vacation. You don't necessarily offer a lot of benefits, but at least you provide something in these categories. It is meaningful and people really appreciate it," Bernick says.

Erica Sprey is an associate editor for Physicians Practice. She can be reached at erica.sprey@ubm.com.

This article originally appeared in the March 2015 issue of Physicians Practice.