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11 min readHow to Increase Productivity with Work-Life Balance in Your Dental Team

Marisa Porter

Building a team of happy, fulfilled, productive dental team members.

You were so excited to buy your first dental practice and build a healthy organization. You wanted to put together the world’s best dental team and conquer your city, one tooth at a time. You envisioned bright smiles and grateful clients, hoping to spend your day soothing fears and remaking smiles, changing people’s lives in the process.

Instead, you spend your time mediating between your dental team members who can’t get along, who underperform, and who just don’t seem to like to come to work at all. 

Sound familiar?

If so, we can help. We’ve picked three ways that you can help your dental team members find a better work-life balance and therefore increase the productivity of your practice.

Way #1: Make sure your scheduling system is effective.

If you don’t do this one, you won’t be able to accomplish many of the following points. You can’t give away time you don’t have, so if you want to provide unparalleled work-life balance to your team, you’re going to have to increase productivity, work smarter (not harder), and share that success with your team. It’s a system where everyone wins.

Many dental teams today schedule in increments of time that are not effective. If you don’t have a mathematically effective schedule, each appointment will begin a little later. Late appointments mean unhappy patients, and doctors and team members working much later than planned for.

Dental research—and our vast experience coaching many dental practices to success—indicates that schedules should be calculated using 10-minute intervals. However, many practices still use 15-minute intervals. Over the course of a year, the simple change of scheduling in 10-minute intervals rather than 15-minute intervals increases production by $21,000. Showing teams how to do this is one of the ways we have helped countless practices increase production and work-life balance at the same time.

Way #2: Schedule for production.

Many dental practices schedule in a reactive, rather than a proactive, way. They take phone calls and book their schedule full of prophylaxis appointments. When a patient who is in pain calls with a real tooth emergency, often one requiring more complex procedures, they are booked. They then have to choose between squeezing an appointment in and frustrating patients and team members alike (including the patient they are trying to squeeze in), or turning productive work away.

There’s a much better way.

Analyze the work that you love to do most. For most dentists, this is usually more comprehensive dentistry, cosmetic or restorative dentistry, or perhaps working with special needs patients or in a specialized field. Set a yearly goal that is within reach for the type of work your practice needs to do to succeed (and that will create fulfilling work for you and more satisfactory experiences for your patients), and then set a daily goal that will get you there. Schedule so you can get as close to this goal as possible. This will be a combination of focusing on performing those dental procedures with excellence and marketing. Our team has excellent resources to help you get there.

Way #3: Reduce no-shows by building value and making the patient feel special.

If a patient understands that the time you are booking for them has been set aside just for them and them alone, they will feel valued and much less likely to cancel. Small changes in verbiage can do wonders. Consider these examples.

“I’ve booked your appointment.”

“This spot been specially reserved for you.”

Which sounds more compelling and important? Which makes the patient feel more valued?

What about when they call to cancel? Do you guilt the patient or let them know how much you looked forward to serving them.

“We’d hate for you to miss out on your care.”

“We won’t have anything for another three months—are you sure you want to cancel?”

Of course, it is often necessary to have cancellation policies and most patients are used to that as well. Use verbiage skills to help them understand that your appointment scheduling process is necessary to let them (not other patients) receive the highest possible care in a timely manner.

These are just three of the ways you can boost your schedule so that achieving work-life balance is within reach. Without implementing more efficient processes, the following five points will probably not be possible. Once you get your scheduling and production systems running more smoothly, you can turn your attention to more ways to build up your team.

Way #1: Keep a schedule while flexing for life events.

Research shows that allowing people to take care of urgent commitments and responsibilities outside work actually increases their focus and time management skills. If they’re not feeling guilty that they missed little Susie’s play at school, their creative juices are flowing solving problems you want them to solve. Unhappy people do not make good strategists. 

Unhappy people also struggle more with interpersonal communication and work relationships. They have a higher rate of feeling negative emotions such as jealousy, frustration, and resentment. They also tend to feel overlooked more often, because by missing out on important life events, they feel they’re sacrificing a lot. This sacrifice is one that is going to be hard for employers to compensate for.

What’s the answer?

Instead of trying to pay employees back for sacrificing their personal and family life, try making the work-life balance part of the reward. No amount of money will be sufficient to make up for losing identity, relationships, and meaning.

In a dental office, everybody has to be on time to start the day. Practices must adhere to strict attendance and rules about being on time because you are serving patient’s needs at appointed times. But what if your team member wants to give notice a couple of weeks ahead of time to attend a child’s school play?

The best way we’ve found to deal with this is to be proactive. Since school schedules are posted at the beginning of the year, allow team members to request schedules that work around their kids’ school activities (while meeting their minimum hour requirement). Hygienists’ schedules usually fill up six months ahead in a healthy practice, and it’s not very easy to reschedule these. The more proactive you are about inviting team members to submit their schedule needs ahead of time, the less you’ll have to make adjustments later on.

