How to get yourself fired! Quite a few behaviors remain a no-no in the dental office environment

Jan. 12, 2016
What type of behavior in a dental office is certain to end in a dental hygienist's dismissal from the job?

By Jannette Whisenhunt

I know-this is a crazy name for a column title, and it is exactly the opposite of what I normally write about for new hygienists. But I have noticed a lot of behaviors from dental health professionals recently that could get them fired, which caused me to think about ways that someone could get fired in dentistry or in any other field, for that matter. Typically, skills (or rather, a lack thereof) aren't the problem that causes people to be fired. Instead, it is usually communication issues or personal characteristics, such as being disrespectful. Several of the behaviors I'll discuss may seem like obvious no-nos, but they need to be discussed so everyone can keep their jobs.

Stealing. Stealing from the office is one of those things that some people don't think is a big issue. Taking a few toothbrushes home here and there or a box of gloves is no big deal, right? Actually, you may want to ask your boss first before taking anything home with you because it could seriously sabotage your career if you are caught. When it comes to taking things home, it is better to ask for permission first than try to ask for forgiveness later. While these items may seem small and insignificant, they can add up in cost. Dental offices are small businesses, and every little bit counts. Stealing can get you fired, and it is illegal.

The blame game. Blaming someone else for your mistakes is another thing that can get you fired, especially when it happens over and over again. Not owning up to your mistakes is a sign of poor character, and it will make you look childish and dishonest. It suggests that you cannot be trusted to do a good job and that if something isn't done properly, you will just blame someone else. I know that it's embarrassing and that no one wants to make mistakes, but the truth is that we all make mistakes. Take the honest approach: Own up to your mistake, learn from the experience, and try not to repeat it.

Bad manners. Having poor manners may not be something that will get you fired right away, but if it's a problem that recurs daily, it will wear on your boss, patients, and coworkers very quickly. Some examples include: showing up late in the morning or after lunch, not apologizing for lateness, not calling if you don't show up for work, calling in sick when you aren't, texting, using Facebook, etc. Behaviors like these are disrespectful. Saying "thank you" when others cover for you if you are late can go a long way, but don't overdo it. Being late should be the exception-not the rule. And personal usage of your cell phone or computer should be done during your lunch break-not on company time.

Personal problems. Involving coworkers in your personal issues or problems can also become serious, although it may not seem like a problem at first. Your coworkers are not professional counselors and may not have the right answers for you if you are having personal problems. I know it can be very hard not to bring your problems in the door with you when you go to work, but when you are at work, you are there to do a job and care for your patients. Telling those at work about your strife and woes can bring office morale down and cause others to be upset or feel sorry for you. It is great to have wonderful coworkers who become your friends, but always remember that you are not there to socialize. I'm not saying that you can't talk to your coworkers, but don't let it take over. Concentrate on giving your patients the attention they need.

Office romance. Here's one of the big no-nos: getting romantically involved with someone at work or flirting with the boss. This usually ends in disaster, as well as a lot of rumors, especially if one of the people involved is a subordinate of the other or if one or both people are married. Arguing and misunderstandings can come to work with the couple, when they should instead be left outside of the office. If your office has a policy on relationships, it should always be considered and respected. If you end up meeting someone special who is a coworker, maybe it is better if one of you moves on to another office to keep your relationship going. If not, and if it becomes an issue for others in the office, one or both of you may be hitting the road!

Laziness. Getting lazy with your responsibilities and appearance or getting too "comfortable" in your position can work against you. If you think that you are safe just because you have worked in your office for the past 20 years, you are wrong. You always need to do your best. When you get lazy because you feel entitled, you may eventually have a rude awakening. Or, if you show up sloppily dressed, in a wrinkled uniform, with dirty shoes, or with unkempt hair, patients may complain. People do, unfortunately, judge you by your appearance, and if you look messy, they may automatically think that you are not as good as someone who looks neat and clean. It is just human nature, and even if you have a relaxed dress policy in your office, it is still no reason to be sloppy or lazy. This is one of those things that can build up over time until one small, seemingly insignificant thing is the "straw that breaks the camel's back," pushing the boss or office manager over the edge in terms of keeping you or firing you.

Bullying. Bullying doesn't just happen among schoolchildren; it can happen in the office too. You would think that grown adults would know how to get along with those they work with, but some think that they are in charge. Anytime you talk to someone you work with, keep the conversation respectful and team-focused. When bullying at work becomes a problem, the person being bullied should bring it to the attention of someone in charge. This behavior should not be tolerated no matter how wonderful of a job the bully does. If someone is bullying coworkers, how does he or she behave toward patients? And what will happen to the reputation of the office if news of the bullying gets into the "grapevine" of professionals in the area? Believe me-it will get out there, and it can ruin a good office's reputation and potentially become financially devastating.

Dentistry can be very stressful, but stress should not be an excuse to act out or be disrespectful to your boss or coworkers. You were hired to do a job, you are getting paid, and results are expected. You are also expected to be honest, courteous, trustworthy, and helpful. You are expected to have common sense and to know how to behave toward others. Your dentist or boss wants someone who will get along with coworkers and not take advantage of them. They want a team that will work together. According to Robert Half International, a human resources consulting firm, "It's hard to get any job if you aren't a team player, but in a small business, your ability to work and get along with colleagues is absolutely essential."2 They do not want to put up with gossip or backstabbing, and unfortunately, this may happen at some offices. You can get fired!

Hopefully, this column has made you more appreciative of those with whom you work, and you will not take your good office for granted. Thank your coworkers daily, and be a good coworker. Respect the rules, take time to help out, and please have good manners! Happy scaling! RDH


1. Lorentz K. Editor.
2. Robert Half International. Are you a good fit for a small company?

Jannette Whisenhunt, RDH, BS, MEd, PhD, is the Department Chair of Dental Education at Forsyth Technical Community College in Winston-Salem, N.C. Dr. Whisenhunt has taught since 1987 in the dental hygiene and dental assisting curricula. She has a love for students and served as the state student advisor for nine years and has won the student Advisor of the Year award from ADHA in the past. Her teaching interests are in oral cancer, ethics, infection control, emergencies and orofacial anatomy. Dr. Whisenhunt also has a small continuing education business where she provides CE courses for dental practices and local associations. She can be reached at [email protected].