The number one challenge facing dentistry right now is staffing. Before the onset of the pandemic, many regions of the country were already facing challenges in hiring skilled dental staff. The pandemic contributed further to the loss of team members and as practices reopened and set about finding new people, most were faced with extremely difficult recruiting and hiring. The best way to avoid facing the shortage of dental staff is to prevent your current staff from leaving. As in most cases, prevention is the first and most important strategy in dealing with any type of crisis.
These recommendations will help you keep your staff longer. Dentists and office managers should track the staff’s longevity, and then strive to improve it.
Be a great leader
Employees in any business turn to the leadership for guidance, vision, and communication. Unfortunately, dental schools do not train dentists in leadership skills. Leadership is very complex, with many components. But the basics that will help prevent the loss of team members are compassion, appreciation, and recognition of people on a regular basis.
Compassionate leaders understand that dental team members have their own challenges, such as health, family, and finances. As these issues emerge, a compassionate leader will look for ways to work with them and allow them to retain their jobs. Certainly, there are times when compromises cannot be made, but in many cases creative thinking between a doctor and office manager and the staff member can result in more loyalty, bonding, and commitment.
Leaders must also show their teams that they appreciate them. Occasional lunches that support a local restaurant, carry-out dinners that the team can take home to their families, bonuses for great overall practice performance, or surprises such as sporting event tickets or flowers are all great ways to boost morale. There are many creative ways to let your team know how much you appreciate them.
What can work even better than giving your employees lunches and gifts is to regularly tell them how much you appreciate them. People love recognition and it’s very easy to tell team members they’ve done a good job. A compliment, a thank you, or a positive comment during the morning huddle all go a long way toward creating positive feelings and a strong desire to remain part of the practice.
Show interest in your team
Years ago, I learned one of the most important life lessons is that it is much more important to be interested than to be interesting. Doctors and office managers who show an interest in their team members and go beyond having a simple work relationship with them tend to have long-term teams. Why? The team forms friendships that create an environment where people want to stay.
Take some time every few weeks to check in with each team member for five or 10 minutes. Ask them how they’re doing and also let them know how you’re doing. This routine of checking in was essential during the pandemic as people moved through a wide range of challenges and emotions, but it’s still an excellent idea to continue every day in the practice. When people know that you’re truly interested in them, their commitment to the practice will grow stronger.
Compensate the team properly
Staffing is the single largest expense in every dental practice, but it’s well worth it. A team that is well compensated doesn’t tend to seek out other jobs. Review staff compensation periodically, compare it to local and national averages, and make sure your team members are well paid. In addition, bonuses can be put in place for excellent practice performance. Staff members who feel that they’re properly compensated and have an opportunity for growth tend to stay with you.
Staffing is the biggest challenge facing practices today and will be for the foreseeable future. The best way to address this is to use the recommendations that I’ve outlined here to avoid staffing issues and maintain the valuable staff that you already have.
Editor's note: Originally posted in 2021 and updated regularly.