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Guest Blog Post: “How to Hire and Retain Dental Staff for the Long Term”

By September 8, 2023No Comments
Insurance by Industry - Dentist Giving a Boy a Dental Exam During an Appointment

Finding and keeping quality employees can be a challenge for dental practices in the post-pandemic world. Adjusting your approach to staffing and personnel management can yield positive results.

By Dr. Ty Galvin, D.D.S., and Dr. Mike Gile, D.D.S.

When someone utters the phrase about good help being hard to find, many dentists will agree.

The recent COVID-19 pandemic created staffing issues for dental practices as administrative personnel and hygienists may not have returned to work once pandemic restrictions were loosened or eliminated. This phenomenon has dentists looking at hiring and retention efforts in a whole new light.

According to a study by the American Dental Association Health Policy Institute, the labor crunch within the industry has caused an 11% reduction in dental practice capacity. Approximately 40% of all dental practices surveyed responded that they were either currently or recently recruiting dental assistants, while 36% were currently or recently recruiting hygienists. About one-third also revealed that appointment schedules are not full, due in part to inadequate staffing.

With the staffing landscape changing, dentists recognize that changes are needed to find and retain new employees, since new hires may view a current position as a steppingstone, moving on when the opportunity to earn more money arises.

Hire slowly, fire swiftly

Not only is employee turnover disruptive to your practice, but it’s also costly. Recruiting and hiring a new employee can cost up to $4,700 on average.[1]

Consider top-line dollars in the equation as well: Hygienists can generate as much as $150,000 annually in revenue for your practice. So, being short-staffed isn’t just a problem of a lack of bodies to help; it can also be an indicator of a weaker bottom line.

As a result, you want to build a staff that exhibits three principal qualities as a whole:

  1. A busy practice needs employees who will perform tasks and duties consistently in the office. While work/life balance should be emphasized, issues like absenteeism and presenteeism must be addressed.
  2. Employees need to excel in patient care and the technical aspects of their jobs. Job hopping may indicate that these skills are lacking.
  3. New hires who readily adopt a patient-centric mentality will tend to be more engaged and focused on a long-term career. It’s essential to identify who among your staff may not be team players.

To minimize turnover and maximize long-term employees, take your time and consider adopting the following hiring practices:

  • Leverage multiple recruiting sites. About 25% of dental practices use recruiters.[2] Consider a standardized application and link it to job listings on Indeed, Zip Recruiter, Craigslist or publications that have wide local circulations.
  • Seek referrals from trusted sources. You may have employees, family or friends who know qualified candidates for employment. Offer a referral fee to help drive activity.
  • Create detailed job descriptions. Well-written job descriptions reflecting benefits packages may help attract top talent while dissuading unqualified prospects who take up time and resources.
  • Use a temp service. Temp agencies can help pre-screen applicants, so you have a good sense of whether the person is a fit. Fees for this service pale in comparison to lost revenue from understaffing.
  • Beware of hiring other dentists’ employees. Poaching employees from others could harm your reputation in the professional community.
  • Connect with local training facilities. You can find a steady stream of prospects through college or trade school programs conducted near your office.

If an employee is not working out, it’s best to terminate the relationship quickly. Here are some signs that an employee is not the right fit:

  • A general feeling. While running a practice and working alongside many types of people, you often instinctually know if a specific employee is not meeting your expectations. We need to give employees a chance, but if they aren’t a fit, don’t let them linger.
  • A lack of chemistry. You’re in an industry in which “people skills” resonate. Employees who clash with fellow employees and/or patients likely won’t work out in the long run.
  • Poor job performance. You have quality standards for services, procedures and outcomes. If performance falls short of those standards, it’s another indication that termination may be necessary.

Use probationary periods to set a time during which a new hire’s performance will be assessed. A 30-60-90-day probationary period can give you enough time to gauge whether an employee will work out, while allowing quick removal if they are not performing.

3 reasons hygienists and dental assistants leave your office

According to the ADA, there are three main reasons hygienists and dental assistants leave a job:

  • workplace culture
  • insufficient pay
  • being overworked

Awareness of these issues can help you implement measures to prevent quality employees from leaving.[3]

Since you spend so much time with your employees, it’s imperative to create an office culture that strives for an optimal level of work-life balance. Learning about your employees’ personal lives not only improves employee engagement, but results in greater production levels, reduced training costs and higher patient retention ratios in the process. In addition, verbally recognizing hard work and creating a comfortable office atmosphere helps increase employee satisfaction.

Hosting team-building events outside of the office such as dinners or sporting events also gives everyone a chance to socialize and bond. Make it a point to recognize employee birthdays and work anniversaries as well to increase employee engagement.

On the business side, actions like supporting a hygienist who may be running behind can help build loyalty. This might involve providing a sample to a patient or finding another staff member to help turn over a room. Employees are much less likely to seek employment elsewhere if they are part of a team. Wages and benefits packages also should be competitive with other practices in the area.

Finally, management style should reflect gentle accountability. Avoid micromanaging your employees. Instead, empower them to make decisions withing the practice and encourage them to make contributions that might fall outside their designated roles. Most important, stay calm and professional while deescalating office dramas and avoiding micromanagement.

For more information on finding and retaining ideal employees, contact PPP Risk Management.

[1] Society for Human Resource Management “The Real Costs of Recruitment,” April 11, 2022.

[2] American Dental Association, “Dental Workforce Shortages: Data to Navigate Today’s Labor Market,” October 2022.

[3] American Dental Association, “Dental Workforce Shortages: Data to Navigate Today’s Labor Market,” October 2022.

This information is intended for informational purposes only. Nothing contained in this publication is, nor is intended to be, legal or dental advice. Professional Protector Plan for Dentists is not liable for any injury, loss, damage or expense arising out of or in connection with the use of this information.

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