Civility is not dead!

May 1, 2009
My best dental assistant just gave her notice, and I am devastated! She has taken a job in another office here in town.

by Dianne Glasscoe-Waterson, MBA

For more on this topic, go to and search using the following key words: staff, turnover, attitude, appreciation, practice administration, client services, change, civility, exit interview, Dianne Glasscoe-Watterson.

Dear Dianne,
My best dental assistant just gave her notice, and I am devastated! She has taken a job in another office here in town. When I asked why she was leaving, she said she felt like she needed a change. I had no clue this was coming! I'm feeling a variety of emotions — anger, frustration, disrespect, fear, sadness, and pain. I cannot figure out why turnover is such a problem in my practice. What can I do to stop this vicious cycle?
Dr. J

Dear Dr. J,

Two things about your brief post stand out: 1) You had no clue your staff member was unhappy, and (2) you admit you have a turnover problem. My experience tells me you are so wrapped up in your own world (personal and/or professional) that you are not tuning in to your staff members.

There is a variety of reasons why staff members leave, some of which you cannot control, such as relocation, pregnancy, higher education, etc. These are situations where you should celebrate with your staff member and provide some kind of send-off recognition for the contribution he or she made to your practice.

However, when a staff member is reluctant to tell you the real reason for leaving, she will usually say something vague such as needing change. Even that reason should cause you to stop and ask yourself the question, “What was happening here that caused her to be unhappy?” Even more importantly, “Why couldn't I see the problem?”

Allow me to make a profound statement: Staff members need more from you than a paycheck. They need to feel appreciated for their efforts every day, and it all starts with your attitude toward them. Staff members who feel genuine appreciation from the boss develop loyalty that transcends the occasional “bumps” along the way.

I invite you to do some introspection into your attitude toward your staff members. Here are some questions for thought:

  1. How do you come into work each day? Do you greet your staff with a smile and warm salutation? Do you have any idea how important it is for you to initiate a positive start for the day?
  2. Do you ever ask about your staff members' families? Do you care at all about them personally?
  3. Do you say “thank you” and “please” when addressing your staff members? Do you ever compliment them in front of patients?
  4. Have you ever had staff members leave your office in tears because of a misunderstanding that occurred?
  5. Do you lose your temper and cause a scene when something does not go as planned?
  6. Have you ever apologized when you hurt a staff member emotionally with stinging words or actions?
  7. Do you criticize in private and praise in public?
  8. Are you willing to admit you need to make changes to stop the cycle of turnover?

I also urge you (or your office administrator or consultant) to conduct an exit interview for the purpose of identifying areas that need attention. Keep in mind that the purpose of the exit interview is to glean information and provide insight to help you improve, and the information may not be pleasant at first. Here are a few questions you can ask:

  1. Did you feel appreciated while you worked here? Why or why not?
  2. Can you provide any suggestions about how we can improve our client services here?
  3. What do you feel are the practice's strong points? What are the weak points?
  4. If you could change anything about this practice, what would it be?

    Throughout your practice life, staff members will come and go for various reasons. However, when turnover is excessive, accept the hard reality that the problem may be you and your attitudes. I urge you to relinquish your “victim” mentality, get rid of the negative emotions, and replace them with a sense of purpose to make necessary changes that promote optimal staff/doctor relationships. After all, your staff members are not robots who lack feelings, but real humans who need to be affirmed, respected, and appreciated.

    Dianne Glasscoe-Watterson, MBA, assists dental practices in achieving their highest potential through practical, effective, on-site consulting. Call (301) 874-5240 to discuss how your practice-management challenges can be solved. Visit her Web site at or send her an e-mail at [email protected].

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