After you have done your best to set the team schedule to run efficiently and with allowance for family and personal lives, there will still need to be some flex. Some continuing education may come up at short notice. Some sports schedules may change. Someone may need to be off due to illness or maternity leave. Deal with those as they come up and make changes as needed. Know that because you dealt with most things in a proactive way, there will be much less stress as you go throughout the year, with happier patients and a more fulfilled but organized team.

Way #2: Let them work in their strengths.

When people are working in areas that they are only partially good at, or not good at in the least, work dissatisfaction runs high. The lower their level of awareness of the reason they don’t “fit well,” the more unhappy and frustrated they are going to be. They might blame others, or become despondent, or live in a very high level of self-expectation and stress. They might sabotage other team members (if they’re the type of person to do that), or put as little into work as possible. After all, if no matter how hard they try, they fall short of their own and others’ expectations, it’s unlikely they’ll remain passionate about their work.

Myer’s Briggs, DISC, and Enneagram tests are all really helpful ways to begin pinpointing your team members’ strengths. It’s never too late to adjust roles to play to people’s strengths, or even move team members around. This kind of adjustment should come with a lot of communication and positive words. Make sure team members understand they are being recognized for their gifts, not removed from work they “are not good at.”

Way #3: Consider the 65% rule.

What is the 65% rule? It’s delegating to your dental team members who are at least 65% competent at something you’re doing instead of doing it yourself. I learned this concept volunteering for a successful organization and was surprised to find how well it worked.

The 65% rule was an eye-opener for me as a leader. By aiming for a much higher percentage, I never found anyone who I thought fit the bill. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to delegate. It’s that I felt obligated to do things in which I had more experience.

By giving yourself permission to not micro-manage, to let go of some things so you can focus on more important things, and to empower someone else, you become more effective and productive while letting someone else grow in their strengths as well. A lot of times, these 65%ers are actually better than we are, but we just don’t know it because their style is different. Accept others’ differences and respect their creativity and intelligence. You’re giving them a chance to grow, and that will come back to you with many productivity benefits.

One synonym for delegation is “entrusting.” If you can’t delegate until you find someone whose skill set matches your own in the level of competence and style 100%, is it really entrusting? Remember, we’re not trying to make clones of ourselves. We’re trying to give people significance.

“If you delegate tasks, you’re creating followers. If you’re delegating authority, you’re creating leaders.” — Pastor Craig Groeschel

“Ultimately, in any business, you want to do the things that only you can do and delegate the other things to people who are qualified and who want to do them.” — Cathy Jameson

The key is to delegate to people who want to do those things, to not hold on to them out of a sense of obligation or because you think you’re the only one who can do them.

If you don’t delegate and step away, people won’t grow, they won’t feel valued, and they won’t stay.

Way #4: Adopt a horizontal organizational style.

“Again, we want a horizontal style of leadership where there are open lines of communication where people feel like they can go to the owner the CEO or the dentist and say ‘this could be better’…” — Cathy Jameson

A horizontal management style is the opposite of a hierarchical management style. In a hierarchical organization, you have to speak to your supervisor to get permission to talk to their supervisor. There’s a lot of separation and people tend to be hesitant to share their thoughts with someone who feels “superior” to them. This style is somewhat old-fashioned, as the world used to be a less equal place.

Why is horizontal leadership important?

Because everyone is equally important. Each of your dental team member should be able to go to the CEO or dentist and bring their ideas to the table. This creates a feeling of collaboration, significance, and teamwork, instead of one of ranking, authority, and power.

Everybody’s ideas are valid. Entertain and discuss them. Encourage them.

Way #5: Encourage individual goals and dreams.

There’s something magical about this, yet most leaders scare a little bit with this one. If you encourage your team’s dreams outside of work, won’t you lose them?

You’ll probably lose them if you don’t.

Imagine if your dental team members’ unique hobbies and dreams were recognized and applauded in the workplace. What if you recognized and encouraged them for things that had nothing to do with their job in dentistry? Do you really think this is going to make them run away as fast as they can?

People are longing for work-life balance in this generation more than any other time in recent history. If your dental team members feel like they are valued, not just as people who create value at work, but as humans with complex and diverse lives and abilities, they will feel safer and more fulfilled at work. They will be able to connect the dots between their work and the rest of their life more easily, and will be more reluctant to seek work elsewhere.

But isn’t all this fuss about work-life balance and meaningful work the reaction of a Disney-raised millennial culture made up of spoiled children who think they can have it all?

Not when you look at the numbers. Harvard Business Review examines job-satisfaction-to-productivity ratios, and estimates that highly meaningful work will “generate an additional $9,078 per worker, per year.”

So if you can’t do it for them, do it for you.

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