11 min read8 Ways You’re Harming Your Dental Team’s Morale and What to Do Instead

Mindy Schoeneman

Your dental team is vital to your dental practice.

As the doctor, your contact with a patient occurs well after they’ve arrived at your practice. The patient has already spoken with your receptionist and the hygienist by the time you see them. If they’ve had a rotten experience with your dental team members, then diagnosing any issues and educating them on their need for treatment most likely won’t result in case acceptance.

A cohesive, happy team is vital to your practice.

There are simple answers in making sure your team members are happy and working together for the betterment of the dental practice. Here are 8 ways you could be harming the morale of your team and what to do instead.

1. You stand by while a dental team member consistently underperforms.

You haven’t taken any action with the team member who shows up late week after week only performing the bare minimum of their duties, leaving the rest of the work to other team members. You probably think you’re being kind by not addressing the situation, but that isn’t how your team sees it.

Unless the team member underperforming has been like this since you hired them, they know they’re underperforming. By not addressing it, you’re sending them the message that you’re not paying attention or that you don’t care enough about them or your practice to have the hard conversations. The resulting attitude is often one of resentment. If you don’t care, why should they?

As for the rest of your team, they are working hard, taking personal pride in their work, and compensating for that underperforming team member. Eventually, though, they’ll start to wonder why they’re doing these things when there are no consequences for underperforming (and maybe no reward for working hard either).

What to Do Instead

Having tough conversations with team members—especially those you’ve been working with for years—is the hardest part of being a practice owner for most doctors. So start by knowing you’re not alone.

Tips for that hard conversation:

  • Set aside time to meet one-on-one with this team member. 
  • Start the conversation with honesty.
  • Be specific about the issues you’ve noticed.
  • Be clear about the expectations moving forward.
  • Give the team member the opportunity to participate in the conversation by asking for their input on the solution to the problem.
  • Listen.
  • Create a plan for the immediate future with this team member

2. You are dismissive to those dental team members who come to you with ideas for improvements.

Most doctors have limited time and a million tasks in addition to patient care. There are many reasons why you may not want to hear about a team member’s new idea for the practice. Sometimes you just want a moment to contemplate what’s next on your schedule. Other times, you’ve already been brainstorming a solution to the problem. And other times, still, you listen anyway and decide it was the worst idea you’ve ever heard.

When a team member comes to you with an idea, is your response a general no, or do you say “we’ll talk about it later”?

These responses discourage team members from coming to you again. While that might sound like the perfect solution, it isn’t. Not being able to be a part of the growth and solution to issues facing the practice will discourage your team. They will feel like their individual strengths and knowledge aren’t being utilized. For those who have a strong desire to be helpful or to excel, they’ll eventually go somewhere else where they can. Others won’t go anywhere, but their quiet dissatisfaction will be there just beneath the surface.

What to Do Instead

Ask them to prepare their thoughts for a 15-minute meeting between the two of you in the next couple of weeks. Then, listen to their ideas carefully. Just the act of listening will show that you care about this team member and that you value their input. Often, that’s all that’s needed.

For others who are insistent about an idea that you don’t want to implement, you can gently and honestly tell them that you’d like to take another approach. You can invite them to brainstorm another approach if you think that would be appropriate and productive, but the key is to offer transparent feedback that doesn’t undermine their willingness to come to you again in the future.

3. You ignore patient feedback.

Sure, many people are more likely to take time out of their day to say something negative—to say something they’re fired up about—than to share positive feedback. But there are just as many people who will remain silent even when they have a negative experience. So while you may have only received one complaint about something specific, there may be 10 other patients out there who feel the same way.

What’s more is that the negative feedback you received might be highlighting a problem your team members have also noticed.

Those who work with you day in and day out might be keeping their opinions to themselves. If they have something to say that could be uncomfortable for you, the person who is ultimately signing their paychecks, they may keep that opinion from you.

Or if you’ve previously been dismissive of feedback or ideas from that team member, chances are they won’t come to you again.

What to Do Instead

Keep your point of view flexible before passing judgment on any patient feedback. Every negative experience is an opportunity to examine your processes and learn from someone else’s perspective. Take this patient feedback as your chance to improve the process.

If you aren’t sure you have processes or what processes to put into place to remedy the issue pointed out by the patient feedback, then consider getting help from outside perspective, specifically from Jameson Management. With decades of experience in the dental industry, the Jameson team of advisors can evaluate your processes and help you implement changes where needed.

4. You allow infighting.

You’re a doctor, not a mediator. It’s tempting to ignore bickering and infighting among your team members or departments. The trouble is the patient is the one who will suffer the consequences of this behavior and division.

