Content Dam Diq Online Articles 2015 04 Dental Assistant Raise 1

4 ways to manage a happy dental practice (that you may not want to hear)

April 21, 2015
Lisa Newburger, a.k.a., Diana Directive, says it like it is. This may not be what dental managers want to hear, but there are four guaranteed ways to make dental staff members happier. One of the main ones is paying them more money.

I know what you're thinking. “Go ahead. Tell me. How do I help manage a happy dental practice?” You’ve probably read about this over and over again and believe there’s nothing new to say on the subject. Well, I’m going to be brutally honest. (Your staff can’t afford the political fallout of being so honest with each other, so I'll do it.) The secret(drum roll please) is to pay your staff more money.

More money? Really? Yes, really. Find one dental assistant who says she’s earning what she’s worth. Go ahead; try to find that person. (By the way, if you find her, my guess is she’s either lying to you or to herself.) How much are your staff members earning? Is the pay comparable to industry standards? Most managers say, “Absolutely!” Well guess what? That isn’t good enough.

Pay the staff more — Let’s say the practice is flourishing. The dentist has a $700,000 home and lives a great lifestyle. How do you think that impacts the rest of the team? Are they jealous? Are they resentful? (Hey, I warned you I was going to be honest.) When identifying job satisfaction, research has shown that there is more to satisfaction than a paycheck. Having a healthy work environment counts. Enjoying what you do for a living counts. But what about being paid above industry standard? Let me tell you something, if your practice did that, the staff would be happier. The practice would develop the reputation of being a great place to work. Do you feel you’re being fairly compensated for the job you’re doing? Deep down? My presumption is you don’t.

Look at your hiring process – I work in a practice with a grueling hiring process. Not only do they have people interview with the dentist and boss, this is followed by group interviews with the staff. (I will not even go into the psychological testing and other tests they put us through to make sure we’re competent.) Why would they do this? Because when they hire someone they make sure that person “fits” with the culture. You wonder if this is a waste of time. Well, I can’t think of a better use of staff time than making sure the right person is hired. Turnover costs the practice a fortune. The side benefit of this thorough process is that it makes staff members feel like they count. What they think is critical to a supportive work environment. Staff should meet with candidates without management present, and their opinions should weigh quite heavily. Staff morale surges because every voice counts.

Hold an observation day with job candidates – Have candidates spend a day with the practice staff before making a final offer. See how the person interacts with staff and patients. We can “all talk the talk,” but sometimes it’s necessary to see firsthand what a person can actually do.

Make sure the office manager is genuine, not fake – (I may get hate mail for saying that one, and my response is bring it on.) Think about it. Being “real” is essential to having a healthy practice. I know that managers have to do some unpleasant tasks. But this is one of the most important people in a practice. If the staff doesn’t like the front office person, or doesn’t trust her, the practice has a big problem. If there are continual problems in the practice, take a look at the management. (I could be totally off the mark, but I have a feeling some staff members are saying “Hallelujah” that I brought up this point.)

If you’ve been blessed with a wonderful work environment, drop me an email at [email protected] and let me know how the office has achieved this environment. I respond to every email, including the negative ones. This is a forum where we can talk and share best practices. And remember, you aren’t alone.

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Lisa Newburger, LISW-S, aka Diana Directive, is not afraid to tackle difficult topics for dental professionals with humor and aplomb. Her entertaining workshops are available for conferences and association meetings. Writing for DIQ since 2010, her “in-your-face” style of presentation and writing will make you smile, or perhaps shock you into taking action. Check out her website at