Leverage Employee Likes and Dislikes

Part 3 of Team Retention and Hiring Insights from DentalPost’s Annual Dental Practice and Salary Survey

During August through mid-October 2023, DentalPost conducted a combined dental practice and salary survey, receiving responses from:

  • 534 dentists
  • 1,802 registered dental hygienists
  • 547 dental assistants
  • 413 dental practice managers
  • 85 dental billing specialists employed by dental practices
  • 86 other front office team members

Salary survey results, including mean and median incomes for each dental position, are available for download here. Below are key trends and takeaways from some of the hiring and retention questions DentalPost asked dentists and practice managers in the survey. See Part 1 and Part 2 for additional insights.

More than 50% of dental professionals are looking at job listings.

Burnout and worry are pervasive in dental practices with open team positions, in practices with new hires who have a lot to learn, and in practices where employee engagement and/or income satisfaction are low. Many of the 2024 Salary Survey respondents commented that they live in fear team members will leave for better compensation elsewhere and it will make their own situation more stressful. DentalPost’s latest statistics on dental professionals either actively applying for new jobs or considering applying for new jobs will exacerbate concerns.

It doesn’t have to be this way.

It’s possible for dentists and their teams to work together to greatly reduce, if not eliminate, the desire to leave.

The survey data tell us that despite higher pay and benefits driving a lot of job searches, compensation is not necessarily driving all decisions. More than pay and benefits are considered before changing employers. Factoring into job change decisions is whether they will be moving to a more positive work environment than where they are now.  

Retention is most likely when dental team members are appreciated, recognized, and fully engaged with their duties and the people they serve. What are the key things that lead to high satisfaction, passion and pride? DentalPost’s last two yearly surveys affirm they are these:

  • Appreciative, supportive employers
  • Appreciative, supportive team members
  • Pleased patients
  • Better than average compensation
  • Opportunities for self-development and to increase their income through effort and contribution to the business
  • Constant communication and clear objectives
  • Optimal use of skills and strengths
  • High collaboration but also trust to work independently without micro supervision

Ideally, all of these motivators are fostered from the top and from the bottom. In other words, everyone in a dental practice plays an essential role in helping one another and creating the dental practice they want to work in and would not consider leaving.

Attaining a “sweet spot” for employee retention is possible.

A “standout” practice will provide avenues for safe, open communication, encourage teamwork, have appreciative leadership, have clear objectives while allowing some autonomy in decision-making, and foster a community of continuous learning and support. That’s a tall order but the most successful, happiest dental practices have proactively achieved this. Dental team members who have experienced this know they are unlikely to find a greener pasture.

Communication, empathy, and understanding from practice leaders defuse stress and anxiety like nothing else can.

One-on-one conversations between employers and employees develop connection and mutual understanding. HR experts agree that the start of the new year is an especially good time to conduct “stay” interviews. It’s a proactive step that strongly signals to employees that you value them and hold them in high regard. It also provides a safe opportunity to discuss what they personally like most and least about their jobs and to explore what would make their job more fulfilling. If you are unaccustomed to doing “stay” interviews, this DentalPost blog will inspire you and help you get started: Is Your Practice Doing “Stay” Interviews?

Recent polls underscore the importance of feedback.

Dentists actively listen to patients to understand their needs and concerns so they can build trust and effectively plan and explain appropriate solutions. Active listening and problem-solving are tools they lean on. It might surprise them to know that only 1 in 4 employees agree their opinions count at work and only 1 in 5 agree that they receive meaningful feedback when they make a suggestion about improving performance (Gallup, Dec 2023). 

DentalPost’s 2022 Job Satisfaction Survey found that 69% of polled dental workers do not feel their opinions matter and 82% had not had a performance conversation in the last six months with their employer. 

There needs to be two-way communication so employees feel valued and remain engaged. Traditionally, semi-annual performance reviews set the table for important two-way conversations. In dental practices that have regular monthly team meetings to discuss goals, achievements, obstacles and solutions, employee engagement is high.

Take the time to do one-on-one Stay Interviews at the beginning of the year and get in the habit of monthly team meetings for two-way feedback and problem-solving.

Easy Conversation Starters

This year’s survey asked dental professionals what they like most and least about their jobs. Those two questions are easy conversation starters employers can use to gain insights into what is most important to each individual employee. Employers can then consider what raises their individual employees up emotionally and what brings them down. 

The following charts summarize what the 2024 Salary Survey respondents like most and least about their jobs. In your stay interviews, discover your individual employee’s top likes and dislikes and discuss the circumstances around them. What incremental changes can you lead this year to improve job satisfaction?

What the 2024 Salary Survey Respondents Liked Most About Their Jobs:

Associate DentistsPatients, the hours, the benefits
Dental HygienistsPatients, the work
Dental AssistantsPatients, the work, the hours
Practice ManagersPatients, coworkers, the hours
Billing SpecialistsCoworkers, patients, the hours
Front Office AssociatesPatients, coworkers, the hours

What the 2024 Salary Survey Respondents Liked Least About Their Jobs:

Associate DentistsLack of control, low pay, and lack of staff
Dental HygienistsLearning new software and overly busy
Dental AssistantsAdapting to new dentists and coworkers, office drama, and low pay
Practice ManagersHiring and staffing
Billing SpecialistsAdapting to insurance changes and learning new software
Front Office AssociatesBeing understaffed and working with untrained new team members

An Example of Employers Responding Positively to Employee Requests: One of the correlations spotted in the 2024 Salary Survey is that dental assistants and front-office administrative team members worked fewer overtime hours in 2023 than in 2022 and that one of their top likes in 2023 was “their hours.” Their hours had been a dislike in 2022. Hours per week is an example of one of the job attributes an employer can openly discuss with their employee.

Employees can help employers overcome “turnover anxiety.”

In seeking something “more” over the past two years, are employees losing sight of the fact that they share responsibility with practice owners and managers for creating a great work environment in which they can do their best work and make the most of their career? Building an amazing dental practice requires everyone to put their hands on the rope and pull together, saying, “I want to work in that amazing environment that you do, too. Now, let’s team to create that environment.

When an employer is not proactive about scheduling a one-on-one conversation in the new year, individual employees can extend an invitation to talk about what they love about their job, their insights into making the practice a standout place to work, and their desire to contribute. By signaling they want to stay in the practice and be a part of making it wonderful, they support their employer and build trusting rapport.

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