Seven reasons make us want to stay on the job; the flip side of those reasons make us leave

April 1, 1998
It has been estimated that the average longevity of auxiliary dental staff is around 18 months. That`s not a very impressive statistic. In fact, it`s downright alarming, considering the high cost of staff turnover.

Dianne D. Glasscoe, RDH, BS

It has been estimated that the average longevity of auxiliary dental staff is around 18 months. That`s not a very impressive statistic. In fact, it`s downright alarming, considering the high cost of staff turnover.

However, in my 25-year dental career, I`ve been privileged to work with staff who have 20-plus years with a single practice. These fine people have dedicated their lives and loyalty to a particular doctor or practice in meeting the dental needs of patients there.

In fact, patients like seeing the familiar faces of their favorite dental assistant, hygienist, or front desk person. Frequent turnover makes patients think something is awry. They often presume it is the doctor`s fault. In some instances, patients trust staff more than the doctor.

Of course, having a loyal and dedicated staff is (or should be) every doctor`s dream. Some offices I visit have very little turnover. But others seem to have a proverbial revolving door of staff coming and leaving. What is it about some offices that seems to perpetuate longevity, while other offices experience staff turnover? Let`s examine some of the reasons to stay that have been given to me in staff interviews.

Reasons to stay...

__ Good staff-to-doctor and staff-to-staff relations. Let`s face it - when everyone on the team likes each other and gets along well, a happy atmosphere prevails. It`s pleasant and even fun to work where employees and doctor enjoy good camaraderie. It gives the office a "family feeling," and it is difficult to leave the "family." That`s why it is so important to accept a position with a doctor who is congenial and easy-going. Pick your doctor carefully.

__ Good benefits. Many offices offer a benefits package (that takes effect after a certain amount of time) that can include such things as a retirement plan, hospital insurance (especially for single employees), continuing education allowance, uniforms, paid vacations, and bonus incentives. Remember, benefits spell money. Many staff people have told me that they will work for less pay in order to get benefits. Retirement plans are especially nice for long-term employees. One hygienist recently confided to me that she has $150,000-plus in her particular plan that has been accumulating over 25 years of employment with the same practice.

__ Good pay. Usually, above-average doctors will pay above-average wages. However, I`ve worked in practices where I made average pay but was happier than when I made exceptional pay in another office. Good pay is important, but it is not the most important aspect of job happiness. For example, if your doctor/employer is a perfectionist/driver personality, chances are strong that you will not be happy long-term, even with exceptional wages.

__ Appreciation. Hygienists, and indeed all staff, need to feel appreciated. Some doctors are wonderful at showing their appreciation. One doctor I worked with always was looking for little ways to spoil us, thus showing us how much he appreciated us. A birthday cake, a trip souvenir, a complimentary word to us in front of a patient, not keeping me and my patient waiting excessively long for a hygiene check - these things and many more acts of kindness told me how much he appreciated me. His appreciation was reciprocated in that I gave him 110 percent while I was there. (I even felt bad when there was a cancellation or no-show that the secretary couldn`t fill.) People like to stay where they feel appreciated. However, I`ve worked in practices where I did not feel appreciated, no matter how hard I tried. I felt the doctor wanted me to achieve some level of perfection that I was not capable of. In my work as a consultant to dental offices, the statement I hear most often from staff is, "The doctor doesn`t appreciate me." Indeed, there are some doctors out there who have a hard time showing appreciation to their staff.

__ Doctor possesses integrity. Staff tend to admire and respect the doctor when they perceive that the doctor is upright and moral. These are a few of the things staff have told me when expressing why they admire their doctor/ employer: The doctor is a Christian; the doctor helps poor people by taking care of their dental needs at a reduced fee or at no charge; the doctor is more interested in his patients` needs than his own; the doctor respects his patients.

__ Comfortable scheduling. When there is good communication between the clinical and business areas of the practice, the daily schedule can be controlled so stress can be reduced. As hygienists, we are taught to be thorough, and, for this, we need the proper amount of time. However, we must charge the patient a fee that is appropriate for the amount of time we use.

__ You are allowed to be sick. The hygienist who told me this worked in a three-doctor, five-hygienist practice. She told me she was always treated in a kind and caring manner when she called in sick. (One of the hygienists was only part-time, so she often filled in for the other four when the need arose.) However, in the majority of dental practices, there is no backup plan for hygiene when there is sickness. One doctor I worked for made me feel like a criminal if I got sick and needed to be out. And, yes, I`ve worked many days when I was not physically able so all those patients didn`t have to be canceled. What a nice scenario it is when you are allowed to be sick!

If you take these seven points and view them from a negative perspective, you will have seven reasons to leave:

- Poor staff-to-doctor and/or staff-to-staff relations.

- Poor or no benefits.

- Low pay.

- Staff not appreciated.

- Doctor does not possess integrity.

- Overscheduling.

- You are not allowed to be sick.

Practices in small and large towns can become "marked" as undesirable places of employment, since exiting staff spread the bad news of unpleasantness in a particular office. This dubious distinction makes it more difficult for the doctor to attract quality staff.

However, I have found in my long dental career that there are just too many doctors out there for me to work in a place where I am not happy. I have been privileged to work for the very best, a few of the worst, and a lot in between. (Before you think I am a job-hopper, let me say that I did fill-in hygiene in a four-city area for several years.) Generally, the best practices can be recognized by staff longevity. Good practices do not have frequent turnover.

If you are in a practice where everything is not perfect, but you are generally satisfied, congratulations to you! If, on the other hand, you are stressed out and unhappy, maybe it is time for you to seek a better practice to work in. Life is just too short to be unhappy with your job!

Dianne D. Glasscoe, RDH, BS, has been a hygienist for 20 years and currently is a practice management consultant based out of Lexington, N.C. Her e-mail address is [email protected].