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An attitude of gratitude

March 1, 2000
Dentists often overlook the important roles played by the members of their office staff. Here are some sure-fire ways to let them know how much you appreciate their contributions.

Dentists often overlook the important roles played by the members of their office staff. Here are some sure-fire ways to let them know how much you appreciate their contributions.

Dr. Nate Booth

A frog asked two geese to take him south with them for the winter. At first the geese were reluctant. They didn`t see how it could be done. Finally the frog suggested that the geese hold a stick in their beaks, and he would hold on to it with his mouth. So off they went, flying southward over the countryside. It was an unusual sight. People looked up and admired their inspired teamwork. Someone shouted, "You are geniuses! Who was the clever one who thought of that wonderful way to travel?" The frog couldn`t resist. He opened his mouth and shouted back, "It was I!" Seconds later, he plummeted back to earth.

The attraction and retention of dental auxiliaries are increasing concerns for many dental business owners - and the situation is only expected to get worse as baby boomers grow older and retire from the workforce. Dental business owners looking to retain workers in today`s competitive market must create an office environment that is supportive, caring, and stands out from the rest. Increasingly, that means the leader must embrace an attitude of gratitude and become more "consciously grateful" for the contributions of employees.

The issue of gratitude, or lack of, is often cited by employees as a key reason for their departure from a practice. Comments commonly heard include, "The only time I got feedback was when I messed up," or "I seldom received personal thanks from my boss."

When grappling with a problem in the practice, many dentists tend to hyper-focus on the problem and ignore what is working. In large part, this is due to our clinical training - we were taught to look for and find problems. Unfortunately, the need to "find problems" can spill over into the way we manage and interact with staff. While problems require our focus and attention, it`s equally important to look for and acknowledge what`s right and what`s working. This helps us maintain emotional balance and keep things in perspective.

What do employees want from their jobs?

There`s a big gap between what employees really value in the workplace and what we, their managers, think they value.

Today`s workers are vastly different from the previous generation of workers. Today`s workers are not just chasing monetary rewards. More than anything, they want to feel that they matter. They want to make a difference, and they want to know that we care.

A series of studies confirms this thinking. In these studies, researchers discovered that what managers perceived as being most important to employees differed vastly from what the employees reported as "desirable." In Table 1, you will see a chart of 10 factors people could desire in a job, and how managers and employees ranked each factor from 1 to 10, with 1 being the most desirable.

As you can see from the scores in Table 1, managers thought money would be ranked the highest, but employees ranked "full appreciation of work done" as most desirable. Their managers ranked it eighth!

You may ask, "Why isn`t what I pay my staff good enough to get them to do their jobs? Why do I have to do more?" People will do their jobs for what they get paid, but they won`t put forth their best effort or go the extra mile - and they may not be willing to "stay put" if a better offer comes along - for money alone.

How can you show your employees you care and, in the process, develop a loyal workforce? Recognition and rewards come in all shapes and sizes. They can be formal (part of a planned program) or informal (given spontaneously). They can be free (a warm smile and a sincere "thanks"), simple (a single red rose in a bud vase for each staff member at the end of a productive day), or elaborate (a team trip to Bermuda).

Inexpensive and novel ways to build employee loyalty

* Once a year, take out an ad in the local newspaper, thanking your staff for being the best. Thank them for taking such good care of your patients. Be sure to get everyone`s name in print. (This is also an excellent marketing tool for your practice!)

* Collect patient letters praising the entire staff or specific staff members. Make copies and distribute them to your entire staff. If you hear a patient giving verbal praise, ask him or her to write it in a letter.

* Create a Bravo Board and hang it in a place where the entire staff sees it frequently. Any staff member can write a Bravo Card to any other staff member and pin it to the Bravo Board.

* Write or call the staff member`s spouse and mention what a wonderful person he or she is married to. Let the spouse know how much the staff member means to your practice. Conclude with, "I`m lucky to have (staff member`s name) working with us!"

* Put an article about staff members in your patient newsletter. Tell your patients about their personal and professional lives, what the person means to your practice, and some great things they`ve accomplished. You can do the same with a wall display in your reception area.

* Give staff members a PASS IT ON card. The PASS IT ON card has a butterfly and the saying, "Some people make the world more special just by being in it," on the front. On the back, it reads PASS IT ON. When you give staff members the card, ask them to give it to another person, within the next 48 hours, who has done some little thing that makes a difference in their lives.

* Ask employees for help by saying, "I need some advice. Can you spare a moment?" Turning to your employees for counsel sends a powerful message of trust and respect. Employees will scale mountains for doctors who demonstrate these qualities.

* One of the greatest gifts you can give to people is the gift of your time. Once a month, take a staff member out to lunch. Use the "alone time" with your staff member to share praise and instill the positive values you want to see in your team. And, most importantly, ask the person for his or her ideas on improving the practice. This is another opportunity to show trust and respect.

* Leave a note of appreciation along with a small gift in the work areas of team members after they have left for the day. It`s a wonderful way for them to start the next workday.

* On a calendar, or in your contact-management system, note the hiring date of all of your staff members. On that date, take them out to lunch. Give them a unique gift and let them know how much you appreciate another year of service.

For more information about this article, contact the author at (800) 917-0008 or visit

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