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Inside Dentistry
January 2024
Volume 20, Issue 1

10 Tips to Increase Employee Retention

Maintain consistent production and avoid the costs of hiring in today’s economic environment

Richard P. Gangwisch, DDS | Barry D. Hammond, DMD

Even in the very best of economic times, employee retention is crucial to the success of dental practices. Many patients are significantly more comfortable when they see familiar faces, which ultimately builds their trust in the practice. Moreover, the reduced production associated with losing team members as well as the cost of training new ones weighs heavily on the profit and loss statement. With today's tight labor market, increasing inflation, and insurance reimbursement rates that do not even come close to compensating for the higher operational costs, enhancing employee retention has become more vitally important than in the past. To maintain continuity of care and operate with improved efficiency, there are many things that dentists can do to increase the likelihood that their team members will stay with their practices, including the following:

1. Express appreciation. People tend to stay where they are appreciated. I make it a point to praise or thank every team member at least once during the day. For example, you can say things like, "That was a great temporary restoration that you made," "Thanks for getting the financing that Ms. Smith needed," or "You did a super job on that scaling and root planing treatment." Before my team members leave at the end of each day, I like them to pop their heads in my office door to say goodbye. If there are any who I didn't have a chance to praise during the day, I will stop whatever I am doing, whether it is charts or emails, establish eye contact with them, and tell them how much I appreciated their help that day. It is important to keep in mind that that this praise must be sincere and not just an exercise in paying lip service.

2. Create a positive office culture. This starts with establishing a positive mission and vision and hiring team members who agree and align with them. Setting reasonable, achievable goals can give team members a sense of accomplishment and the feeling that they are partners in the practice. Although dentistry is a serious business, the general atmosphere in a practice can still be light-hearted. You want to create an environment where your employees look forward to coming into the office.

3. Focus on team building. Engaging in activities outside of the office can be helpful for team building. Having lunchtime potlucks or taking off early on a Friday for a social gathering are great ways to promote camaraderie. Physical activities such as escape rooms or miniature golf can help team members bond. Team building can also be facilitated by attending continuing education or other practice management courses together. Interacting outside of the office often fosters creativity and innovation in the office.

4. Demonstrate openness. Providing timely constructive input is extremely important, but so is making yourself accessible and open to feedback. If you ensure that your office promotes open communication that goes both ways, you will in turn improve your relationships with your team members and create a better work environment.

5. Show respect for everyone's time. It's not unusual in a dental office to run over into lunchtime. If this happens, it can be very helpful to occasionally buy lunch for your team. It's also not unusual to run over at the end of the day. We must be mindful that our team members, as loyal as they are to our offices, have lives outside of work. There are many who need to leave in a timely manner to pick up children from daycare, and many may have other after-work activities planned in advance. In our office, team members are required to let the dentist know in advance if they need to leave by a certain time. This way, we can adjust our patients' treatments accordingly, such as by doing a pulpal debridement instead of the entire root canal, especially in cases of emergency appointments.

6. Manage conflict. Anytime that you have more than one person working in an office, the probability exists for conflicts to occasionally arise. Asking employees to follow the Golden Rule, which states, "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you," can go a long way in avoiding conflicts. Open communication is vitally important to conflict management. When issues arise, those involved should be permitted to air their grievances without the threat of repercussion from other team members, who should listen and be open-minded and tolerant of those individuals' concerns. People don't tend to stay where there is constant dissension or where they don't feel that their comments or input matter.

7. Offer more frequent feedback. Instead of only having annual reviews, consider conducting more frequent mini sessions to provide feedback on each employee's performance. Taking this approach can reduce the risk of having too many issues build up over time, which can make the annual review a dreaded meeting. As the doctor, it can also give you more opportunities to listen to suggestions and recommendations about your own performance and that of the office team as a whole. It is always good to begin these sessions by praising your employees for the things that they are doing well so it is easier for them to swallow your input about the things that they need to improve on.

8. Provide opportunities to grow. You don't want your team members to feel that they are working dead-end jobs. Consider taking them to an occasional continuing education course. This can help to increase their potential and refresh their outlooks, among other benefits. Furthermore, attending courses together can improve morale and help with team building.

9. Recognize longevity. Celebrate the work anniversaries of all on board. Everyone loves to be recognized, and this gives you a way to show how much you value your team members' loyalty and hard work. You may even sweeten the pot by giving them retention bonuses—the longer their tenure, the higher the bonus check. Hopefully, this will inspire newer hires to stay on to earn the same bonuses.

10. Offer competitive wages. You were probably wondering when salaries would be mentioned. People will tend to stay at workplaces where they feel appreciated and have enjoyable experiences; however, they also have bills to pay, and many have families to care for. This means that when a dentist or another company down the street is offering significantly higher compensation, it may be an enticing incentive to leave your practice. By keeping your finger on the pulse of the local wages and trying to at least stay in the ballpark, you may be able to head off a mass exodus resulting from being too cheap. Remember, you will have to pay significantly higher wages for their replacements, not to mention the cost of training them and the aggravation involved. Lastly, if employees are ever truly leaving over wage issues, and they have been valuable team members, keep the door open and wish them well. You never know. Some may return to your practice after finding out that the grass is not always greener on the other side.

It's About the Culture

You don't have to pay the highest wages in the area to retain good people. The more important aspects of employee retention involve creating a positive work environment where the team members feel appreciated for their work, they are respected, and they know that they can openly communicate their thoughts. Fostering a wonderful workplace culture can enable you to maintain a stable, happy team and keep production at a consistent level.

About the Authors

Richard P. Gangwisch, DDS, a master of the Academy of General Dentistry and a diplomate of the American Board of General Dentistry, is a clinical assistant professor at the Dental College of Georgia at Augusta University and practices in a Heartland Dental-supported office in Lilburn, Georgia.

Barry D. Hammond, DMD, is a professor in the Department of General Dentistry at the Dental College of Georgia at Augusta University.


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