Creating Healthy Workplaces

As an owner and leader, a dentist needs to be a model for the staff. By following a proven list of 10 recommendations, the impact on a dental practice’s bottom-line productivity is greater than you know.

by Don Deems, DDS, FAGD
Part 3 in a three-part series

As an owner and leader, a dentist needs to be a model for the staff. By following a proven list of 10 recommendations, the impact on a dental practice’s bottom-line productivity is greater than you know.

In this final segment, we’ll look at my Top 10 recommendations for creating an emotionally healthy workplace. Previously, we’ve reviewed the criteria for a healthy workplace, as outlined by the American Psychological Association. These are:

Employee Growth and Development: Programs that deal with workplace stress and conflict and easy access to psychological services

Employee Involvement: Clear and candid communications, a voice in decision-making for employees, a fair employee performance evaluation system, and recognition for individual and team performance

Family Support: Policies that consider personal and extended family needs

Health and Safety: A priority placed on health and safety

We’ve also looked into each of these areas more fully, looking at specific parameters and practices that will contribute to your practice’s overall emotional tone. By now, you’ve likely made a few notes to yourself about some changes you’d like to make in your practice.

So, in this final segment, the focus is on you. What can YOU do to make it all happen? As the business owner and leader, you must take a strong leadership role and be a model for your team. Look at my Top 10 recommendations for making it all happen in YOUR practice!

1) Get help. As dentists, we possess numerous technical skills, but sometimes we don’t have the “people expertise.” Professionally trained business coaches, psychologists, counselors, consultants, human relations specialists, and therapists who are familiar with healthy workplace practices are a good place to start getting help if you feel unable to proceed with changing the emotional tone and health of your workplace. Working with your own coach, for example, can be a great way to learn and develop your skills, develop a plan to implement healthy workplace practices, and have a sounding board to troubleshoot your efforts.

2) Be honest. Sometimes the hardest thing to do is to be honest with yourself. It is also the first step to change. So I ask you, do you consider yourself to be a strong and capable leader? Do you consider your efforts to make your workplace healthy to be effective? If so, specifically what are you doing? What areas could you improve? How might you take a more balanced approach to having healthy workplace practices? Evaluate your own practice on the criteria set forth by the American Psychological Association. Most importantly, do it with your staff’s input!

3) Ask your team for feedback about your strengths and weaknesses as their leader. Frightening to most, you’ll create bridges to your employees by getting their feedback about you as their leader. After all, you give them your feedback about their performance, right? Given the opportunity, most employees will be sensitive to your vulnerability and will look for the most helpful and constructive comments. If you’ll listen - and listen “between the lines” - you’ll pick up very helpful hints at how you can be the most effective with your team. Making this a part of the regular dialogue with the staff will improve communication greatly.

4) Leave your ego behind. By now, you’ve gotten the message that the one thing that will get in your way of creating a healthy workplace will be your ego. Dental schools did not teach most of us how to run our practice and deal with everyday issues, problems, and challenges. So, unfortunately, your clinical expertise won’t be of help in this area. Continuing the belief that you are an expert in all areas of business, when you’re not, will get in the way of positive change.

5) Talk with your team about which healthy workplace practices would be most valuable to them. I often get asked, “How will I know which programs I should implement that will benefit my staff the most?” Just ask! By starting the conversation with your staff, you’ll engage them in determining what’s most important to them. In turn, they’ll feel like they’re more involved in what happens in the practice … and they WILL be more involved! Talk to the staff. There are numerous ways to have productive staff meetings and retreats to solicit employee input.

6) Spending more money is not necessary in most practices. As you’ve noticed in the past two articles, I’ve written on this subject. There are so many things you can do to improve the emotional health of your practice that spending more money doesn’t have to be a concern. For decades, business guru Peter Drucker has said that money is a necessity, but not a condition for attracting and maintaining motivated employees. Start by implementing those programs that cost nothing, and work from there. You’ll see the benefits of increased morale, productivity, and decreased absenteeism. In addition, you’ll have more money that you may be willing to invest in the staff.

7) Your staff wants to support you. Don’t think so? In my opinion, staff members start their job wanting to do well, wanting to support the vision of the practice, wanting to be productive and contributory. Where do things go awry? Many times, it’s the emotional tone of the workplace, which includes your ability to communicate with them clearly about your expectations and vision. Yes, there are other issues, but your ability to listen to employees, develop meaningful and professional relationships with them, and enlist them as partners in your practice speaks volumes about you. You will do wonders for letting them support you. You just can’t do it all alone - at least not very well. The more you let the staff support and help, the more successful you’ll be.

8) Be on a constant path of personal and professional growth. If you’re not growing, you’re dying - at least in the business world in which we practice. Do you prefer to be led by a weak person? Most likely not. The commitment and actions to your growth will be a positive catalyst for the staff, and they will likely want to get “on board” with their own development. It’ll set the tone for the practice and your success. Employees who won’t grow will eventually leave the practice on their own accord. Most importantly, it’ll be personally rewarding as you develop the life and practice of your dreams. Professionally trained coaches are a great resource, since they are experts in this very important arena of personal and professional growth.

9) Don’t forget about the experts on issues whose advice you really need. Jumping into your office policy manual and making changes might be necessary, but make sure you’re staying legal with all state and federal guidelines. Labor attorneys are one resource you should strongly consider since laws vary from state to state. Labor attorneys can help you develop consistent agreements and policies that protect you and the staff. Additionally, consultants who specialize with OSHA compliance, for example, can provide vital information and recommendations. CPAs, financial advisors, and others can also be important adjuncts in creating a healthy workplace by making suggestions that impact employees in ways you might not have thought.

10) Stay in touch daily with your team. If you haven’t already noticed, I’m a big fan of communication. Morning staff meetings, professional development meetings, annual planning sessions, quarterly growth conferences, regular performance reviews, and annual compensation reviews are just some of the ways you can keep the lines of communication open. When you problem-solve, share successes, recognize contributions, plan and set goals with the staff, you will do more for the practice’s productivity, well-being, and success than anything else you’ll do - and you’ll be recognized as a caring and understanding leader.

Dr. Don Deems, known as The Dentist’s Coach®, is in private dental and coaching practices in Little Rock, Ark. A published author, workshop and seminar leader, Dr. Deems is a professionally trained personal and business coach. Recognized as one of the 2004 Leaders in Continuing Education, Dr. Deems is the first dentist in the U.S. to be awarded honors for his healthy workplace practices. He can be reached toll-free at (866) 663-9903, via e-mail at, or through his Web site at

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