Building staff member loyalty

June 15, 2016
I bought an existing practice three years ago after the owner suddenly passed away.

Dianne Glasscoe Watterson, MBA

Dear Dianne,

I bought an existing practice three years ago after the owner suddenly passed away. It's in a great location, and the patient base has remained stable. My problem is staffing. Only one of the original staff members is still with me. They've all taken jobs in nearby offices. I hired new people, but turnover continues to be a problem. How do I find good people who will stay?

- Dr. Tim

Dear Dr. Tim,

I can only speculate about why you're having continual staffing problems, but I can offer some solid advice on developing staff loyalty.

I recently had lunch with a friend who retired from her hygiene position after working in the same practice for 46 years. It was a solo practice when she started working there right out of hygiene school. Over the years, it grew into a four-doctor practice with six hygienists. When I asked my friend what made this practice so special that she spent her entire career there, she stated without hesitation that it was because the doctors were such good people. Good people? What did she mean?

When staff members say that their employer is a "good" person, the larger meaning is that the employer (1) is respectful to staff members and patients, (2) is very honest and ethical, (3) is consistently fair, (4) treats staff members with kindness, understanding, and compassion, and (5) is primarily concerned with helping people get the dental care they need, which typically includes some charity work.

Money is one way to show appreciation, but it's not the only way. After all, employees expect to be paid. Consider how you would feel if your boss always smiled and said good morning or personally thanked you at the end of a workday. How would it make you feel to receive a handwritten note of thanks with a $50 or $100 bill occasionally? What about if you were recognized at a staff meeting for something you did for a patient that was above and beyond? How would you feel if your boss bragged about you to a patient? Of course, none of these acts of kindness would matter if the employer had a bad temper or treated staff members like hired help instead of coworkers.

Some years back, a large corporation surveyed its employees and asked them to rank 10 workplace benefits from most important to least important. Then they asked supervisors to rank the benefits as they believed employees would rank them. The survey revealed a huge difference. Employees ranked "feeling appreciation for work done" as No. 1, whereas supervisors ranked "good wages" as the top job benefit. Employees ranked "feeling in on things" as No. 2, whereas supervisors ranked that particular benefit as No. 10.

Staff members leave for all kinds of reasons, such as pregnancy, relocation, furthering their education, or changing careers. However, they also leave because they're unhappy. The primary reason staff members become unhappy is because they do not feel appreciated for their efforts.

Remember when hiring that the most important attributes are work ethic and attitude. You can get an idea of these attributes by checking references. The most important question to ask when speaking with references is, "If you had the opportunity, would you hire this person again?"

I urge you to conduct a separation conference with departing employees and ask these questions: (1) What do you feel were the best and worst things about working here? (2) What could we have done differently to improve the care of our patients?

If you do some honest introspection and consider what it feels like to be an employee, you should be closer to discovering the reason for your staff turnover.

All the best,


Dianne Glasscoe Watterson, MBA, is a consultant, speaker, and author. She helps good practices become better through practical on-site consulting. Please visit Dianne's website at For consulting or speaking inquiries, contact Dianne at [email protected] or call her at (336) 472-3515.