Life can be unpredictable, leaving all of us shorthanded at one time or another. When this happens, our amazing dental teams are the first to jump in to cover the gap left when a team member is unexpectedly absent for a short time. But when we have an open position on the team that hasn’t been filled, it can increase stress, which in turn impacts the team’s attitude, their sense of job fulfillment, team culture, and even the physical health of the people you rely on. So how do you go from being understaffed and overworked to being overstaffed and overjoyed?
Uncover hidden talent
All of us have absolute rock stars on our team whether we know it or not. Uncovering, discovering, and realizing the strengths each team member has will have a huge impact on our practice, business, and team. Some practice leaders may think that helping team members explore their talents and possibilities will only add more to an already full plate; they think it will overwhelm them. But I’ve found it to be quite the opposite in my practice: cross-training is phenomenal. I’m not talking about giving people more tasks or tasks that they aren’t suited for, but discovering new responsibilities that enable each team member to shine. When you do so, you make that person feel like they are a key contributor to the success of the team. Every team member should feel fulfilled, confident, proud, and accomplished, and that they are growing and challenged—not just doing the same thing day in, day out. The bottom line is that your team members want a career, not just a job.
Focus on fulfillment
With cross-training comes the need to have clearly defined roles and responsibilities, as well as systems in place to support them. For example, when a new patient comes in, who is responsible for which tasks based on your systems? Who will check insurance, take x-rays, and discuss costs and financing options, such as a CareCredit credit card?
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When everyone knows their responsibilities, it makes your workflow that much more efficient, and it can reduce patient appointment times and increase the doctor’s dollar-per-hour value. I’m a big fan of leaning on my team. It used to be that my assistant just had limited responsibilities. Now, she’s the one who educates the patient and answers any questions. How do you think that makes my assistant feel when a patient walks by me to say to her, “I have a quick question for you”? They view my assistant as an expert, which makes her confident, proud, and fulfilled.
I think that gets missed a lot. We get into a cycle of busyness. We go to work. We think that since we are paying someone to do their job, they should do it perfectly. Then we do our job and at the end of the workday, we get in the car and go home. We must remember our colleagues are people. They are friends we’re working with, and if we want them to give us 100%, we should reward them not only with extra pay, but by verbally telling them they’re rock stars. We need to tell them how they’re really impacting the practice and how patients love seeing them. Words of appreciation contribute a great deal to each team member’s sense of fulfillment. In the busyness of the day, remembering to offer affirmation often gets overlooked.
If a team is short-staffed, the goal should not be just to fill the open role, but to overstaff. Yes, you read that right. I’ve never heard a dentist complain about being overstaffed, but I have heard them wish they had another team member to help the practice run more efficiently. When you have that extra team member who has been effectively cross-trained, there’s so much they can do—from helping answer phones and sterilizing equipment to checking insurance and educating patients. The list of to-dos is long, and this extra person will always be utilized, significantly reducing the stress and chaos in your practice.
Don’t trip over pennies to get to dollars. Having an extra staff member can make everyone’s experience in your practice better—yours, your team’s, and your patients’. Yes, additional team members add to your overhead, so I suggest that you start off with a part-time employee to determine the value and to see how having that extra help makes everyone happier. Then determine whether changing the extra team member to full time would add additional value.
No one likes to come to work when it’s not fun or fulfilling. Adopt “the more the merrier” strategy of having an extra person, cross-train your team so they can do more, and make sure people feel like the more they contribute, the more they’re appreciated. This may make your team so happy they’ll never want to leave (which is another way to minimize turnover).
Editor's note: CareCredit is a recent financial supporter of Dental Economics. View full disclosure at dentaleconomics.com/carecredit. This article appeared in the June 2023 print edition of Dental Economics magazine.. Dentists in North America are eligible for a complimentary print subscription. Sign up here.