Clocking out earlier than expected

June 26, 2009
RDH eVillage survey finds that many hygienists are working fewer hours due to economic downturn.

Dental hygienists generally keep busy with full schedules, but some dental offices have reacted to the economic downturn by moderating dental hygiene hours to control overhead, according to an RDH eVillage survey in the May 2009 issue. Fifty-six percent said they have lost some scheduled hours in recent months.

The survey, which was titled "Is business slow?" asked readers to comment on decreased production, as well as on activities during unfilled schedule time.

Readers were asked about whether they have lost salaried hours over the "past few months" due to a "slower than normal recare schedule." Forty-four percent indicated that they have not lost any hours, but the majority have lost two to four hours a week (32%), five to eight hours a week (16%), and more than a day a week (9%).

Some of the comments related to the above question included:

• "I was asked to reduce my schedule by one day. Lost all benefits as a result."

• "Whole days are cancelled for the entire office. We have gone from a 4½-day to a three-day work week."

• "Many of our patients have moved away or do not have the funds to have services performed. Our staff member responsible for keeping our schedules full is on the phone constantly."

• "We have more patients that fail. Schedules will be full, and the next morning half of the patients are gone."

• "We've extended our hours to help working people — later evenings and Saturdays. We may have lost hours, but we're listening to our patients' needs."

• "There are certainly many more open hours in both the hygiene and doctors' schedules, but so far we have not changed much. However, no one is getting raises this year or last year, and we used to get a raise every single year."

• "Schedules have become much lighter, even to the point of cancelling out the remainder of a light day so I won't be needed to come in. This has happened repeatedly over this past year. I have lost approximately 50 to 75 hours of patient time this year."

• "I've lost my job six months ago due to poor economy and have very little temp work."

• "We schedule our patients' next recare appointment when they leave, so our schedule looks full until we confirm appointments 48 hours prior to the appointment. Then we end up with holes, which we try to fill with a call list of people waiting for appointments. This call list has significantly dwindled lately."

Despite the comments above, 73% said they were not expected to clock out when "there are no patients." Specifically, the survey asked if hygienists were asked to clock out or "bunch out" for unfilled production time. Only nine percent said they were asked to leave. Fifty-six percent said they "keep busy and support other team members" and 35 percent said the unfilled appointments became "dedicated time for inventory and stocking."

Twenty percent indicated they were "surprised" by an employee-employer agreement to clock out due to the economy.

The survey concluded by asking about when the "booming production" returns after the economic downturn. Do readers anticipate additional financial benefits from their employer after a revived economy? One reader simply asked, "Do you honestly think that (additional financial benefits) would happen?"

Other comments to the above question included:

• "If we work overtime, we have to come in late the next day to prevent us from getting overtime. They are very picky about us not getting overtime, down to the minute unfortunately. We've even been shorted on paychecks to where we don't get our full 80 hours for two-week pay period. It did not used to be like this."

• "During booming times, I do make a higher bonus. During slow times, I am not expected to clock out. But I can still make bonus if I do. I work for a great company, and they will be here for a long time."

• "I was hired during the boom and had a higher salary with less patients. Due to the economy the last three years, it was nonverbally known that hygiene was not getting raises. The tone was that I was lucky to be working due to the struggles of the practice."

• "No, we have no benefits. We get $100 for Christmas. He does not share when times are good. We do lots of Medicaid, so we are not affected by the slower economy."

• "I think it will stay the same. The doctor is very cheap and doesn't want to take any steps to increase production. I have given him ideas, and he just blows me off. When I have a cancellation, the front office girls don't even try to call to get someone in."

• "Our bonus program would kick back in when the production goals are exceeded."

• "No! I have asked repeatedly that each hygienist have production figures, and that the production be based on patient production, not production with the no-shows, cancellations, or reschedules figured in. So far, no go. What will happen to my employer and his office manager wife? I have two dolls I stick pins in."