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8 problems with shift planning in dental practices

Oct. 15, 2021
Do you use shift work in your practice? It has its pros and cons. Here are some problems you might encounter, and how to keep the staff happy with shift work.

Shift planning is the process of creating a streamlined schedule that distinctly tracks and summarizes who is responsible for a given shift. Shift work is one of the most common and popular types of labor because of its flexibility, which makes it easy for people to fit in other commitments.

Most shift workers across all industries—96%—like some part of their job, and more than a quarter say they do not have any significant complaints about shift work. One of the biggest causes of poor job performance, job dissatisfaction, and people quitting is poor schedule management. Here are the most common issues that arise in shift planning in dental practices.

Understaffing resulting in hefty overtime costs

Sometimes the problem is a shortage of employees. This is what leads to the accumulation of overtime. Dental practices are like any business: they want to avoid unnecessary costs, including labor costs. However, in a bid to avoid these costs, they might end up understaffing. This will result in overworking the staff, who might retaliate by quitting.

Although overtime is sometimes necessary, it can be exploitative to health-care workers who must work many extra hours. Working more hours than prepared for can lead to exhaustion and burnout. Furthermore, if it’s not regulated, it can become a hefty expense for the employer, who must compensate the people who worked the extra hours.

Consecutive shifts

This is where, for example, the dental assistant works the morning and then the afternoon shift, which means ending one day and starting the next early in the morning. Working consecutive shifts often affects morale and productivity. Employees are on their feet for most of the shift with limited breaks. By the end of the day, the dental assistant will be exhausted, cranky, and cannot give his or her best. They could mix up prescriptions, handle patients rudely, or forget to log appointments. It is best to schedule people for every other shift, at least.

Too many on-call shifts

On-call shifts are schedules where a health worker is called in at any moment if an emergency occurs or if there are many patients that day. This can cause frustration because people must plan their days while considering an impromptu shift. The health-care worker will be anxious throughout their day and won’t be able to make any concrete plans for fear of being called in. While their jobs are demanding, it’s important to remember employees have personal lives. A disruption in their personal lives will eventually affect their work performance. On-call shifts are sometimes necessary and come with the job description, but make sure they don’t happen too often.

Unclear shift swapping policies

While shift swapping has its perks, such as reducing instances of no-shows, it can create confusion about who should cover what shift. Shift swapping might cause someone to cover a shift that is not theirs and another person to dodge theirs. Employees may end up misusing their freedom to trade shifts to put off work. This seems obvious, but in a work environment, professionalism and discipline are required. Allowing shift swapping is welcome, especially to help achieve a good work-life balance for employees, but it has to be well-defined, organized, and monitored.

Unexpected illness

This is one circumstance no one can plan for. The pandemic made things even worse for frontline workers. Even after taking all necessary precautions, they are at a high risk for contracting illness. The pandemic has already claimed the lives of hundreds of health-care workers around the world. A starting point is to take all the necessary and mandatory precautions such as constant sanitizing, daily temperature checks, and sanitizing surfaces several times a day.

Dispatching employee schedules at the last minute

Releasing a shifting timetable on Sunday for the new week is inconsiderate and leaves little room for employees to properly prepare. This is one of the major causes of absenteeism and shift swapping. It is advisable to distribute the shift plans at least a week prior so that staff have adequate time to plan.

Absence of good shift planning software and tools

A sound shift planning system can make or break your practice and the management of your staff. With modern shift planning software, you can automate shifts, add a calendar sharing option, accommodate shift swapping, and monitor hours worked. Here are a few things that inefficient shift planning can result in.

Planning around time off is difficult: Time off could be maternity leave, accumulated vacation days, or an urgent personal matter. While it is necessary to be considerate and accommodating, finding replacements for people can be costly without a thoroughly planned shift planning system.

Unproductive workers: Without a well-structured employee schedule, productivity levels drop. This can lead to employees punching in late, taking long breaks, and leaving early when upper management is away. This is because there isn’t a system to monitor their working hours and productivity.


Absenteeism can throw off the whole workday. It can also affect patient appointments. This is worse when workers do not even call ahead so a coworker can cover their shift. Now the boss must frantically look for another person to cover the shift to honor appointments or risk losing patients. The alternative could be having a schedule for team members who are willing to cover impromptu shifts.

Good shift planning software is a powerful tool in overcoming or reducing the occurrence of many of these problems. For example, clearly stating and organizing shift planning policies and routines eliminates the cons that come with shift swapping. Shift workers, especially in these pandemic times, are crucial, particularly in the medical field. An excellent shift planning system must be in place to help employees juggle their work, lives, and careers smoothly.

Derek Jones, VP of Enterprise Strategy, Americas, spearheads key initiatives at Deputy, a global workforce management platform for employee scheduling, timesheets, and communication. With a focus on health care, Jones helps business owners and workforce leaders simplify employment law compliance, keep labor costs in line, and build award-winning workplaces. He has more than 16 years of experience in delivering data-driven sales and marketing strategies to SaaS companies like MarketSource and Griswold Home Care.

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