Nursing jobs are three times more likely to include a signing bonus than other professions, according to Indeed.

These financial incentives are designed to draw attention, make job ads stand out, and entice candidates to join a particular institution. New York-based Bassett Healthcare even made it into these hallowed pages with their $35,000 bonus

However, I’ve noticed a lackadaisical “set and forget” attitude to bonuses in long-term care, and they are rarely praised when interviewing healthcare hiring leaders on my podcast.

The adverse effects

Yes, bonuses are effective at drawing the spotlight toward a job ad, it must be asked: is it the attention you want? I’d like to suggest a few adverse effects, observed through research and candidate interactions.

1. Attracts money-oriented candidates

Our recent survey of LTC healthcare professionals found that nearly 60% believe that bonuses draw candidates more interested in money than the values and mission of the institution. Sign-on bonuses can encourage a culture of transience, impacting continuity of care. 

2. Desperation

Nurses are a savvy bunch. When a facility repeatedly relies on high bonuses, it may signal instability, opposition to raising salaries, or unattractive working conditions to potential candidates.

3. Dissatisfaction among current staff

Bonuses for new hires, while existing employees receive nothing, can breed resentment and dissatisfaction among current staff members. Our survey revealed that 82% of institutions saw increased tension and dissatisfaction among the existing nursing team.

A better way forward

Given the effects of nurse hiring bonuses, it’s worth exploring alternative strategies to attract and retain nursing talent. Rather than funneling financial resources into upfront bonuses, LTC  administrators can redirect their focus to more sustainable and impactful practices:

1. Improve the environment

Consider this: for time immemorial, people have formed attachments to places, building emotive bonds and attachments with certain environments. The Romans believed every street corner possessed a presiding spirit that watched over and animated it.

How would nurses describe the “sense of place” within your LTC facility?

According to our recent nurse retention report, 21% of RNs won’t leave their job because of a familiar, positive work environment. Here are some ways to invest in it:

  • Listen to nurses: Ensure you take action on feedback, bullying reports, or someone purely venting. Even if you can’t change something, which is rare, report back to the nurse. There’s nothing worse than feeling powerless and ignored.
  • Create a supportive culture: Conduct “stay interviews,”  interactions specifically designed to find out what someone likes and dislikes about the workplace.
  • Don’t take the cookies away: An HR professional in another vertical told me employees were quitting because “the recession is coming and we’re leaving free Oreos in 2022.” The creature comforts in your workplace are worth it, and valued (perhaps subconsciously) more than you or your nurses think. Decorate tastefully during holidays, keep it clean, and consult with nurses on how the place could look better.

2. Encourage relationships in the workplace

How would you feel if your best friend at work left? Imagine you made another, and she left too. With nursing turnover averaging 22%, friendships are broken and tears flow every week. It’s sad! Support camaraderie and collaboration among nurses for a more harmonious and efficient workplace. 

For example, get a team together to run your city’s next half marathon or fun run. Make t-shirts, enlist cookie bakers from the team members who aren’t running, and make a buzz about it on social media. A sense of belonging, displayed in public, not only improves job satisfaction but also makes the institution more appealing to potential candidates.

3. Invest in employer branding

A robust employer branding strategy has a more-lasting impact than one-time hiring bonuses. When an institution spells out its commitment to patient care, employee satisfaction and career growth, it becomes an employer of choice. For example, Gurwin Healthcare in Long Island has created an engaging careers page to tell their story to potential employees. A jobs board-only careers site is not enough anymore.

Sweetening the offer

It’s important to note that there are scenarios where bonuses can be beneficial. Instead of relying on them as a primary recruitment tool, they can be used to improve the offer to a candidate who is already interested in the institution. This approach ensures that the bonus is an additional incentive rather than the sole motivator.  

While nurse hiring bonuses may be effective at drawing attention and making job ads stand out, their adverse effects should not be underestimated. 

It is essential for LTC employers to consider more sustainable strategies that focus on creating a positive and nurturing work environment, building a strong culture, fostering relationships among staff and investing in long-term employer branding. 

Adam Chambers is the president of Nurse Recruitment Experts (NRX). Since 2019, NRX has sourced and hired 10,000s of RNs, LPNs and CNAs for health systems across the United States and Canada.  Adam has sat on the Social Media Committee of the National Association of Healthcare Recruiters, the Healthcare Council of the American Staffing Association and currently is a member of ASA’s Direct Hire Council. 

The opinions expressed in McKnight’s Long-Term Care News guest submissions are the author’s and are not necessarily those of McKnight’s Long-Term Care News or its editors.

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