Practices have to offer promises of future raises, perks
By Sandra Lee Breisch
In some tight labor markets, group practices find it challenging to negotiate salaries for receptionists, schedulers, patient account representatives and other administrative personnel due to competition.
"A skilled and talented person with clerical skills is extremely valuable today and becoming a rare commodity," says Helayne Williams, chief administrative officer at the Sports Orthopedic and Rehabilitation Medicine Associates in Menlo, Park, Calif. "Weve found there is not much room to negotiate at these levels. Although we attempt to negotiate an appropriate salary for a job classification, we sometimes find there is no base of applicants to draw from at that salary level. And the unemployment rate in this area is just about at zero."
So, to entice candidates to take a job offereven though Williams says their groups compensation plan and benefits package is competitive with other businessesshe often uses some "creativity" at the negotiating table.
"We try to convince an applicant that if theyd give the job a chance at the lower salary, well increase their salary at six monthsif they prove his or her worth," Williams says. "Other employers offer bonuses after six months or a year that would bring the employee up to the annual salary theyre seeking."
Another lure that Williams uses is giving new hires a chance to apply for a higher position in the company and tuition reimbursement.
With the demand for administrative employees high, the standard benefits package is often not enough to bring an applicant on board. And if a practice cannot offer applicants what they believe he or she is worth, then the group might have to turn them away.
Or do they?
These days, it takes "more aggressive bargaining" from employers to lure a prospective employee, says Jack Valancy, president of Jack Valancy Consulting in Cleveland Heights, Ohio. "Basically, youre competing with every other employer in the marketplace," he says. "What you have to do is figure out what people want, what people are looking for."
According to Valancy, "straight compensation is great," but "perks" are great, too. "The employer could offer flex-time, job-sharing and be liberal with time off if somebody has some personal business to attend towithout penalizing the employee for it," he says.
Nonstandard perks that do not cost a lot of money, Valancy says, include "a work environment that begins with the basics. A nice staff lounge is always appreciated or for lactating mothers, a private room to pump [breast milk]. Youve got to be sensitive to your employees needs. This is basic humanity."
One thing that is important when negotiating a salary is being consistent in offering everybody the same benefits package. "If one person gets something nobody else gets, youre really opening up a can of legal worms here," says Valancy. "Youre also going to feel that market pressure from employees who are on board and are aware of what others are paying. High turnover costs money."
According to Bill Appling, regional vice president for MediSpere Health Partners, Inc., in Memphis, Tenn., their competition is not only local, but across the state line. "Right across our state line, theres a lot of casinos that pay better than some clerical positions," he says. "So our pay scales may be inflated just because were having to pay for competitionand its not even in our own industry."
One of Applings negotiation tactics for a candidate who wants higher wages and/or has doubts about coming on-board is to encourage that person to interview with the competition. "Then that person can compare job functions, salary, benefits, and observe the culture within the group," he says. "Because if I eventually hire him or her, I dont want that person to leave after a month or so."