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How to make bonuses a motivator for your dental team

Aug. 7, 2017
With proper planning and budgeting, having a bonus system in place will help your dental team thrive. Their motivation to focus and work hard will help everyone, especially patients.

With proper planning and budgeting, having a bonus system in place will help your dental team thrive. Their motivation to focus and work hard will help everyone, especially patients.

KEEPING A GREAT DENTAL TEAM ENGAGED to deliver the best care can be a challenge. An accountable strong team expects to see some reward for their excellent delivery. This can be personal responses to commendable deeds, with specific recognition of works well.

In addition to praise and commendation, dental teams love financial rewards. Too often, the base pay for dental assistants and receptionists is far too close to the poverty line. People with excellent skills need to be rewarded for their efforts or they’ll leave the dental field. However, if your team has been with you for years and their pay has increased each year, even without adding new skills, you might have a staff of people who have exceeded their pay grade for that position. Therefore you are not in a position to pay bonuses. Your team is already receiving bonuses, they just don’t know it.

Many offices have their version of a bonus. Some are very complex and difficult to computer, while others are easy. A requirement for a good bonus system is for the dentist to know the numbers. Dentists must know their costs for employees and the percentage of that cost to their current collections.

Some factors can make the bonus system more difficult that it should be. You’re the leader and your team wants to believe you are being fair. So here are some tips that have worked for our office when it comes to bonuses.

1. Make the plan simple and allow the team to lead regarding where they stand for this fiscal period bonus. They like to be involved because it’s their money to earn. There’s usually one team member who embraces bonuses to the point of becoming the office bonus king or queen. Allow this person to be in charge.

2. If someone is not interested in receiving a bonus, you might question his or her disconnect to determine your next move. That person could pull everyone down.

3. Clearly share the bonus plan. Will you give bonuses based on collections, including large lab costs? Will you include implant parts for which you will receive collections? When a friend or family has free or low cost dental care, how will the team be compensated in a bonus? Think of every contingency and spell it out clearly. Changing the rules midstream can demotivate the team.

4. A bonus should be equal for everyone who works the equivalent of full time, no matter their pay differences. Each one has made an equal effort to exceed your goals. Part-timers should receive a percentage for hours worked.

5. When a bonus is equal for the team members, they start to evaluate the contributions of other members. If one team member struggles to be on time or is frequently absent, don’t be surprised if a team member tells they believe the rest of team can absorb the work of the slacking team member. They see the bonus is being divided equally. They’re wondering if the team can be just as productive with four people. If you don’t lead the way, good team members will step up.

6. Base your bonus on collections because that’s what really counts, not production. Thus, the whole team will be more conscious and involved with solid financial arrangements.

7. Deliver what you promised. If the team earned a bonus but you purchased a new piece of equipment that made the money short in your opinion, you still pay the bonus.

8. Be excited for your team to earn bonuses. After all, you earn part of it, too. They receive a percentage of the increase in collections and so do you.

9. Taxes should be taken out of the bonus. Paying the staff cash with no accounting will land you in big trouble. Bonuses should be paid regularly in the next pay period.

We encourage a simple and solid bonus plan, and we find that some teams actually match or exceed their base pay on a monthly basis. At that point, your team will be earning more than basic living wages. Your reputation will become one of having the best teams and an office where people want to work. Why wouldn’t you want to have the best paid team members in town with a solid bonus plan?

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Christina Blatchford, DMD, and her father, Bill Blatchford, DDS, are America’s premier dental business coaches, They encourage greater net, more time away from the office, and greater joy for practicing during their 14-month coaching program. Their latest books, Bringing Your ‘A’ Game 2.0 and No Nonsense Transitions, are available at or (888) 977-4600.