What to Do Instead

Any office with more than one person in it will have unique power dynamics that can result in office politics. But that dynamic doesn’t have to be negative. In fact, it shouldn’t. We establish hierarchy to provide leadership, guidance, and ultimately to make it easier for everyone to do their jobs.

To prevent infighting, examine your leadership style. Mark Green, author of Activators: A CEO’s Guide to Clearer Thinking and Getting Things Done says that the culture that invites infighting starts with you, the leader.

“Every organization has a culture, whether by design or default, and all roads lead to the leader as its ultimate ‘creator.’ The leadership habits I see in CEOs who cultivate default—and typically dysfunctional—cultures are denial of reality, a need to be liked, and tolerating low performers.”
—Mark Green

The answer to this culture? Start with better communication. The more your team understands the vision for the practice and how the decisions you’re making are leading you closer to your goals, the less room there is for distrust, which is at the heart of all infighting.

You have to address issues with underperformers consistently to keep a healthy culture within your practice. As discussed above, take patient feedback seriously. That feedback is a good push to evaluate what’s happening within your practice and processes. Be as objective as possible when there is any complaining from one team member about another. Look at the facts. Be as transparent as possible in your decisions, and try to operate as a meritocracy.

5. You’ve lost sight of your dental team’s humanity.

What happens when a team member makes a mistake? Are you kind in pointing out that mistake? Do you offer them grace? Are you reactive, allowing your frustration and impatience to show?

Not sure?

Do you have team members who point out their mistakes for you? Invested team members will often notice their mistake and point it out themselves. But that only happens when they feel safe and supported in their working environment.

We are all flawed humans who make mistakes from time to time. When we forget this, our mistakes tend to grow bigger with more damaging results for the practice.

What to Do Instead

Given that we all make mistakes, how do you keep them from negatively impacting your patient or practice?

The goal is not to stop the mistakes, but rather to mitigate the damage by putting processes in place that will decrease the chances of a serious mistake. So take a look at the errors and then brainstorm with your team on processes you can put into place to prevent their reoccurrence.

Examine your response to mistakes. Make sure you’re acknowledging the error without overreacting. Give grace and approach the situation calmly and thoughtfully.

5 Tips for Developing Your Practice by Investing in Your Dental Team

6. You don’t hire enough or the right dental team members.

Do you have team members who didn’t use their vacation time last year, or perhaps they did, but patient care suffered while they were out because you were all stretched so thin? This can happen when you don’t have enough team members. Sometimes this is also the result of one team member stepping up to take on the ownership of many processes because no one else will.

When team members are overloaded with work and responsibility, burnout is on the horizon and patient dissatisfaction is right around the corner.

What to Do Instead

You might be tired of hearing it, but the first step is to deal with underperformers. If you’ve already had discussions with the underperformers in the practice, it might be time to let that person go and find someone else for the position.

If you’re short on staff, then the solution is to hire more. If you haven’t hired because of financial concerns, only you can say whether it’s feasible. Keep in mind that adding another team member, such as a hygienist, usually increases your production. A hygienist will be able to add enough income to the practice in production to pay for the increase in payroll.

If adding another person to the team will free someone else up to better perform their job, you may also see an increase in production from this change.

7. You don’t share your vision for the practice.

Your vision is important. Letting your team in on that vision is vital to your ability to make that vision becomes a reality. If you haven’t shared your vision for the future with your team members, it’s time. You can’t all make a concerted effort to work toward a goal if no one knows what that goal is.

What to Do Instead

Set a time for a team meeting to talk about the future. Outline your vision and the milestones along the way. Invite your team members to own their role in this process and set progressive goals together.

8. You’ve created an environment where dental team members can’t maintain a healthy work-life balance.

Now that you’ve been freshly reminded that we’re all human, you’re primed to hear this simple reminder, too: We all have interests outside of the office. What we do for a living is a part of our identity, but it is only one part.

It’s like going on a diet where you can only eat cabbage for days. You may love cabbage at the start of the diet, but by the seventh day, it (and you) just stinks.

How do you spot team members who aren’t maintaining a healthy work-life balance? It’s usually those who aren’t taking time off for any reason, ever. It’s the team member who always volunteers to help with every issue or endeavor, whatever it may be, despite the time it will add to their day.

What to Do Instead

Encourage your team to pursue their interests, spend time with family, and take that vacation time. A recharged, renewed team actively living a balanced life will be happier, more productive people.

Are you having trouble evaluating your approach and your practice objectively? That means you’re human, too. Talk with us, and we can discuss adding a fresh perspective to your practice to help you with that.

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