The homework behind asking for a raise

July 24, 2012
Do you work hard and believe you need a raise? Lisa Newburger, LISW-S, talks to dental assistants about what they must do to prepare for that "big talk" with the doctor.

Dr. Henry, I need a raise.” How are you ever going to have the guts to say something like that to your boss? Do you really deserve a raise? Or are your bills getting out of control and your income isn’t keeping up with it? With prices rising, how are you going to get ahead or even survive? You were told that you would have a merit pay raise each year, but come on, it’s a 25 cent raise. You’re earning $14 an hour in Cleveland, Ohio. How can you earn more? How are you supposed to live on this and take care of your childcare costs, car expenses, food bill, and housing?

Does this sound familiar? You work hard, you want to be compensated for it, and you don’t want to jeopardize your job by speaking up. What can you do? The simple answer is — do your homework. You need to prepare before you have “that” conversation.

Here are five things you need to do:

1. Do your research. Don’t be lazy and try to rely on a website. If you’re serious about receiving a raise, you have to do some work on this. Find out what comparable dental practices are paying their assistants. Now remember, you need to compare apples to apples. If your dental practice pays your salary and gives you a profit sharing and bonus plan, that must be factored in. You need to look at the TOTAL amount of money being spent on an assistant in a similar situation. (I know, you don’t feel that dollar amount in your paycheck, but it must be calculated in.) You need to compare where you work to a practice of a similar size. Talk to your friends at other offices. I know most people don’t want to share the big secret of what they’re earning. Ask them what the range is for that job in their practice. This way you won’t feel like you’re being so nosy. Share with them your salary as a way to make them feel more comfortable. Let them know what you’re trying to do. Make sure you’re looking at local salaries, not national ones. Your associations have national information. Check to see if they have local numbers that give the total amount of compensation, including benefits and scope of the practice. Access DANB’s Salary Survey, which compiles average salaries for DANB certified and non-DANB certified dental assistants in each state. Call other practices and tell them you’re taking a survey about salaries. Do the work to find this information. You will need to be able to validate why you should get a raise.

2. Evaluate if you are getting along with your coworkers. If you don’t, find a way to develop good working relations with them. You don’t have to like everyone and make everyone your Facebook buddy. But you do need to work well together. You’re part of a team. Are you working like a team player?

3.Be on time and reliable. Are you calling off work and taking sick time frequently? Can other arrangements be made so that you don’t leave your office staff and patients hanging? Are you running on time with your patients or are you schmoozing too much? Keep track of this. Perhaps keep a time study to show what you’re doing with your time and how efficient you are.

4.Go above and beyond your job description. Take a look at your job description. (Have you looked at it since you were hired? Most people haven’t.) Are you cleaning your instruments, topping off the processor solutions, running the autoclave, putting instruments away, cleaning ear rods and bite sticks, cleaning trays, running inventory of film supply, and more? If these duties are expected of you, are you doing anything beyond your duties that should be acknowledged? Are you coming early and staying late? Are you making suggestions about how the practice can save money? Are you looking at ways to make things flow better in the office? Document these things. Ask your coworkers what you do well and what is beneficial for the practice.

5.Patient feedback. Do your patients like you? How do you know? Can you keep track of what they tell you so you can tell your boss this kind of feedback? Can you ask patients to put something in writing when they tell you how wonderful you are so that you have something in writing? Even if they verbally tell the dentist how terrific you are, write down the incident with the date, time, what was said, and what you did to warrant this appreciation. This is proof of what an asset you are to the practice.

You need to tread carefully when you approach the topic of a raise. Many dental practices try to do evaluations annually. Not all get them done as they should. If you haven’t had one, make sure you get a formal evaluation. Once again, it adds to your paper trail. Or take your job description and give yourself a self-evaluation that you can add to this paper trail.

Now what? If you are being paid less than the market is paying elsewhere, you need to carefully approach your boss and have this conversation. You can say you need to work someplace that values your contribution and pays accordingly. But you want to stay and you want to find a way to make this happen. However, this can be dangerous in this day and age. You’re taking a gamble. Some people feel it is disloyal to suggest that you might leave or that you deserve a raise. If you’re being paid more than other practices, you may not want to tell your employer this. Finally, if you’re being paid fairly, good luck. How you approach this whole topic is important. You’re the one who can best determine how this conversation may be received. Protect yourself. Perhaps find another job that will pay more and see if your boss will match it. Sometimes, the way we make more money is to go elsewhere. But the reality is — if you don’t ask, you won’t get it.

Author bio
Lisa Newburger, LISW-S./aka Diana Directive, provides humorous ways to deal with difficult topics. Check out Diana’s webpage at