As the U.S. economy contends with an ongoing tight labor market, many employers continue to struggle with worker shortages. Healthcare systems in particular are feeling the strain, as nurses are leaving the profession at a rapid pace. Nearly 100,000 registered nurses were estimated to have left the field during the COVID-19 pandemic, and almost 800,000 intend to follow them out by 2027.1 As of March 2023, 45% of inpatient nurses surveyed reported they are likely to leave their role in the next six months, citing feeling undervalued by their organization as one of their primary motivations.2

While there are many factors contributing to this attrition and no one-size-fits-all solution, employers are looking to identify competitive incentives that can help them retain staff and recruit new employees. Innovative, non-traditional employee benefits are growing in popularity as an option for many organizations. The effectiveness of these types of benefit offerings speaks to the power of employee engagement, according to Brian Kelly, head of PNC Healthcare. “In a competitive labor environment like we’re in now, employees have leverage to demand more from their employers, and for many it’s about more than just a paycheck,” Kelly said. “Employees want to be part of organizations that are willing to invest in them in meaningful ways that have a measurable impact in their lives.”

For many employers, this investment is taking the form of financial wellness benefits, which focus on providing tools to help employees improve their overall financial well-being. Third-party solution providers, such as PNC Organizational Financial Wellness, can work with organizations to implement customized offerings tailored to the needs of their workforce, which may consist of money management tools, health savings accounts, online financial education, personalized banking solutions, and retirement planning.

These offerings can also include student debt assistance programs, which may particularly resonate with employers in the healthcare industry, as more than 70% of nursing students use student loans to help pay for their education. Graduates with a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree have an average of nearly $24,000 in debt, and those with a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) carry an average debt of more than $47,000.3 The median student loan debt for physician assistants is $87,500.4

Offerings like the PNC Student Debt Solution provide a holistic approach to help employees reduce the impact of their student loans on their current financial well-being. The PNC Student Debt Solution platform, powered by CandidlyTM, provides options ranging from identifying refinancing opportunities to helping borrowers better manage their repayment schedule. The offering can help employers establish contribution programs as a paid employee benefit, and it also includes a tool to help employees of not-for-profit organizations navigate the Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) program.

Kelly noted that financial wellness programs also offer a way for employers to provide additional compensation that employees might otherwise seek through staffing agencies. “Many nurses are turning to arrangements with staffing agencies in an effort to earn higher hourly wages,” said Kelly. “These financial wellness offerings that healthcare systems are able to offer represent an opportunity to close that wage gap, as these additional benefits add up to more than the compensation these employees might be able to earn via staffing agencies.” 

Ultimately, according to Kelly, retaining talent in the current labor environment hinges largely on an organization’s ability to demonstrate commitment to investing in its employees. “Feedback from nurses who are leaving the profession has made it clear that, in addition to burnout, many are doing so because they don’t feel supported by their organizations. Student debt assistance and other financial wellness programs can play a role in stemming this tide, because they are ultimately about engaging employees and showing that they are valued,” said Kelly. “This is a win-win for both employee and employer. A highly engaged workforce is one that is not only likely to remain with an employer, but also help drive value for the organization.”

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  4. National Commission on Certification of Physician Assistants