Staff Retention and the Power of Praise

The question most dentists ask at my seminars is, "How can I motivate my staff?" or "How do you keep the staff motivated in the course of a busy, stressful day?"

Linda L. Miles, CSP, CMC

The question most dentists ask at my seminars is, "How can I motivate my staff?" or "How do you keep the staff motivated in the course of a busy, stressful day?"

Typically, staff members require less time and energy to be motivated than the employer understands. Appreciation and respect as co-professionals are what the staff needs to realize their full potential as valued employees. In practices where they feel unappreciated or are treated as hired help, their performance is at its lowest.

Hiring and retaining valuable staff are key factors in continued practice growth and the reduction of stress. The staff that feels confident and appreciated remain with the practice, becoming more valuable with each anniversary. The loss of a valued employee is a costly expense in dentistry. Constant staff turnover will create a breakdown in communication, lack of production, decreased rapport with patients and, in general, more stress.

Many dentists have difficulty understanding the degree of praise that is required for continued job satisfaction. The staff needs to realize that praise is earned and not to be expected. It will help them understand why their employer isn`t giving compliments or improved compensation. In employee evaluations, a dentist that doesn`t enjoy confrontation, or who tends to be overly generous with the staff, is likely to give high marks to all employees, regardless of performance, rather than disappoint them.

The inability to discuss a weakness with an employee normally leads to more frustration and apathy-a feeling that the doctor/owner is being taken for granted. This passivity keeps employees from improving their performance, because everything appears to be satisfactory. The opposite extreme finds the employer intimidating, pointing out every little weakness, which destroys the employee`s self-esteem and enthusiasm, thus creating the feeling of hopelessness and poor performance.

A few reasons why dentists do not praise or compliment the staff are:

1. It often feels unnatural for dentists to use praise, because of their basic, behavioral style. If the doctor is an analytical perfectionist, praise doesn`t come easy for him/her. The busy practice often neglects time for important morale-building. Understanding the doctor`s basic behavioral style will help the staff to understand the doctor`s leadership style.

2. Dentists can`t give false praise. If the staff is not trained properly, it makes it difficult to praise performance. In-office training, table clinics and role-playing sessions enhance the growth of each team member. This improves the staff`s abilities, leading to sincere compliments from employer to employees.

3. Doctors are too busy taking care of patients` emotional needs, often neglecting the emotional needs of their staff members. Patients require everyone`s undivided attention, especially by the primary care-giver. This doctor/patient rapport is responsible for patients returning to a practice and becoming a strong referral source.

4. Some employers fear the repercussion of praise. Oftentimes, I hear dentists say, "If I tell them they are doing well, their performance may decline" or "If I tell them how well the practice is doing, they will ask for raises." Business owners should realize that the power of praise generates more dollars per day than the work environment without praise. Behavior that is appreciated always is repeated. Making sure the office talks about the good, rather than the bad, is a proven form of motivation. All businesses have "peaks and valleys." A peak is outproducing last year`s same month. A "valley" is less production than the same month a year ago. Practitioners who routinely "celebrate" the good months with the staff normally have nine peaks and three valleys. Business owners who rarely praise or "celebrate" usually see nine valleys and only three peaks.

The four R`s of staff motivation are:

1. Responsibility: The more responsibility an employer gives staff members, the more they will like their jobs. Responsibility creates challenges and represents trust.

2. Recognition: Everyone enjoys being recognized for a job well done. Patients develop trust in the entire practice when they hear the doctor compliment the staff or staff compliment the doctor or co-workers. Projects that are discussed and assigned, but never followed-up on or recognized by the doctor, create a lack of interest in future projects or ideas. Recognizing the efforts of others keeps one enthused about other assignments.

3. Rewards: As the practice continues to grow and overhead is controlled, the rewards should be shared by everyone. If employees in the practice feel their reward doesn`t match the expended effort, they will discontinue going the extra mile. Quarterly profit-sharing bonuses are a fair way to share the rewards with staff. If salaries as a percentage of collections are set at 24%, and staff salaries equal 22% for the quarter just ended, staff members should divide 2% of the collections for that quarter.

4. Respect: Common courtesy is one trait that should never be overlooked from employee to employer and vice versa. So many people complain, "I get no respect!" Respect is a very interesting trait-an individual usually receives the exact amount of respect he or she gives to others. Respect is a mutual exchange.

In summarizing staff retention and the value of praise, staff members generally don`t enjoy moving from practice to practice. They will, however, accept less salary and fewer benefits for respect, a pleasant work environment, a happy doctor and co-workers and improved self-esteem. If your office has all of these traits, in addition to good salaries and benefits, your staff will be retained for a long time.

Reduce the turnover of staff in your practice today by following the simple outline contained in this article. You, your staff and your patients will enjoy this new-found excitement in your everyday activities as a result.

The author is an internationally-recognized consultant and speaker on practice and staff development. She is founder and chief executive officer of Miles and Associates in Virginia Beach, VA, and can be reached at 800-922-0866.

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