Employers buffeted by shortages, economic woes
Salary increases smaller in 2002
During the past year, salaries for occupational health professionals continued to rise, although increases were not quite as large as they were in 2001, according to the 2002 Occupational Health Management salary survey. Experts in the field note that any increase is hard to come by in these difficult economic times.
However, they add that employers are not unsympathetic to the needs of their workers, especially when they are having increased difficulty attracting and retaining talented employees. When they can’t increase cash compensation, a number of employers have shown a willingness to grant more extensive benefits in noncash areas such as work/family programs and flexible scheduling. In another emerging trend, observers see occ-health professionals gravitating to higher paying positions such as case management.
OHM is pleased to provide readers with the results. Our exclusive report illustrates some of the key factors that may influence salaries and benefits among occupational health professionals. The survey was conducted in the summer. Survey responses were tallied, analyzed and reported by American Health Consultants, publisher of OHM. We trust you will find the survey of value in helping you gain insight into the leading salary and compensation trends in this dynamic industry.
Salary increases not as generous
Responses from occupational health professionals indicate that there was a significant shift in salary increases between 2001 and 2002. In 2001, a majority of the respondents, 51.35%, reported a salary increase of between 1% and 3%. Another 27.03% reported increases ranging between 4% and 6%. A total of 13.5% of the respondents reported increases of 7% or greater.
By contrast, in 2002, only 41.30% of the respondents reported increases of between 1% and 3%; 28.26% indicated increases of between 4% and 6%. In other words, a total of only 69.56% of 2002 respondents received an increase of between 1% and 6%, compared with a total of 78.38% in 2001. And only 10.87% received increases of 7% or more.
These findings do not surprise industry observers. "Many nurses have told us their increases were basically frozen because of 9/11," notes Annette B. Haag, MA, RN, COHN-S/CM, president of Annette B. Haag & Associates in Simi Valley, CA. "From what we hear, they were either frozen or fell within the 1% to 3% range."
Companies don’t really have the funds for big raises, adds Deborah V. DiBenedetto, MBA, RN, COHN-S, ABDA, president of the Atlanta-based American Association of Occupational Health Nurses (AAOHN). "The economy was very soft, and the market was unstable."
One new trend she’s beginning to see is an extension of review periods. "Employers are starting to move reviews from every year to about once every 18 months," she observes. "They’re delaying reviews, and maybe granting the raises a little bit later." If similar percentage raises are granted every 18 months, of course, the true annualized increase will actually be smaller.
"My sense would be that there are a handful of occupational health professionals that may be getting 4% to 6%, but the majority are getting 1% to 3% because of the economy," says Tammy Jackson, operations director for Occupational Health Group, a four-clinic practice in north Alabama that employs nine physicians and one nurse practitioner. "So you have to work on noncash compensation."
And that’s exactly what her group is doing. "One of the things we’re trying to do is be flexible — to enable people to increase their knowledge by going to school and allowing them to meet their personal needs with their families," says Jackson. "We’ve actually had a few physicians ask to work 32-34 hour weeks instead of 45 hours a week." In such a case, she notes, the physicians would get a decrease in salary but still maintain a lot of their benefits, such as health insurance and their 401K.
To help recruit nurses, the practice does not require night or weekend work. "We’re only open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., Monday through Friday. Any other care is provided through our affiliate hospitals and their clinics," she explains.
Finally, Jackson says, her group works on maintaining state-of-the-art technology and keeping abreast of the latest developments. "People don’t mind working harder with fewer staff as long as they are well informed and have more control over their work environment," she says. "Our staff have input and can make recommendations. Sometimes we change our practice based on feedback from people working on the front line. That’s job satisfaction for a lot of people."
Job flexibility also can be a valuable benefit, adds DiBenedetto. "Other things besides cash can be very enticing," she says. "The most popular is an increase in paid time off, and more work-life balance is also huge." Paid time away offers opportunities to attend seminars, programs or conferences. "To get five weeks off would be a coup," she says. "You could try using that as a negotiating chip."
Seeking higher pay
For occupational health professionals who want to make more money, a number of professions seem to be opening up, says DiBenedetto. "Higher-paying positions include consulting, dealing with integrated programs, competitive managed care programs, managing third-party programs, coordinating market penetration with sales and service as a third-party provider, and heading up more global and national initiatives," she observes. "People on the sales and service side can also earn additional compensation."
There is definitely a shortage in the managed care market, she continues, and occ-health nurses have always been paid more. "In managed care they are a cost center," DiBenedetto explains. "Occ-health brings money in, and that’s where you will see higher increases." She adds that case management is becoming a more popular and sought-after area, and those salaries tend to be higher as well.
Haag agrees. "I’ve seen a lot of nurses move into that area, and it is growing phenomenally," she says. Finally, Haag notes, employers who believe they are saving money by towing the line on salaries may be fooling themselves. "I recently met with the administrator of a hospital who said she had to increase her budget by $90,000," she reports. "Because the staff felt they were not being compensated appropriately, they decided to go to per-diem compensation, where they could choose their own hours and make more money, although without benefits. She had to change her budget because there were so many per-diem nurses. It’s a shame. I would think it would be better to keep them as full-time employees."
Haag has another friend who travels worldwide and seeks out nursing talent. "It costs her about $10,000 to bring one nurse in from a foreign country," she says. "Then, they have to retrain them to sit for their RN, and the nurse has to make at least a one- or two-year commitment. Why don’t we just invest the money up front to bring LPNs up to the level of RNs, and not have the problem?"
Why not, indeed? But only time will tell whether employers will begin to take a longer-term approach to the situation.