Eileen Morrissey, RDH, MS
I`m an employee. I like to think that I`m an employee who has the ability to understand the employer`s perspective, because I am married to a man who owns a business. His company has a cadre of 13 and, through the years, I`ve had the opportunity to observe his joys and challenges with personnel.
But for right now, I want to focus on dentistry, the field in which I have spent the majority of my adult work life. I currently serve as the coordinator for one of the Seattle Study Clubs. My four years in this capacity have provided me with the opportunity to get to know the doctors and staffs of more than 60 practices.
One of the major challenges for any employer is learning how to build and maintain a successful team. How do effective leaders manage to do this?
Here`s a scenario I recently witnessed. A neighboring study club held a "mastermind" that I happened to attend. The program was for hygienists, and the presenter was a study club doctor in general practice. What I found disheartening was that this doctor`s own staff hygienists were not present at the seminar!
The doctor, by way of explanation, stated that one RDH was working in a different office and the other had something else to do. Since this study club sets its programs up more than six months in advance, I knew that there was ample time for the hygienists to arrange to be available.
Why weren`t those RDHs present, showing support for their doctor as a speaker and echoing the praises of what could be achieved within that practice? In fairness, there are usually many sides to a story. I left the program inspired to write this article, and not just because of this incident. This is a commentary on what I have witnessed in my 20-plus years of employment in, or exposure to, numerous dental offices. It is a message that needs to be heard by doctors and staff alike.
Dental employees need to be "enthusiasm champions" for our doctors and our practices. They must show pride in the total product. It often is difficult for bosses to ask their employees to "please toot my horn." For that reason, it is sheer joy when that rare, precious jewel of an employee possesses the impetus to do this of his or her own volition.
For example, the office manager at Dr. X`s office brings so many new patients into the practice. Why? Because she believes in what her doctor can do, and it seems natural for her to sing his praises to anyone with whom she comes in contact.
Then there`s Dr. Y`s hygienist, who says to the patient at chairside: "You are in for a treat! Just wait until you see your laminates. Dr. Y is more than a dentist - he`s a master artist."
Another example is the assistant who says, unprompted, to the patient: "OK, hang in there, he`s obsessing over that white filling. He loves to do that, y`know. He`ll do it until he gets it perfect!"
I would wager that all doctors could think of comments that they wish their staff members would make regularly to patients. This is internal marketing of the highest order, because it comes from the heart. No amount of advertising can hold a candle to sincere sentiments expressed continually by your staff.
Doug Young lectured to our study club doctors and their staffs three years ago. That`s when I first heard the term "enthusiasm champion." The simple truth is: If employees cannot be cheerleaders for their employers and their practices, then they need to figure out why they don`t feel this way and what they would want to see changed to create a more positive attitude.
Opening up the lines of communication with the doctor/employer is the first step for staff. However, the harsh reality may be that some things won`t change. If, at this point, staff members find they can`t tolerate the situation - whether it be due to quality of work, office conditions, personality clashes, or "I don`t like the way he or she dresses..." - then they need to make a decision.
One decision is to adjust their attitudes and learn to find the positive, because the truth is that it is the doctor`s practice. Hence, it is the doctor`s right to do things as he/she deems appropriate. A pertinent reminder to all is that no perfect job exists.
If, however, a staff member feels this is truly a scenario that he or she cannot applaud - and this individual knows that it is not going to change - then the unhappy employee should show some integrity and graciously walk out the door marked "EXIT." If staff members are not where they want to be, they should not be there.
So many employees stay forever in an undesirable situation, whining, whining, whining, and never taking any positive action. How do I know? Because I have walked in these shoes personally, and I have observed hundreds of others doing the same thing. I have finally come to the realization that life is too short for this nonsense.
For the doctor
There is a message here for all you dentist/employers as well. First, as strong leaders, you need to instill that sense of pride about your practice and its product within your team. Don`t hold back!
I have heartfelt memories from my years of employment as a clinical hygienist for Dr. George La Porte in Wickford, R.I., in the 1980s. Dr. La Porte was forever tooting his own horn, pulling us away from our patients to show us a beautiful crown he had just inserted or the before-and-after smile of a grateful, 75-year-old woman who had found in him a new hero. He was the best - and he knew it - and his enthusiasm was contagious. It made us all want every patient (and potential patient) to be made aware of the dental miracles that could be achieved within the practice.
The second part of the message to the employer is this: When you have that rare jewel of an employee who loyally toots your horn, be certain that you recognize it. These staff members are not mainstream! If you are lucky enough to have one or more in your midst, be mindful, be appreciative, and let this person know how he or she impacts your practice. Make employees like this aware of your appreciation verbally and provide them with regular increases and bonuses.
Respect is a two-way street. If you are taking good employees for granted, the time may come when they decide to start singing the praises of one of your colleagues. You can`t afford to lose people like this!
Did everybody really read this? It`s time for employers and employees to sit up and take notice. Let`s put our respective wheels in motion, because we will all benefit from the end result. Carpe Diem!
Eileen Morrissey, RDH, MS, has over 20 years of experience in the field of dentistry. She also lectures nationally, and provides customized workshops for doctors and their staffs. She can be contacted by phone at (732) 446-9079 or by e-mail at email@example.com.