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Inside Dentistry
April 2021
Volume 17, Issue 4

Retention Is the New Recruiting

Strategies to keep the team you have and attract the best talent in the future

Tonya Lanthier, RDH

Did you know that in 2019, a third of dental hygienists applied for a new job? Then came the COVID-19 pandemic, which applied even more pressure to an already strained labor pool. In a 2020 survey, 43% of responding dental hygienists indicated that they were contemplating leaving their jobs within the next year.1

For several years, dental professionals have been practice-jumping or have left the operatory altogether. This is a wake-up call, underscoring the importance of creating better workplace cultures that make dental professionals want to stick around. Dental practices that are systematic and proactive about managing employee retention will stand a better chance of growing and thriving, both now and in the future. To accomplish this, consider the following 10 strategies.

1. Hire the Right People

Recruitment practices can strongly influence turnover. When you make the "right" hire instead of hiring someone that you "like" or simply finding a warm body to fill the position, you reduce turnover. A study by Harvard Business Review revealed that approximately 80% of employee turnover is caused by bad hiring decisions.2

Between the hard costs of recruitment (eg, job ads, lost production revenue, etc) and the soft costs, such as the time required to search, review, interview, and onboard new team members, it can cost a practice upwards of 60% of team members' annual salaries to replace them when they leave. On top of that, the disruption takes a toll on the rest of the team, reducing production and morale. And what about your patients? Turnover affects them, too.

To reduce turnover, use data and assessment tools (eg, DiSC® personal assessment tool, emotional intelligence (EI) test, etc) to make better hiring decisions. Being aware of a potential hire's assessment results can help you to ensure that they will fit the team dynamic or at least that they can be managed accordingly.

In addition, be transparent about the position and make sure that the expectations are clear on both sides. Research shows that candidates who are given a realistic job preview during the recruitment process stay longer than those who are not.

2. Formalize Onboarding

Setting new hires up for success is critical. According to a survey by the Aberdeen Group, companies that have a formal onboarding program retain approximately 91% of first-year employees; however, for those who don't, that number drops to 50%.3

Providing an employee handbook or manual is key to help new hires quickly learn how things work and what the practice's expectations are. If you don't already have a regularly scheduled weekly or monthly team huddle, these can be very helpful to new hires, especially during the first 60 to 90 days when they are onboarding. You can also plan for some social time out of the office, but if you do, make sure that you pay any participating team members for that time.

3. Offer a Competitive Salary and Benefits

This should go without saying, but many practices still don't get the message. If you want to attract above average team members who will contribute at a level that meets or exceeds your expectations and goals for production, you should first understand what average compensation looks like for the different roles in dentistry. Look to reports from the American Dental Association and industry sources, such as DentalPost's annual salary survey, to help you benchmark how your team stacks up compensation-wise to the rest of your state/country.

Because every practice has a different set of fixed and variable costs, there is no cookie-cutter solution to this problem; however, if you find yourself at or below average regarding salary, then attracting the best talent may require you to get creative with overall compensation. If you can't pay more to attract better employees, what else can you offer potential candidates to accept a job or existing team members to retain them? How about an irresistibly fun place to work, perks, more vacation, or flexible scheduling? You may need all of the above. In combination, micro-perks can yield a macro-perk.

4. Reduce Employee Frustration

Address anything that is making it harder for your staff to do their jobs. When you find ways to improve organizational flow and create efficiencies, you save your team valuable time and energy, which they can instead use to keep your patients cared for and happy. For example, is there better personal protective equipment available that could make your team's days less strenuous or make them feel safer? Buy it. Do they have to work harder because your equipment is perhaps not as conducive to new safety protocols? Take care of it. Are they not taking time off because they can't afford to take an unpaid vacation? Find money in the budget. These decisions pay for themselves in increased production and also help reduce team member burnout, which can be even more costly. Burnout, both physical and mental, takes a toll over time and eventually leads to turnover.

5. Be a Leader, Not a Boss

One way to improve communication and show your team that you value their contribution is to bring in a facilitator to have a planning day. Listen to what your team has to say about how the day-to-day functions or operatory procedures can be improved.

In addition, find out what your team members want to personally achieve and accomplish, and then, help them get there. Oftentimes, the personal goals of the team can be tied to practice goals, and fulfilled team members rarely leave.

6. Be Generous With Recognition

When a hygienist points out something in a patient case that is helpful or catches something that was overlooked, be generous with praise and reward that contribution. This applies to the significant contributions of assistants and front office team members as well. When employees feel valued, it can benefit productivity and reduce turnover.

7. Encourage Learning and Growth

If employees aren't given opportunities to continually update their skills, they may be more inclined to leave. Pay for continuing education for your staff. It benefits more than just the recipient. Your patients, your team, and your practice will be better for it, and you can write it off as a business expense.

8. Know Your Staff Personally

When we know better, we can do better. If you've struggled with some of your team members or their choices during the pandemic, it could be because you don't fully understand what they need to feel secure or valued in their work. Plan some one-on-one meetings to better understand what each employee is facing at home and what he or she needs from the practice to remain and stay committed.

9. Incentivize Production

Make sure that your team members know their numbers. Set goals together and track how everyone is doing. The more open you are, the more buy-in you'll get from staff because they'll start to learn how the business works. If your team understands that when you are successful, they will be successful too, you will see productivity increase and turnover decrease.

10. Rethink Workplace Culture

It is crucial to realize that dental practices are no longer just competing with other practices for talent. Once you begin to fully understand that you are competing with other nonclinical opportunities and even industries outside of dentistry that have been intentionally building attractive, win-win workplace cultures for years, you will truly be ready to take action to address employee retention at your practice.

About the Author

Tonya Lanthier is a registered dental hygienist and the CEO of DentalPost, a dental job website committed to helping dental professionals connect and creating teams that excel.


1. The state of the RDH Career in 2020. DentalPost website. Accessed February 16, 2021.

2. Bassi L, McMurrer D. Maximizing your return on people. Harvard Business Review website. Published March 1, 2007. Accessed February 16, 2021.

3. Bortz D. Original onboarding options from 4 HR leaders. SHRM website. Published November 30, 2017. Accessed February 16, 2021.

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