Using Employee Benefits and Satisfaction Surveys to Help Control Wage, Turnover and Benefit Costs in the Healthcare Industry

Attracting and retaining healthcare professionals is one of the greatest challenges facing the healthcare industry today. Healthcare providers, on both the for-profit and not-for-profit sides of the industry, face the challenges of increasing employee satisfaction and retention while controlling and whenever possible, reducing associated costs—a difficult task in today’s economic environment.

One of my clients, a continuing care retirement community that provides independent living, assisted living and skilled nursing services to several hundred residents, is taking advantage of a unique approach to address this issue. For the past three years, we’ve done an annual employee benefit satisfaction survey for them that not only measures current employee satisfaction with benefit offerings, but also measures how the employees value components of the compensation and benefit package in terms of the initial decision to come to work in the facility, satisfaction with the features and costs of their employee benefits, and potential additions to the benefit program.

Included are topics such as work schedule, time off and convenience of commute, as well as items such as salary, retirement, health, dental, and voluntary benefits, and expressed retention intent (we ask them to express how likely the are to be working in the same facility two years from now). The client is able to factor the results into their planning, and take action on issues that are important to their employees, while controlling costs by not spending money on unwanted or unappreciated items.

Survey results are shared annually with employees, during annual enrollment meetings—and changes in benefit offerings are made as a result of employees’ satisfaction with their benefit programs, as well as their utilization of benefit programs. We’ve made changes to the medical plan, due to comments about the pharmaceutical formulary, and we’ve changed dental carriers due to low employee satisfaction—and in both cases, the changes not only resulted in increased employee satisfaction, but reduced benefit costs as well. We’ve also successfully implemented voluntary benefit programs that were requested by employees, as well as installed several group discount programs that increase employees’ purchasing power.

Employees look forward to taking the survey (it’s administered anonymously online, and the employer provides access to computer terminals for employees who don’t normally have access to one in the course of their duties). When the survey is completed, the software prints a ticket that’s redeemable in the organization’s cafeteria for a free meal.

Over the past three years, employee turnover has decreased, average employee tenure has increased, and satisfaction with employee benefits has increased. This year 70 percent of the organization’s full time employees completed the survey, and when asked what the chances are that they’ll still be working at this facility two years from now, 64.9 percent responded that they definitely would and another 18.1 percent responded that there was a 75 percent or better chance that they’d be working for the organization in two years.

Using an employee benefit satisfaction survey is part of adopting a strategic approach to employee benefits. Soliciting and acting upon employee opinions, in concert with ongoing education and communication efforts can pay large dividends to both employer and employees by reducing turnover, increasing job satisfaction and retention, and controlling associated costs.