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Yes, a raise is deserved: Four steps to negotiating a win-win pay increase for dental hygienists

Feb. 17, 2016
By Andrea Kowalczyk: Four steps to negotiating a win-win pay increase for dental hygienists.

By Andrea Kowalczyk, RDH, BS

One of, if not the most nerve-addling conversations hygienists will have with their employers involves pay increases. Feelings about asking for a raise range from mild uneasiness to profound fear, and everything in between. There are many reasons for feeling apprehensive about asking for a pay increase, not the least of which is the high degree of vulnerability involved.

Some hygienists fear hearing the word "no," or worse, being called out for even asking. Fortunately, the latter seldom happens, and most fears around asking for a raise are unfounded. Pay increases are a necessary part of running a business. Suppliers raise their prices, dentists increase their fees, and so on. Most employers expect that their staff will request increases and have no issue granting them if they are reasonable and deserved.

While some of us are lucky enough to be granted regular increases without having to ask, the reality is that the majority of us do have to bring up the matter ourselves. If you are considering asking for a raise, read on for tips to increase your chances of making it a win-win situation for you and your employer.

Step 1

Preparing for the conversation

While asking your employer for a pay increase can feel intensely personal, you will increase the likelihood of success when you take the bulk of your personal feelings out of the conversation as much as possible. Before you set up a meeting to request an increase, be sure to do your homework and come prepared for the conversation and the questions your employer may have. In planning your pitch, first ask yourself honestly if you deserve a raise. More specifically, what tangible factors can you point to if you're asked why you think your contributions merit an increase. It is difficult to disagree with cold, hard numbers, so have those on hand. Print reports from the previous year to check your financial contributions to the practice. Look for the following indicators:

  • Your gross production numbers-Have they increased, decreased, or stayed the same? Remember to adjust for any fee increases.
  • Doctor production-Do you routinely point out restorative needs to patients that have resulted in an increase in doctor production?
  • In addition to production, there are other ways to contribute to the financial health of the practice. These include:
  • Helping train and/or recruit new employees
  • Attracting new patients and helping market the practice
  • Retaining your patient base
  • Discussing fees or payment options with patients to help increase collections
  • Helping fill your schedule or confirming patient appointments
  • Saving the practice money by researching alternative products, or implementing time- and cost-saving measures in the practice
  • Obtaining an additional certification, degree, or valuable skill

Additional, though less tangible, contributions include being a team player, low absenteeism, and going the extra mile for the team and patients regularly.

While there are many good reasons you may deserve an increase, there are others that may seem legitimate to you but may be less so to your employer. These reasons include:

  • Longevity and time on the job. Loyalty is an important quality, but it does not necessarily merit an increase in pay on its own if it is all you have to offer.
  • What other hygienists in the practice earn. While it is tempting to compare your salary to other hygienists in the practice, this is not overly relevant. Your salary is about what you alone are worth. There could be many factors behind why certain team members are paid what they are, and frankly, others are likely not privy to those reasons, nor should they be.
  • Your personal financial situation. Remember, while your pay greatly affects you, it is equally about what you are worth to your employer and what you contribute.

Step 2

Determining how much to request

The key here is to find balance. You don't want to sell yourself short, but you do want to be realistic. First, determine how much your production has increased. If you have increased your production by 10%, for example, then a good rule of thumb is to request at least half of that. That means if you make $35 an hour, you would request an increase of at least $1.75 to $2 an hour. If you are paid on production, you might ask for at least a 5% increase if your production increased by 10%. For example, if you make 30% of your gross production, request to make at least 31% to 32%.

If you have not increased production by much but feel you have earned an increase for other reasons, consider asking for at least a cost-of-living increase. Typically this is 2% to 3% per year in most industries, which means at $35 an hour, you would ask for a $1 per hour raise.

Step 3

Requesting the meeting

For the optimal outcome, requesting a raise should be done during a planned meeting time, not in passing conversation. Keep these factors in mind when you request the meeting:

The timing-Ideal times to request a salary increase are annual performance reviews (if you have them), on or near the anniversary of your hire date, or at the start of the new year. Lunch meetings usually work well. After work hours, folks are likely to be tired, rushed, and inattentive. As they say, timing is everything!

The pitch-When I have requested a raise, I start by asking my employer how he or she feels I'm doing and where I can improve. This sets a positive, constructive tone, and keeps the conversation from feeling confrontational. Plus, I really want to know! Don't beat around the bush. After listening carefully to your employer's feedback, tell him or her why you have requested the meeting. "I would like to speak with you about an increase in my salary. Could I share with you some of the reasons I believe I have merited an increase this year?"

Step 4

Be prepared to negotiate

Your employer may not be willing or able to meet your request. Chances are, if your employer feels you deserve a raise but cannot afford it just now, he or she will be happy to negotiate some perks to retain you and maintain morale. If you cannot get a direct pay increase, consider requesting a bonus for restorative procedures you lock in, or for increases in your own production. Other perks may include, but are not limited to:

  • CE reimbursement
  • Licensure dues
  • Professional organization dues
  • Vacation/holiday pay
  • Uniform allowance
  • Equipment upgrades (i.e., a pair of loupes or new handpieces)
  • A gas and/or toll allowance

Successfully negotiating a pay increase should be a win-win scenario for you and your employer. Even a small raise increases morale and employee loyalty, which employers need and value. Remember that even your employer has had to ask for a raise at some point, so he or she will likely not be put off when it's your turn to ask. If you present your case the right way, you are almost sure to be successful! Good luck! RDH

ANDREA KOWALCZYK, RDH, BS, works as a senior hygiene performance coach with Enhanced Hygiene. She obtained a bachelor's degree from O'Hehir University and a post-graduate certification in mentoring. She speaks nationally on hygiene topics, including on how hygienists can avoid career stagnation. She resides in Houston with her husband and son. She can be contacted at [email protected].