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Something feels different in the office. It’s hard to describe. The patients are happy, no complaints. The schedule is full, revenue is strong. Internal conflicts among staff are at a minimum. In fact, things are working so well that you’re answering fewer staff questions and requests. These are the situations we all work hard to achieve.  It’s everything a manager works for, right? On the surface, this should be a moment to celebrate. But your gut won’t let you. Your sixth sense is gnawing at you: what you don’t know CAN hurt you.

Something’s Brewing

Over the years, DentalPost has shared thousands of telephone calls and emails with employers, some almost frantic to replace key team members. Some come to us in a state of shock and confusion, others are angry or feel abandoned. We listen, and we help them rebound. In the process, we have noticed a series of “pre-quitting” behaviors.

Signs a Team Member is on an Active Job Search

  • During office hours they are more active on their phone than normal. You’ll hear a ping and as soon as it’s practical, they will scurry off to the break room to feverishly answer an email or text. Or in a short moment between patients, someone will ask out loud, “Where’s Jody?” Five minutes later, with her head down, she’ll apologize and say she just had to get something out of her car.   
  • It can be challenging to coordinate an interview with another dental office when you are working full-time. An employee on an active job search will be requesting time off, often on short notice, taking longer breaks, or paying closer attention to short-term opportunities to be out of the office when there is no seat time scheduled. 
  • Changes to arrival and departure times. For example, if a team member was once an ‘arrive early and stay late’ type of person, but has become an ‘arrive exactly on time, and leave early.’
  • You observe volatile, out of character friction with another employee. Or you witness loud complaining about the office/job/management in ways that seem impulsive and reckless.
  • Or, if a new job is apparently close to happening, they suddenly stop clashing with another employee, without resolving a previous conflict.

Signs an Employee is Deep into A Job Search 

  • They are less concerned and provide less feedback on how their schedule maps to 6-month follow up appointments.
  • Out of the blue, they are going above and beyond to be cooperative or helpful. But it can be a sign of too much of a good thing. Employees are conscious of their reputation in the industry, even more so with loyal employees afraid to tell you what’s up. At this phase, these team members are highly focused on the short-term. While you’re likely excited they’ve taken a deeper interest in finishing active projects or transferring knowledge internally, what they are really doing is ensuring they leave on a high note with a clean conscience that the team will be okay.

These behavioral signs can shift, depending on how deep the employee is within the job search cycle. Likewise, their demeanor can radically vary depending on the type and length of departure notice they plan to give.

Smart Tactics to Retain a Valuable Team Member

If this is a key team member, our advice is to focus on retaining them! An employee leaving can be devastating, especially a veteran employee your patients know and trust, or an employee with deep operational knowledge that will be difficult to replace. Useful anti-turnover strategies take time to design and implement.  So for most offices, individual interventions can be the most effective approach.

When it’s about compensation. Monitoring and benchmarking employee satisfaction is one approach. This includes ensuring benefits match employee needs, and compensation is competitive. To balance margins, and incentivize staff, some dentists will incorporate performance pay. There is a human factor with performance pay, and while it can be a tool to retain and protect profitability, it also should be monitored to ensure outcomes are not happening at the expense of patient care and patient satisfaction. 

When it’s about flexibility. This is where an individual intervention can be most effective. Not wanting to disappoint patients or their employer, staff members often struggle to balance their workload and changing family commitments. An example of finding balance is seen among many dental hygienists within the Baby Boomer generation. According to our 2018 Salary Survey, they work five hours less person week on average, with many of them downsizing their schedules as they consider a semi-retirement status.  Being just a little more flexible with their hours can make the difference between keeping, and losing a dependable and valuable member of your team. 

When it’s a life event. These are the toughest situations. Often, there is nothing you can do, and the decision to leave is of out of your control and theirs. Life events can include a spouse’s job change, meaning a geographic move that makes a commute impossible. Likewise, it can include getting out of the workforce completely for a time, to help take care of a sick parent, child, or spouse. There are a variety of circumstances, and employees often feel deep guilt about leaving what’s developed into a confident, supportive team. These events are a test of the culture and how close of a work-family the office is. Short of an emergency, and with a strong culture in place that fosters openness and discussion, you can expect an employee with this kind of positive work history to provide notice of a month or more. Always explore the opportunity of retaining her part-time, or as a temp. Likewise, with enough notice, this outgoing employee can be an asset to help train her replacement.

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