Creating Healthy Workplaces

There is no need for the dentist to try to "do it all." By initiating several proven workplace methods with staff, the impact on a dental practice's bottom line productivity is greater than you know.

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by Don Deems, DDS, FAGD

Part 1 in a three-part series

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At 47, Bob had been around the block more than a few times with his practice. He’d had some good years and some lean years. He had worked hard the past 20 years in his practice, and it had occupied more of his life than he thought it would - or should. Dentistry had afforded a lifestyle for him better than what he had imagined it could. He stayed faithful to taking CE on a regular basis, improving his skills, and expanding his services. He had recently invested a substantial amount of money in some new technology, hoping it would breathe some energy and excitement into his practice - and his staff.

However, Bob was plagued with many problems not unique to dentists. Stress and burnout were constant threats. Staff turnover seemed to go on no matter how laboriously he interviewed for “just the right person.” Disagreements between staff members seemed to never go away. Staff members got bored and disinterested; Bob seemed to struggle to keep his office staffed properly so he could continue caring for the patient base he had worked so hard to cultivate. Bob was a better-than-average clinician, and he had worked with advisors who had helped him organize his practice. Yet, Bob was constantly struggling to improve his financial bottom line, something that seemed to elude him even after all this time.

As dentists, we are constantly on the lookout for that next great piece of equipment that will net us more income, that new product designed to cure treatment problems and issues, that foolproof treatment presentation method that will have patients writing us checks before receiving treatment. We go to CE course after course to learn the best, fastest, and most effective treatment techniques and modalities. We jump from consultant to consultant for the answers to our organizational and practice woes. We read survey after survey to compare our practice to everyone else’s. The quest seems endless, and as business owners, we can easily fall victim to work overload, stress, and even burnout in trying to “do it all.”

Yet, the greatest effect a dentist can make on improving the financial bottom line of his/her practice is through none of the above.

As many truly successful dentists know, the greatest effect a dentist can make is instituting healthy workplace practices with his or her staff. They are both their biggest liability and their biggest asset.

Are you curious to know the real effect that having unhealthy workplace practices has to your bottom line? You may be startled to know that:

Workplace stress causes approximately one million U.S. employees to miss work each day, according to the American Institute of Stress.

More than 30 percent of workers say they are “always” or “often” under stress at work, and 25 percent say there often are not enough co-workers to get the job done. (National Opinion Research Center, University of Chicago)

Two-thirds of workers say work has a significant impact on their stress level, and one in four has called in sick or taken a “mental health day” as a result of work stress. (American Psychological Association 2004 Poll)

Each year, workplace stress costs U.S. industry $300 billion - or $7,500 per worker in every business - in terms of absenteeism, turnover, diminished productivity, and direct medical, legal, and insurance fees. (American Institute of Stress)

According to the National Institutes of Mental Health, clinical depression costs an estimated $23 billion in lost workdays every year.

Indirect costs of untreated mental health disorders result in a $79 billion annual loss to businesses due to loss of productivity and absenteeism. (U.S. Surgeon General’s Report on Mental Health, 1999)

How healthy is your workplace? Do you truly understand the impact having unhealthy workplace practices has on the bottom line of your dental practice? Have you looked at, reviewed, considered, and instituted healthy workplace practices?

You should also know that dental practices with higher revenue growth are better at motivating employees and provide more opportunities for growth and development. In fact, employee engagement levels in high-performing organizations are more than 20 percent higher than those of their lesser-producing counterparts. (Hewett Associates, 2004)

All said, let’s begin our look at healthy workplace practices.

Healthy workplace practices defined

According to the American Psychological Association, healthy workplace practices are grouped into four main categories:

Employee Involvement

Programs that deal with workplace stress and conflict, and offer easy access to psychological services

Employee Growth and Development

Clear and candid communications, a voice in the decision-making for employees, a fair employee performance evaluation, 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

Employee involvement

Involving employees in everything from performance appraisals to business planning sessions pays big dividends. There is a perceived fairness of their performance appraisal process; employees feel involved in the decision-making process; greater job autonomy will develop; safer, more productive working protocols can be developed. All of this allows the dentist and/or the office manager to provide supportive supervision, rather than instituting rules, punishment, or other control measures. Ultimately, involving employees more deeply in your practice allows for a perceived healthier psychological climate that will transcend all that you, your practice, and your patients ever do.

Employee growth and development

Reducing stress and conflict in the workplace allows for greater productivity. When there is conflict, work flow can slow dramatically or stop altogether. Employees’ morale, job satisfaction, and performance become limited, and more often than not result in employee turnover. Continued levels of stress and conflict at work eventually result in absenteeism due to stress-related medical problems. Your efforts at reducing stress and conflict in the workplace will greatly diminish the economic consequence of having stressful work conditions at your office.

Family support

Did you know that 85 percent of the available workforce now lives with family members? Sixty-two percent of mothers with infants/toddlers are employed, and 69 percent have elder care responsibilities. (American Psychological Association, 2002) Your lack of support for family issues will ultimately result in employee depression, low levels of organizational commitment, an increased number of physical complaints filed for medical and/or workman’s compensation claims, not to mention employee turnover, absenteeism, decreased morale, and disloyalty to your practice.

Health and safety

Loss of productivity and absenteeism - even lawsuits - from employee accidents and illnesses caused by a poor physical work environment, not to mention investigation by OSHA, are reason enough to make sure you are providing a healthy work environment. Your concern will be perceived as a concern for employees’ well-being; this directly results in greater employee loyalty and less absenteeism. And, for those who provide health insurance benefits and/or sick pay, your efforts to improve the health of your employees will result in lower medical costs, including insurance premiums, greater productivity, less illness, and better morale.

In the next two articles, we’ll explore more thoroughly each of these aspects of a healthy workplace, outline specific healthy workplace practices, and review my Top Ten recommendations for creating a healthy dental workplace.

Dr. Don Deems, known as The Dentist's Coach®, is in private dental and coaching practices in Litttle 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)663-990, via email at drdeems@drdondeems.com, or through his Web site at www.drdondeems.com.

Dr. Don Deems, known as The Dentist's Coach®, is in private dental and coaching practices in Litttle 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)663-990, via email at drdeems@drdondeems.com, or through his Web site at www.drdondeems.com.

Dr. Don Deems, known as The Dentist's Coach®, is in private dental and coaching practices in Litttle 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 email at drdeems@drdondeems.com, or through his Web site at www.drdondeems.com.

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