Thursday Troubleshooter: How can dental assistant ask for a raise?

Asking for a raise can be intimidating. This dental assistant has not receied an increase in pay in two years. Who should she ask, and how should she approach the situation?

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QUESTION: I’m a dental assistant and I feel I’m underpaid. It’s been over two years since I received any sort of raise, and that was a small “cost of living” raise. I need to work up the nerve to ask the dentist for a raise. I feel like he can afford it and that business is good. Can you please share some tips for the best way to approach him? He’s well known in the office for his mood swings, so I know I need to catch him in a good mood. What do I say? Or, do you think I should ask the Front Office Manager since she’s my supervisor? I admit the dentist makes me a little nervous sometimes. And asking for a raise makes me nervous too, no matter who I ask.

ANSWER FROM LINDA MILES, Founder of Speaking Consulting Network:
Asking for a raise is not easy! When I was a dental team member many years ago, we had performance reviews, which, by the way, do not always mean automatic raises, but these reviews open the lines of communication between employer and employee. Being able to evaluate yourself, then sitting down with the doctor and/or practice manager, allows them to assess you and review your assessment of yourself. At this valuable time they learn what you need training-wise to move your skill levels up a notch, and you learn what they believe you need more training in. Without this written and verbal exchange, it’s very difficult if not impossible to ask for a raise, and to get a raise simply because it’s been two years since your last one.

I think another important part of asking for a raise that is very helpful is to know how raises are determined in your office. In my lectures I often hear that this shines a whole new light on the touchy subject of staff compensation. I believe that 25% of a raise should be based on the employee's attitude. Is the person positive, cheerful, caring, and a joy to work with, or is the person a fly in the ointment who is not a team player and interested only in her paycheck? Positive attitudes create positive work environments, which definitely contribute to the success of any business, so having a great attitude should be 25% of the increase value.

The second 25% should be based on someone’s ability to do their work in a timely manner. This includes daily, weekly, and monthly chores as well as shared responsibilities. The next 25% of the merit raise should be based on the person’s interest in continuing education and growing with the practice. Those who are excited about the changes in dentistry are, in my opinion, worth more than those who think they know everything and see no need for professional growth.

The final 25% should be based on the health of the practice. If it was a great year for increased revenue, then surely it should be shared with those who helped create the growth. If it’s been a flat year, as a consultant, I would say, “There has to be a freeze on all salaries until we see an increase in the practice revenue and net.” If the practice had a declining year, the owner doctor(s) took a hit in their profits. Another important fact—when the employer and employee both know the numbers of the practice, the team will not feel as if they're being lied to or cheated out of what they feel is rightfully theirs to share.

To answer your question about how to handle this dilemma now, I would go to the practice manager and ask for a performance review in two weeks. I would not mention a raise at this time. Then I would ask for 30 minutes with the doctor and practice manager to go over your self-assessed scores and their evaluations. After hearing what they feel you need to improve upon, if anything, ask if you can then have a merit review in four to six weeks to discuss your compensation. They will know that you’re happy to be evaluated, and happy to discuss and mend any shortcomings. If all of these criteria are met, it’s time to discuss the raise you feel you deserve. Many times the dentist and office manager are super busy and if the subject never comes up, they fail to see the need to address these disappointments among staff, which causes low morale.

Thank you for asking this important question, and good luck in opening the communication for an evaluation and merit review. As I have joked for many years, “Asking for a raise is like asking for a kiss. If you get it after having to ask, it means nothing.” Taking the proper steps and understanding how and why raises are given will help you not be too timid again to approach this awkward exchange. Good luck! Please let your friends at Dental Assistant Digest know how it goes.

ANSWER FROM KYLE SUMMERFORD, DDSGuru.com:
When asking for a raise, keep in mind that your office manager is your go-to person for these types of questions, but sometimes an office manager may not have all the answers. But your office manager should have an idea on how well the practice is doing financially. Therefore you should be able to get a feel by asking the office manager about the best time to ask for a raise. Simply ask, "How is the practice doing financially lately?" Some practice owners may feel that they’re unable to grant raise requests during slow months. Doing a little research beforehand can go a long way in your success in asking for a raise.

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Do YOU have a tough issue in your dental office that you would like addressed?


Send your questions for the experts to answer. Responses will come from various consultants associated with Speaking Consulting Network, Academy of Dental Management Consultants, or Dental Consultant Connection. Their members will take turns fielding your questions on DentistryIQ, because they are very familiar with addressing the tough issues. Hey, it's their job.

Send your questions to megk@pennwell.com. All inquiries will be answered anonymously every Thursday here on DIQ.

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