By Linda Miles
These are the words no employee who has worked hard all year wants to hear, but for 2010, it is the battle cry in many dental practices based on the flat year of 2009 that many practitioners experienced. Based on the feedback I received in my seminars the past 90 days from dentists and team members, about 70% of all dental practices have had to either reduce the number of work hours for employees, lay off some employees, cut some benefits, or announce there will be no raises until further notice. Based on these four options, not getting an increase in wages is the most prominent, and of the four, the least painful.
Working another year in a practice (or any other job) does not entitle employees to an automatic raise. Raises must be earned, not expected. While most dental employees I’ve talked with agree they worked hard each day in 2009, working hard is not a guarantee to an automatic increase in pay or benefits. Dentists whom I’ve spoken with feel as bad about the circumstances of the economy as the team members, but they get little sympathy from those who EXPECTED a raise or no reductions, regardless of the health of the practice.
I’ve always been a firm believer in MERIT increases vs. across-the-board percentage increases for all employees. Knowing where raises come from is information most dedicated team members fully understand and appreciate. They also feel that those who go above and beyond deserve more at raise time. They understand that if the practice has declined or remained flat, raises will be forthcoming, but more than likely there is a “freeze” on all doctor and staff increases for the time being. They also understand that as in years past, the doctors enjoy sharing the growth of the practice with all, so when times get better, so will everyone’s compensation.
In my opinion, the four criteria for granting merit increases should be:
- 25% of one’s merit increase is based on ATTITUDE. Is the employee cheerful, caring, and a joy to work with? Does this person speak favorably about the practice, the doctor(s), the dentistry being performed, and his or her coworkers in and out of the office? People with positive attitudes give energy to a workplace. Those with negative attitudes ruin work environments as well as productivity. We call them “anchors thrown overboard.”
- 25% of a merit increase is based on the employees’ scope of responsibility. What have they learned or mastered (skills-wise) in the past 12 months that makes them more valuable to the practice? When there are projects such as marketing, developing a Web site, reactivation of patients or past due accounts, or revising the inventory control system, do they volunteer to complete steps of the project or just give lip service to helping?
- 25% of the merit increase is based on the employee’s performance evaluation, which is done three ways — doctor’s evaluation, self-evaluation, and peer review (all coworkers fill out the evaluation and then it is averaged by the number of coworkers scores-wise).
- The most important 25% that impacts the other three is the health of the practice in the past 12 months. If your doctor had a profitable year, you can expect an increase in pay, whether it is 2% or more. If the practice flat-lined, there will most likely be a freeze on all salary increases. If your doctor had a declining year when he or she took a direct hit, benefits and salaries stayed the same. After more than one direct hit, this is when doctor/owners must do one of the four cost-saving decisions mentioned in the first paragraph. Of all four, not getting the expected raise is the least painful for employees.
In consulting or lecturing, I am not “pro-doctor” or “pro-team members.” I remain “pro-practice,” which means patient care comes first. The practice as a healthy business must come second, because the practice is everyone’s livelihood. When those priorities are in order, there will be many rewards for the doctors and team members, both emotionally and financially.
What are employees to do if they have just discovered there will be no deserved increase in salary for the time being? First and foremost, they should remain positive and understanding. Trust me, your doctor feels worse than you do about the announcement. Secondly, do not bad-mouth your doctor’s decision to coworkers, family, friends, or neighbors, and least of all to your patients! This is truly anti-marketing for the doctor and practice, which in turn could result in a longer recovery. Last but not least, be a positive role model when other team members express their feelings to you. Be the leader you are destined to be. If you are positive when times are good, your true colors will show when times are not good.
And, when it is time for your next merit increase, take with you to the performance evaluation not only a list of all your proud accomplishments of the past 12 months, but an attitude of gratitude that your doctor did not reduce hours or deeply cut benefits, and let him or her know you are smart enough to know when the business is not doing as well, and that everyone must work harder and expect less until the good times return. Trust me, patients always return if everyone remains positive ... and the more positive, the faster the turnaround when the economy improves.
The author, Linda Miles, founder of Linda Miles and Associates of Virginia Beach, Va., is celebrating her 31st year of successful business, and is one of dentistry’s “pioneers” of A/R management. Her newest book, "Dynamic Dentistry," covers this topic in detail, as well as how the top 5% of dentists get to the top and stay there. Order the book online at www.DentalManagementU.com.