Th Limosnow

It’s more than just money

Nov. 1, 2006
How one dentist lets staff members know they are special
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How one dentist lets staff members know they are special

It’s not always about money when it comes to retaining good staff members. As I’ve said before, “Never lose a good employee over money; pay them well.” But in many cases, it’s much more than just the money.

Years ago, I hired a dental assistant whose initial interview revealed a valuable lesson from which most of us could certainly learn. This assistant had been working at another office for an extremely high salary, yet had been looking to change offices for reasons other than money. When I asked her why she wanted to find another office, she told me something that really shocked me. She was willing to bet me that her doctor, whom she had worked with for seven years, did not know the names of her children or even how many she had. She respected her doctor as a good dentist and person, but she just didn’t like it there. It wasn’t any fun.

Some of you are probably saying, “Fun? What’s that got to do with it? This is a job. It’s not supposed to be fun!” Maybe that was true 30 or 40 years ago, but today’s workforce and environment is totally different. Not only does having a little fun with a job help staff retention, it also has a positive effect for staff motivation and morale. A team that has fun together excels together!

That’s why I’ve always believed it’s important to hire employees with whom you can comfortably socialize and enjoy their company in and out of the office. If the doctor enjoys his or her staff, then the doctor is more inclined to arrange fun out-of-the-office activities, which perpetuates motivation.

These activities could be any of the following, or create your own: Christmas parties or summer pool/picnic parties at the doctor’s house, staff birthday lunches, shopping sprees, nearby casino trips, snow skiing trips, local lake/boating trips, miniature golf outings, bowling, movies, etc.

In June, I treated my staff to a trip to the Bahamas. We try to do a “big trip” about every other year. You cannot believe the impact these trips have on the entire team for building camaraderie while expressing my appreciation for all they do for me. The excitement began as soon as we booked the trip - which was about six months prior - and it just kept building. Everyone had a great time and the memories and conversations about that trip still continue.

Yes, it costs money to do these trips, but please do not miss the point I am trying to make here. The doctor should be part of the “gang.” My wife, Sandy, and I hung out with them and did many of the activities right along with them. It’s almost like parenting where children would rather spend time with their parents than have money thrown at them. Too many times doctors are “above” their staff and won’t spend “quality time” with them.

I have often said at our seminar, “The $1,000,000 Staff,” that many doctors don’t have a problem spending $7,000 on a weekend course to learn new techniques to improve their practice, yet they would be way ahead of the game if they would spend a little more time getting to know their team and winning them over the same way they try to win over patients. When we do that, performance, teamwork, attitude, and production all improve. Plus, it’s a lot more fun for everyone - including the doctor - when we work in that environment.

If you need help, ask your staff for a volunteer “social director” who will help you arrange these events. Don’t wait, start enjoying your staff and your practice more. Plan your next fun activity now!

Having said that, let’s not overlook how nice it is for our team members to receive a cash bonus every now and then. Once again though, it can be more than just money if we add an exciting little twist to it. Many employers give generous (sometimes not-so-generous) cash bonuses at Christmas. What did you get your office staff for Christmas last year? Was it just what team members wanted?

If you want to have fun and give a unique gift that they will love, then show your genuine appreciation by giving them a shopping spree. I did my first Christmas shopping spree surprise gift 27 years ago for my staff. It’s as big a hit today as it was back then. It’s easy to do and will be more fun than you can imagine.

Print up a simple letter or certificate that explains the gift and the rules. Yes, there are rules for this shopping spree that make it exciting and fun. You pick the amount - $50, $100, $200, etc. Include the cash with the certificate that explains the rules, which state they have to spend it on themselves - not their spouse, children, or anyone else. They have to spend it all; if not, they have to return to you the money not spent.

The first time you do this, be prepared to take some money back - and do take it back to set a precedent because you want them to spend it all on themselves. The rules eliminate any guilt they may have. The best rule though is that there is a time limit. Give them one to two hours depending on the amount of cash involved.

This brings in the factor of hysteria that guarantees a great time and results in many memorable stories about sprinting through the mall to make the deadline.

Christmas is just around the corner, so you may want to do it this year. But you don’t have to do this only for Christmas. At one of our staff meetings I surprised my staff with a shopping spree. One of our patients who is a limo driver, Alfredo, arrived after we had just completed our staff meeting. Our appointment secretary told Alfredo that he didn’t have an appointment that day. He said he knew, but that he and his other driver were there to take everyone to the mall in two limousines parked outside. I haven’t seen my staff that excited in a long time. Each received an envelope with two $100 bills and a list of shopping spree gift certificate rules. After receiving these items, staff members were ready to go! They had to be back at the office by noon for lunch and gift inspections to see if the gifts were indeed just for themselves.

No matter how many times we do these shopping sprees, everyone has a great time and truly appreciates this out-of-the-ordinary gift.

Last year, for the first time, my brothers, who own a fast food chain, did this for all of their managers and received the same response - one of the best gifts ever from their employer. Everyone enjoys this gift!

For a really special event, combine the shopping spree with a short trip out of town. If feasible in your area, plan a short “road trip” to spend the night in a nearby city, and then go shopping the next day.

It is hard to choose a personal gift for each of your staff members. A shopping spree assures you that staff members will receive something they really want because they make the selection. This year, surprise your staff members at Christmas and give them a gift sure to be their favorite; they will love you for it. If you would like a copy of one of our shopping spree gift certificates, go to and download a copy.

With regard to payroll taxes, whenever I give a cash bonus, I simply adjust accordingly the next paycheck of staff members. Cash just seems so much better to have in your hands than a check. Yes, everyone enjoys getting a cash bonus, but when the staff sees a doctor put a little more thought into the process, it really does mean so much more. Sometimes it is more than just money. Happy shopping, staff!

Joe Steven Jr., DDS, is a full-time practicing dentist in Wichita, Kan. He is also president of KISCO, a dental products marketing company that provides “new ideas for dentistry” to dental offices. You can reach Dr. Steven at [email protected].

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