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It’s that time of year. You know, when we all stop, reflect, and take stock of the things we are thankful for. 2020 has been a tough year to feel thankful for, but it’s the very thing you, your people, and your dental practice can do to find the silver lining in an otherwise traumatic year. Gratitude will bring us peace today and set us right for tomorrow. Giving thanks is not only good for the individual and the team, but it’s highly beneficial to the person giving appreciation. Paying attention to what we feel grateful for puts us in a positive frame of mind, which has a host of other benefits. In that sense, gratitude is reciprocal. 

Gratitude is also a foundational element of employee engagement, which is the number one aspect of team member retention and one we should be focused on during these trying times. 

 “Thankfulness is the beginning of gratitude. Gratitude is the completion of thankfulness. Thankfulness may consist merely of words. Gratitude is shown in acts.”

Henri-Frédéric Amiel

Gratitude starts at the top of the organization. 

In the workplace, gratitude must start at the top and trickle down. Thankfulness is good, but gratitude is the active form of appreciation. As clinicians, we are educated and programmed to look for problems. That is literally the daily mindset. Something is not good. Something is always wrong. We must re-train our brains to find the good, to find what is working, to make that mental shift from practicing medicine to practicing “people”.

By modeling gratitude, we set the tone for our work culture to create one where gratitude is the norm. We can’t expect employees to simply be grateful for a paycheck or a job. That kind of mindset from leadership is what leaves team members feeling unappreciated, undervalued, and ultimately, results in consistent and costly team turnover. By creating a gratitude culture, we yield more content and productive teams and workplaces. Today, given the longer days and more stressful work environments, our hygiene teams are feeling like commodities and cogs in the machine. In a tight labor market, we can’t afford to lose team members, especially not valuable ones. 

When we don’t value our teams, we lose. 

In last year’s DentalPost/RDH Magazine Salary Survey, 43% of RDHs were considering looking for a job within the next year. That is a significant percentage for any profession. When polled about their dissatisfaction, dental professionals sited not feeling valued, respected or having ample benefits provided. Moreover, one out of three hygienists (33%) had actually applied for a new job in the past year. That number has risen during the last 6 months of the pandemic, where longer production hours are required in higher risk conditions with no increase in compensation (see DentalPost June 2020 Job Trend & Comeback Survey Report). Team members who feel undervalued don’t stick around for long. 

What happens when we cultivate gratitude in our offices? 

Gratitude-based work cultures have been shown to reduce stress hormones like cortisol by as much as 23%. Robert A Emmons Ph.D., professor of psychology at the University of California, founding editor-in-chief of The Journal of Positive Psychology, and the author of Thanks!, one of his many books on gratitude, posits that practicing gratitude alters the body’s biochemistry. It decreases anxiety and stress, lowers blood pressure, improves immune function, increases energy and sleep, all of which have implications for better performance and relationships in the workplace. He asserts that gratitude leads to increased strength in areas of the brain like the hypothalamus, which regulates stress, and the anterior cingulate cortex, which is involved in cognition and emotion regulation.

Gratitude in Action

Consistent gratitude on a micro level, at the individual level, and at a collective, organizational level affects the everyday happiness and harmony of the office and that has a positive impact on care and the patient experience. Saying thank you is a simple cost-free way of giving credit where credit is due and is a good place to start. Everyone wants a positive experience at work and to feel appreciated and recognized for their efforts. 

In order to get true value from employees, we need to make them feel valued. It’s that simple. The drive for wanting to do well stems largely from feeling acknowledged and appreciated. Per the London School of Economics, performance-related pay often does not encourage people to work harder. Gratitude can actually be a better motivator than money. But overall as an industry, especially right now, we have some catching up to do where compensation is concerned. 

Putting Gratitude in Action

How we express our gratitude for our teams varies based on the individual contribution as well as the collective team efforts. Now is the time to be as generous as we can. Our most valuable team members– the ones who treated our business as though it was their own, going beyond and investing in it with sweat equity, of course, deserve more than just a thank you. If as leaders, we haven’t yet met these team members and their ability (and willingness) to make sacrifices on behalf of our businesses with decency, respect, and generosity, then we should make that right and do so soon. There is too much at stake in losing these people. 

Ways To Show Gratitude: 
  • Be transparent. Show them why you can’t offer them that bonus they earned this year. 
  • Be generous. If you are a practice that can afford to make a financial sacrifice this year, be grateful and give back. Give a bonus or a raise. 
  • Be creative. If you are a practice that is barely keeping the doors open, be creative. Offer additional paid vacation weeks. That is deferred cash-out. Offer a retention bonus if they stay with you for an extended period. Or maybe you have a 2nd home nearby. Offer it up to your team members for a weekend. They will appreciate it and enjoy a change of scenery and a semi-paid vacation. 
  • Be consistent. Anyone can express gratitude once. But when we do it with frequency, consistency it becomes more intentional, more authentic, a deeper connection between the giver and receiver arises. 

“Feeling gratitude and not expressing it is like wrapping a present and not giving it.”

William Arthur Ward

As a leader, It’s not enough to feel grateful and casually say you are. Especially not this year. Before we press fast forward into 2021, let’s generously acknowledge those who got us through a most difficult year and kept us afloat through the dark moments of 2020. That will allow us to reset, restore, and rebuild a better culture and workplace dynamic for a refreshed and healthier 2021. 


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