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Love My Job

Is your practice a revolving door of employees?

Feb. 8, 2022
Why does this hygienist drive more than an hour to visit her dentist (and frequently refer the dentist to her friends and family)? Andrea Kowalczyk, RDH, explains a happy marriage of retention and engagement.

Staff retention and engagement are hot topics. In fact, the COVID years have been dubbed the Great Resignation due to the number of people quitting their jobs. When it comes to keeping talented employees, dental offices are struggling as much as other businesses. The approaches you may have relied on to retain your staff before may simply not be working in the current landscape. Retention and engagement may seem similar, but they are not the same, and both are important.

Staff retention is key

Let’s look at retention first. Retaining employees is critical for consistent, quality patient care. Patients need to feel that the staff knows them and their unique needs. Losing valuable employees often leads to losing patients, and with them, essential referrals and revenue.

When your practice takes the time to develop, educate, and cross-train a team member only to have that person resign, your practice’s loss of investment in that employee results in another practice’s gain. Estimates are that replacing an employee costs up to twice that employee’s annual salary. If this happens frequently, the time to recruit, onboard, and train replacement staff can be disruptive and negatively impact revenue.

Subtler impacts of frequent turnover are reputation issues with the candidate pool in your area, causing talented potential employees to steer clear of your office and not apply in the first place.

Engaging employees

Who doesn’t know someone who has worked at the same practice for many years, but is clearly not satisfied with their situation? Many factors go into why someone stays in a job they’re not happy with—fear of the unknown in switching offices, convenient location, proximity to childcare, flexible hours, stable salary and benefits, and sometimes, simply habit. With COVID, employees may decide their personal lives are chaotic enough without adding a job search to the mix.

While these factors may keep an employee put for the short term, they do nothing to affect employees’ attitudes and contributions. They do not indicate the kind of care and patient experience the staff provides, the number of referrals they make, and the positive impacts made to the culture and mood of the practice.

Retention and engagement in real life

My dentist is a perfect example of the happy marriage of retention and engagement. Her practice is more than an hour’s drive from my home. I pass at least 20 dental offices on my way there. So, why do I go to the trouble of seeing this dentist? More importantly, why am I referring my friends and family to her, who also happily make the drive?

First, this dentist has kept the same staff for more than 10 years. They know me by name when I walk in. They ask after my son and husband, whose names they also know. These staff members love their doctor-employer. The dentist is open, fair, kind, and engaged with them. She doesn’t micromanage but ensures they have growth and educational opportunities and autonomy when appropriate. Because of this, the staff is capable of handling issues that crop up in the practice and of satisfying patients with minimal disruption. Her genuine compassion for her team and interest in their well-being are obvious to her patients.

I am convinced her staff members plan to retire with her. I do not envision any of them leaving anytime soon, and why would they? Their work environment is fantastic, and they know it. The key takeaway here is loyalty. When a practice has staff loyalty, not just longevity, the practice will in turn gain patient loyalty.