Reel in Top Talent With a Signing Bonus

We’ve all received that call after an interview — the one that makes your day go from ho-hum to off the charts fantastic.

Landing the job you want is probably one of the best feelings, especially when it’s one loaded with perks such as a signing bonus.

For employers wanting to attract the right nurses, there’s no better way to sweeten the pot than to offer a signing bonus. Perks such as tuition reimbursement, academic loan repayment and relocation packages help, too.

“With more than 500,000 seasoned RNs anticipated to retire by 2022, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects the need for 1.1 million new RNs for expansion and replacement of retirees, and to avoid a nursing shortage,” reports the American Nurses Association.

To further understand the urgency of a potential mass exodus of nurses, the AMN Healthcare 2017 Survey of Registered Nurses revealed 73% of baby boomer nurses plan to retire within three years or less.

The consensus among recruitment professionals is healthcare facilities are using signing bonuses to both attract and retain nurses.

New ZIP codes can lead to signing bonus opportunities

Employers don’t usually offer signing bonuses until they are desperate to find candidates.

Hiring bonuses are offered during nursing shortages when recruiters cannot find enough nurses to fill vacant job openings. With an aging population that’s living longer, the nursing shortage is exacerbated.

Because of the high demand to fill nursing jobs, nursing is now considered a recession-proof job. As this trend continues, recruiters and talent acquisition specialists are scrambling to fill those positions. As one job fills, another one opens up.

Each geographic location has its own needs when it comes to filling specialty nursing positions.

signing bonusTake Northern Colorado, near Fort Collins, for example. Some of those hard-to-fill nursing positions include emergency, behavioral health, oncology, perioperative, operating room and anything surgical-related, said Danielle Cargile, western region talent acquisition sourcing strategist at Banner Health, which operates Banner Fort Collins Medical Center and 27 other hospitals and specialized facilities in six surrounding states.

“One particular position that’s difficult to fill in rural areas is labor and delivery nurses because we don’t have as many births in those areas,” she said.

According to Blake Thiess, PHR, SHRM-CP, a recruiter with Prestige Care, Inc. in Vancouver, Wash., it’s extremely difficult to fill positions in remote places such as Idaho, Alaska and Montana.

“Even staff RN roles are getting hiring bonuses because they are in rural places and because of the extremely shallow talent pool in these remote locations,” Thiess said.

It’s no surprise places such as Kittias Valley Healthcare, a 25-bed critical access hospital in Ellensburg, Wash., advertises RN openings.

“It adds to the competitive nature of recruiting to be in a rural environment away from amenities of a big city like Seattle,” said Michele Wurl, director of communications at the hospital.

It’s a hard sell to ask nurses to turn down $10,000 signing bonuses from major metropolitan hospitals to take smaller signing bonuses in even smaller towns, Thiess said.

One solution is for recruiters to brainstorm all the advantages that go with small-town living and sell it during the interview, Thiess said.

“A remote location has a lower cost of living so you can pay off student debt quicker because you’re not dropping $2,500 for an apartment in Seattle,” Theiss said.

Recruiters also should add leadership opportunities to the list.

“You can push your career forward faster, as opposed to being a floor nurse in a major metropolitan area,” Theiss said.

Educate about the signing bonus fine print

As the hiring process comes to a close, it’s important to explain the tax implications of a signing bonus. That way both parties can avoid major surprises after the handshake that seals the deal.

Don’t assume candidates know they are required to hand over a percentage of their hard-earned hiring bonus to the federal government, and possibly state taxes, too, said Theresa Mazzaro, RN, CHCR, senior talent acquisition specialist at Suburban Hospital in Bethesda, Md., an affiliate of Johns Hopkins Medicine.  She also sits on the board for the National Association of Health Care Recruitment.

Some new hires opt for paid relocation expenses instead of a signing bonus because the former is not taxed, Mazzaro said. But there are some caveats. With relocation expenses, employees pay their moving expenses up front, submit receipts per IRS guidelines and wait for reimbursement, she added.

It’s important to explain the terms of the binding employment contract, said Mazzaro, to prevent cash-and-dash scenarios in which employees take the bonus and quit soon afterward.

“I have seen signing bonuses with a two-year commitment for $10,000, with a certain amount of experience,” Mazzaro said. “We also explain they don’t get it immediately, sometimes it comes on their first pay period or segmented out over the year.”

To avoid unforeseen circumstances, such as unhappy new hires, employers are wise to help employees understand the contract terms related to bonuses, relocation expenses or loan repayment perks.

“As a talent agent and recruiter, it’s my job to show what a nurse might be getting into because the other part of my job is to limit turnover,” Theiss said.