The fairness factor: How to avoid agitation around nurse pay

The fairness factor: How to avoid agitation around nurse pay

The fairness factor: How to avoid agitation around nurse pay

MaxWorth got its start designing healthcare compensation strategies nearly two decades ago when call pay was one of the most contentious topics in the industry. We quickly learned that a perceived lack of fairness was at the heart of nearly every conflict we were brought on board to solve. We also learned that a medical staff’s belief that they’re being treated fairly is paramount to the health of an organization’s culture, and a lack thereof creates animosity that impacts day-to-day operations, not to mention retention rates.


Rising scrutiny around nurse pay 


As hospitals try to combat nursing shortages with attractive salaries and benefits, the fairness of nurse compensation is being called into question at an increasing number of facilities. In the same way physicians began to compare call pay rates twenty years ago, today’s nurses want to know how their pay stacks up. 


A CEO defends nurse compensation


According to Becker’s Hospital Review, Ballad Health’s CEO, Alan Levine, recently defended the Tennessee-based system’s decision to offer higher pay to nurses caring for its sickest patients at its tertiary facility, Johnson City Medical Center. At a meeting with the Carter County Commission, Commissioner Nancy Brown expressed her belief that nurses at Sycamore Shoals Hospital deserved to be paid as much as their peers in Johnson City. In his defense of the pay discrepancy, Levine citied the nursing shortage and the importance of keeping the system’s specialized care facility fully staffed. Will his explanation be enough to ward off agitation among members of his nursing staff? 


Our experience with the call pay crisis tells us that Levine, and countless others in his position, will have to do more to establish a sense of fairness surrounding his organization’s compensation arrangements. The good news is, there are ways to establish a fairness standard for any type of compensation program, which will in turn keep staff members aligned with administration and focused on delivering quality care.

Three elements of a fairness standard  


  1. Process
    • It’s important to have a standardized process in place for determining how much a group of nurses is paid. With a process in place, nurses no longer feel that they’re in competition with one another for the same pool of money. And even when everyone is not paid the same amount, staff members understand that these decisions have been made in a fair manner, reducing agitation around the issue.
  2. Transparency
    • When we first started working with hospitals to design call pay programs, the typical approach to paying for call was to negotiate with individual specialties behind closed doors. The lack of transparency of this method often led to rumors amongst physicians that inaccurately reflected the arrangements being made. This created division, demonstrating the importance of making sure your process is transparent. Whenever transparency is a priority, trust between administrators and staff members grows, fostering a positive workplace culture.
  3. Communication 
    • No matter how fair a process is, it can’t have a positive impact on nurse alignment if it isn’t properly communicated. A well thought-out communication strategy can not only increase participation in benefit programs, it can also prevent the spread of misinformation that often breeds resentment.  


MaxWorth can help


If you’d like to explore ways to establish a fairness standard for nurse compensation at your organization, we would be happy to evaluate your current compensation and benefit offerings. We can also help you create a communication strategy to make sure your pay arrangements aren’t steeped in secrecy. A fair and transparent approach to determining nurse pay will help you navigate current and future nursing shortages while reducing distrust and division amongst staff members.   



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