Reconsider generalizations about "part-time mentality"

July 1, 2004
A dentist I consulted with last month was talking to me about what he considered problematic with one of his hygienists.

Eileen Morrissey, RDH, MS

A dentist I consulted with last month was talking to me about what he considered problematic with one of his hygienists. Throughout the conversation, I heard a recurrent theme. The gist of it was, "She's part-time, and her mentality reflects it."

Another dentist I know is fearful about terminating his full-time RDH (although for a multitude of reasons, it needs to happen). He could hire two others to replace her, but is reluctant to do so. Why? He's "worried about them being part time, and the mentality that goes hand-in-hand with that." Ironically, his current full-time hygienist is the one with attitude issues! At any rate, that makes twice in one month that I've heard concerns about the alleged "part-time mentality."

Here is an alternative viewpoint for your collective consideration. I do not think this is about part time vs. full time. It's about commitment — number one — and it's also about how employers can choose to view this issue.

The amount of hours clocked at a dental practice is useful for determining wages, but should not be viewed as a barometer of commitment. For the record, I am acquainted with numerous full-time employees who may be punching 38 hours on the clock but are merely occupying time and space in the practice. Commitment level? Give me a break! It's zero. Some of these staff members should have found new dental homes (or careers) a long time ago.

Now, consider these women — Daryl Beckman, RDH, is employed part time in a periodontal practice in Red Bank, N.J. She's a five-star hygienist who, because of her obligation to her husband's accounting firm, had chosen to be employed clinically only one day each week. Are you wondering about her level of commitment? Ask Dr. Anthony Di Cesare. He will tell you that Daryl is an asset on the highest level. Daryl has recently decided to take on an additional clinical hygiene day in a general practice. Dr. Mary Beth McCabe of Middletown, N.J., is delighted to have her join the team.

Daryl now has the opportunity to practice her clinical work in two different offices. She can bring perspectives to each office that she gains from spending time in the other setting. This is personally rejuvenating and results in a "win/win" for both practices. Whether we talk about gaining clinical expertise, hearing marketing ideas, or experiencing management systems, a team member who has exposure to different types of practices can only be an advantage.

Another employee, who prefers to remain anonymous, is the mother of a three-year-old. She needs to work outside her home for financial reasons, and she desires to remain in the dental field. She is employed as a receptionist in a dental practice from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m., four days a week. She packs peak performance into those 20 hours, and her dentist-employer is grateful to have her. For this woman, working part time is ideal. She bounces back and forth from her personal to her professional life with renewed energy. It's the best of both worlds, and ultimately helps her to be the best mom and the best receptionist.

An employer could view each of these situations in either a negative or a positive way. The previously mentioned doctors will tell you that these two women are totally committed to their practices. Yet, the number of hours they clock could never be used as a measure of their worth. These doctors saw beyond the "part-time mentality" generalization voiced by so many, and recognized it might be advantageous to flex to these women's unique parameters. Things worked out well for all concerned.

But, trust me, I'm not diminishing the concept that having part-time employees won't potentially lead to other snafus. What if the counterpart-time employees lack similar commitment, for example? And there's more, I know. Life in the workplace is not perfect and it requires constant effort.

Still, I reiterate that it is not about part-time vs. full-time and the alleged mentality that accompanies either status. It's about finding the right people for your team. Some of us, myself included, are not cut out for working in the same setting doing the same thing full time every week. We thrive on diversity. As a result, our sum contributions to all aspects of our lives are much more than our separate parts.

Consider all options when looking for employees. Corporate America acknowledges job-sharing. Be open-minded to alternative coverage. It can help you flourish in today's flexible workplace. See the potential positives and make it a win/win for your practice. And keep that glass half full!

Eileen Morrissey, RDH, MS, is a dental practice coach and consultant in Clarksburg, N.J. She lectures nationally, and provides customized workshops for doctors and their teams. She is a national AGD provider and a former clinical instructor. She is the editor of Practice Inspiration, a Seattle Study Club publication. Contact Eileen Morrissey at (609) 259-8008, via e-mail at [email protected], or visit

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