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Why it's time to deal with employee burnout

Sept. 10, 2021
On-the-job burnout—already a problem for many dental offices—has become more amplified because of the pandemic. Here's what you can do to help keep employees motivated.

The American Dental Association recently recognized that dentists nationwide are facing applicant shortages like they’ve never experienced before, due largely to the pandemic and its aftermath.1 What can employers do to keep employees motivated and happy?

Anthony Klotz, an associate professor of management at Texas A&M University, recently caused a social media stir with his prediction of “the great resignation.” An increasing number of workers are expected to quit their jobs due to “pandemic-related epiphanies”—about family time, remote work, commuting, passion projects, life and death, and what it all means. While some turnover is a normal part of business, many dental practices are experiencing staffing needs beyond the norm.

To ebb the flow, it’s important for dentist bosses to learn to recognize signs of employee dissatisfaction and burnout and to develop strategies to reduce the negative impacts on employee health, productivity, and team culture.2

How to recognize burnout

The World Health Organization (WHO) defines burnout as a syndrome resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed. It’s characterized by three dimensions—feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion, reduced professional efficacy, and increased mental distance from one’s job or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one’s job.

Burnout has become a common condition. The 2021 Mind the Workplace report, created by the non-profit organization Mental Health America, measured the perceptions of more than 5,000 employees across 17 industries in the United States about mental health-related issues in the workplace, including burnout. The results were staggering.3

The survey shows that nearly 83% of respondents report feeling emotionally drained from their work, while more than 43% of employees agree that they feel more callous toward people since they started their job.

Some common signs of burnout include:

● Reduced productivity

● Absenteeism

● Increasing numbers of errors

● Lack of interest or enthusiasm

● Negative moods and attitudes

● Cynicism toward coworkers

Once burnout is identified, how can leaders intervene in a positive way?

Check in with employees

Take time to ask your employees how things are going. Are team members feeling properly trained and supported? Practice talking with them rather than talking to them. Employees need to feel secure that their replies won't be dismissed or met with retaliation.

Encourage time off

Vacations and downtime allow team members to recharge and invest in their own physical and mental well-being, and this carries over to make a healthy work environment.

Evaluate pay and benefits

Take an honest look at how your employees are compensated. Are you staying competitive with other practices in your area?

Focus on team-building

Are your employees having fun? While work needs to be serious at times, nurturing positive relationships between your employees creates a better atmosphere for all. Schedule activities for team members to build trust by getting to know and understand each other better on a personal level.

Exit interviews

Don’t bury your head in the sand. There is great value in asking for feedback from employees who choose to pursue other avenues. If you don’t know that a problem exists, you will not be prepared to prevent it from negatively affecting someone else.

Being mindful of your practice culture and employee happiness can provide countless returns. Creating a supportive environment is an investment in the future success of your team members and company at large.


1. Versaci MB. Understaffed and ready to hire, dentists face applicant shortages as they emerge from COVID-19 pandemic. American Dental Association. June 9, 2021. https://www.ada.org/en/publications/ada-news/2021-archive/june/dentists-face-applicant-shortages-as-they-emerge-from-covid-19-pandemic

2. McConaghy CC. 10 ways for hygienists to avoid burnout. RDH magazine. May 1, 2019. https://www.rdhmag.com/career-profession/inspiration/article/16408898/10-ways-for-dental-hygienists-to-avoid-burnout

3. Mind the workplace. Mental Health Association. 2021. https://mhanational.org/sites/default/files/Mind%20the%20Workplace%20-%20MHA%20Workplace%20Health%20Survey%202021%202.12.21.pdf

JILL MEYER-LIPPERT, RDH, provides communications and educational services for Custom Dental Solutions as their community relations manager. She holds certifications in TTI Success Insights DISC, TTI Success Insights 12 Driving Forces, and TTI Success Insights Emotional Quotient Certified. Meyer-Lippert is the founder of Side Effect Support LLC, an online resource for cancer patients, family caregivers, and health-care providers to reduce harmful oral side effects of treatments. 

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