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Under the microscope: Dental office micromanagers have a difficult time respecting employees

March 14, 2017
Dianne Watterson advises a dental hygienist whose boss has a difficult time expressing respect and gratitude to employees in dental office.

By Dianne Watterson, RDH, BS, MBA

Dear Dianne,

I've been a dental hygienist for 10 years. Last year, I took a position in the office where I now work full-time. I was happy to land this job, as there are way too many hygienists for the available jobs in my area.

The reason I'm writing is because my boss has become such a nitpicker that he is making my life difficult. Over the past several months, I've noticed that he seems to check my patients with a fine-tooth comb and often picks up a curette or scaler and proceeds to scale. I know I'm not perfect, but sheesh! I can't believe I'm leaving that much calculus behind. I feel like he is listening to everything I say to my patients, and it makes me feel very self-conscious. He even notices when I use my power scaler and has told me he thinks I should use it on every patient. I wanted to retort back, "Well, excuse me; I thought I should be the one who makes that determination," but I held my tongue.

What should I do? I really need my job, but my boss is making my workday uncomfortable to the point that I'm dreading going to work. I take pride in my work, and I really don't need his constant scrutiny.

Micromanaged RDH

Dear Micromanaged,

I can't think of too many worse scenarios than working with a micromanaging boss. Unfortunately, some dentists are notorious micromanagers. They expect perfection from themselves and everyone else, and they unknowingly make their staff members miserable. As a consultant, I've observed that dentists who have staff turnover problems are often micromanagers. No matter how hard anyone works, it's never quite good enough for some doctors. They are constantly on guard to discover-and point out-anything that doesn't measure up to their expectations, no matter how unreasonable they are. The worst possible combination of character traits in an employer is a micromanager with a bad temper. But even a mild-mannered micromanager is not much better.

Several workplace happiness studies have confirmed that employees desire appreciation from management more than anything else, even more than money. When employees feel respected and appreciated by management, they want to give 100% in their job performance. Some of the happiest offices where I've either consulted or worked were led by doctors with a good sense of humor who liked to keep things light.

The opposite is true of micromanagers, as they bring a sense of dread and heaviness into the workplace by imposing unrealistic expectations on everyone. The pressure of working under the microscope of someone day in and day out often becomes unbearable. Employees feel disrespected and unappreciated, and as time goes on, these feelings grow until that final insult seals the deal-at least in the employee's mind-and leaving is inevitable.

I have counseled numerous doctors over the years, especially those with turnover problems, that they have to learn to choose their battles very carefully. Learning to let things go, learning to chill out, learning how to give encouragement and sincere praise ... these are formidable hurdles for some employers.

You mentioned the saturation of the job market in your area. Unfortunately, this is a reality in many areas today. My graduating class from 1978 was told that the average career longevity of a dental hygienist was about seven years. Most graduates were young women who would work for a few years and then stay home to raise children. Over the past two to three decades, dental hygienists have experienced an increased necessity to keep working due to economic pressures. I've met many hygienists who are still actively working after 40 or more years in the profession. Lack of attrition coupled with increasing numbers of graduates has reduced the number of available positions.

Let's get back to your problem. In a nutshell, you need some strategies to help you deal with a micromanaging boss. Here's what I suggest:

  1. First, you have to begin some dialogue with this doctor about why he feels the necessity to "rescale" your patients. This happened to me in a temp situation years ago. At the end of the day, I asked the doctor if I left so much calculus that he felt the need to scale after me. He said, "Oh, no, I just think it impresses the patients when I do that." I said, "Well, that's a relief. But the fact is that your actions made me feel terrible, like I'd done a poor job." I temped for this doctor many more times, and he never picked up another scaler on any of my patients. I guess he didn't realize how his actions affected me, or that patients might feel I'd done a poor job. If I were in your situation I'd be tempted to say, "I graduated 10 years ago, so I'm not a novice, and I don't appreciate being treated like I'm back in school again."
  2. If your boss says that you are leaving calculus, then he should show it to you. I believe the primary reason hygienists leave calculus is because they are working with dull instruments. If you need help with your sharpening technique, check out my new DVD on instrument sharpening that teaches you how to sharpen with a high-speed handpiece and small friction-grip stone. Once you learn this, you will see how much easier it is to keep your instruments really sharp. Just go to my website,, and click on the "Products" tab.
  3. Ask the doctor if there is anything about your job performance that he feels is not satisfactory. You should also ask if you have done anything that would cause him not to trust you to do the job you were hired to do. Tell him how much you appreciate working for someone who strives to deliver only the best to patients, and that is your goal as well.
  4. Finally, thank the doctor for his suggestions on power scaler usage and say that you will take his suggestion under advisement. However, tell him that you would appreciate being empowered enough to decide when a patient could benefit from that modality or not.
  5. Ask the doctor if he has any idea how it feels to be under a magnifying glass every day, all day. Tell him that's how you feel.
  6. If, after communicating your thoughts, the doctor continues to micromanage you, begin your search for another job. It might take a while.

As you can see, you must open up some communication about the examples of micromanaging that are making your life miserable. You can do this if you approach it unemotionally and directly-not as a confrontation. It will take courage on your part, but if you don't say anything, I guarantee you that nothing will change. Micromanagers are not aware that their actions are actually hurting their practices, but that is the reality when staff members get fed up and leave. You will be doing this doctor a favor by opening up communication.

All the best,



DIANNE GLASSCOE WATTERSON, RDH, BS, MBA, is an award-winning author, speaker, and consultant. She has published hundreds of articles, numerous textbook chapters, and two books. Dianne's new DVD on instrument sharpening is now available on her website at under the "Products" tab. Visit her website for information about upcoming speaking engagements. Dianne may be contacted at (336) 472-3515 or by e-mail at [email protected].