A few weeks ago, I was privileged to participate in a panel discussion concerning compensation issues. I received several thoughtful and interesting questions that I’d like to share with you that may be applicable to your work situation.
QUESTION 1: My question involves approaching the owner for a raise. If my request is denied, what should be my next step? My production numbers are good, and I’ve been told that I am an asset to the practice.
ANSWER: Asking for a raise can be one of the most uncomfortable situations a staff member experiences. If it has been a long time since you’ve received an increase in wages, a number of emotions can take root and grow, including feelings of disrespect, anger, discontentment, and resentment. When you finally garner enough courage to approach your boss, those pent-up emotions can come rushing out, leading to an emotional outburst that is embarrassing and humiliating.
I speak from experience. In my first job in a dental practice, I did not get a raise unless I asked for it. Asking for a raise was the most demeaning, uncomfortable thing I had ever done. When I left that practice, I made a vow to myself that I would never again ask for a raise. If my employer did not think enough of me to increase my wages when reasonable and appropriate, I would leave.
We are emotional beings by nature, but all wage discussions should be devoid of emotions. You need to approach the doctor with factual data that includes your production during a three-month period and your salary-to-production ratio. Calculate your production over three consecutive months, then divide that number into your salary (big number into the little number). The industry standard is about 33%. You should be producing approximately three times your salary.
For example, let’s compare two hygienists. Katherine’s production for three consecutive months was $30,985. Her wages were $14,592. The salary/production ratio—$14,592/$30,985—is 47%. Katherine is well above the industry standard. For her to get a raise, her production needs to increase. (Low production can point to downtime issues.) The other hygienist, Christy, produced $45,565 over three consecutive months and her wages were $12,288. The salary/production ratio—$12,288/$45,565—is 27%. Christy is below the industry standard and should get a wage increase.
When requesting an increase, you should be prepared for some possible responses and questions.
- Why do you think you deserve a raise?
- I can’t talk about this right now. Could we schedule a later time?
- How much do you think you should get?
- What are others in the area making?
- The practice is not growing, so I cannot give any increases now.
- Yes, I’ve been working on that. Let’s see what we can do.
If it has been more than two years with no pay increase and your salary/production ratio is below the standard, here is a suggested reply if you are denied: “This is disappointing. Please try to see my side. Would you work indefinitely without an increase? When you increase your fees, do you get an increase? How long would you work in a job that did not increase your pay? What might I do to increase my value to the practice?”
The value a hygienist brings to a practice should be a function of his or her direct and indirect production. If a hygienist is an adept communicator and has the ability to help patients understand and accept needed restorative or esthetic recommendations, that staff member’s value increases many times over. Hygienists are in the best position of all staff members for promoting the doctor’s dentistry. When the doctor is an excellent clinician, the hygienist should feel confident in recommending the full scope of what the doctor provides. It is appropriate to track the value of restorative dentistry that a hygienist presents to patients on a monthly basis. This number can be a valuable part of a wage discussion.
It should also be mentioned that doctors vary with regard to treatment philosophy. Some doctors want their hygienists to recommend treatment if restorative needs exist. Other doctors prefer their hygienist identify needs and let the doctor proceed with recommending treatment. Some cosmetic dentistry practices may want their hygienists to be involved with imaging or digital photography. If your employer has not expressed his or her wishes to you regarding recommending treatment to patients, find out what the doctor wants by inquiring.
The way owners compensate employees is often a function of two things—the health of the business and how they view their employees. Naturally, practices that are financially healthy are in a better position to compensate their staff members well. The opposite is also true. Some business owners do not manage debt well. This affects their ability to compensate their staff members as they should. The typical result for owners like this is high employee turnover. How an owner views his or her staff group influences how well (or how poorly) staff members are compensated. I see it as a matter of the heart. On one end of the spectrum, there are owners who value and love (yes, love!) their staff members and take great pride in compensating them well, while those on the other end of the spectrum often see their staff as liabilities. Of course, there are employers in varying positions on the “value” spectrum.
QUESTION 2: How do I bring up compensation and benefits at the initial interview?
ANSWER: You could be interviewed initially by the practice owner or an office administrator, depending on the size of the practice. You should be prepared with some thoughtful questions, such as, “How are new patients scheduled here? Do they see the doctor first or come through hygiene first?” Another important question is, “How much time is allotted for regular preventive patients and periodontal patients?”
Of course, the interviewer may broach the topic of compensation first in the form of a question, such as, “What pay rate are you expecting?” You should have a number in mind, but a question you might ask is, “What do you typically pay hygienists?” One valuable concept to remember is that the one asking the questions is in the position of control. Another way to broach the topic is to say, “I’m interested in knowing about compensation and benefits. What do you offer?” If you appear aggressive with regard to pay, you may give the impression that you are money-focused, not patient-focused.
QUESTION 3: What is the best way to present to the employer new technology that you would like to integrate into your hygiene protocol?
ANSWER: Whether or not the doctor/owner will agree to purchases for the hygiene department depends upon the perceived return on investment (ROI) and doctor’s relationship with the hygienist. A new hygienist coming into the office asking for a new chair, loupes, or a high-priced scaler will probably be met with, “No way,” whereas a long-term hygienist’s request is often met with, “Sure.” Here are some tips for requesting purchases:
- Choose a good time to talk with the doctor when he or she is not rushed.
- Be prepared to discuss why the requested item is needed and how it will benefit the practice.
- Provide solid data, including price, set-up, and training.
- Don’t expect an immediate answer. Give the doctor time to consider your request.