Business owner vs. employee mentality

Nov. 1, 2011
I am a business assistant in a dental practice. We have two hygienists who won’t work a minute past 5:00, or work on recall

by Dianne Glasscoe Watterson, RDH, BS, MBA
[email protected]

Dear Dianne,

I am a business assistant in a dental practice. We have two hygienists who won’t work a minute past 5:00, or work on recall (I know it is my responsibility), or change their hours to suit the needs of patients. They also won’t sharpen instruments, saying it is not their job. They won’t review patients’ charts prior to appointments or come in early for a morning huddle. In their minds, it is not nice to “sell dentistry.” They think using VELscope and an intraoral camera involves too much effort.

These hygienists call themselves professionals — but I don’t think so. I know many professionals who work numerous hours of overtime in white collar professions due to the times. I think the dental profession needs to adjust to the needs of the people, which may include working later hours, etc.

If it was up to me, I would replace our current hygienists with two hygienists who need a paycheck and are willing to work for it. Is this what our hygiene schools are producing?
Frustrated Business Assistant

Dear Frustrated,

All people develop one of two mentalities about their work: an employee mentality or a business owner mentality. What you have described are two people who have an employee mentality.

Here are some traits of people with an employee mentality:

  • I work for a paycheck — period.
  • There’s no need to give more than I have to, because the company will take advantage of me.
  • The business is lucky to have me.
  • Somebody is mandated to take care of me.
  • I am entitled simply because I work here.
  • I only do what I am told to do.

Believe it or not, even some business owners have an employee mentality. When an employer does not sacrifice personal preference for the good of the business, that employer has an employee mentality. When an employer works a 32-hour week, takes vacations when due, takes little interest in continuing education, and actually jumps at the opportunity to close the office, that’s an employee mentality.

The business owner mentality does not belong solely to business owners. Employees can develop a business owner mentality that bodes well for the business.

Here are some traits of the business owner mentality:

  • I have a big picture view of the greater good I do with my work and realize that wages is the outcome of the good I do. Simply put, my work brings me great personal satisfaction.
  • When I go the extra mile, I am doing it because it helps the business and the people we serve.
  • I am blessed to be a part of this company.
  • It is my responsibility to see that my job is done to my greatest capability with every patient every day. Nobody can do this for me.
  • Entitlement is not a word in my vocabulary. I understand that I receive wages for my efforts, and while fringe benefits are nice, they can disappear if the business is not profitable.
  • I understand that there are times when my own personal agenda may be interrupted for the good of the people we serve.

Most, if not all, employers would love to have a cadre of staff members with a business owner mentality. Such employees are self-motivated, do not feel a sense of entitlement, and have the drive to give more than is expected for the good of the business. They understand that if the business does well, they will ultimately benefit too.

The problem is that many employers do not nurture the business owner mentality with their staff members. They treat their staff members like hired help. They show little trust through their micromanaging, and expectations are not clearly defined. When a problem surfaces, some prefer to ignore it and hope it will go away. Or they cause a scene by losing their temper and intimidating staff members, which, over time, creates timid, unmotivated staff members.

In your practice, I see two problems. First, there is an employer with poor leadership skills. There is a glaring lack of fortitude on the doctor’s part to say, “I expect you to be here for the morning huddle every day. I expect you to review the patient charts beforehand, use the VELscope, and talk to patients about needed dentistry. Failure to perform any of these job functions will result in a negative performance evaluation, which will affect future pay considerations or your employment here.” When employers do not state their expectations, staff members with employee mentalities make up their own rules.

The second problem is a major attitude problem with the aforementioned hygienists. They should know — without being told — that they are expected to participate in the morning huddle. They should also know that it is their responsibility to keep their instruments sharp and help their coworkers during periods of downtime with anything that needs to be done (unless stated otherwise by the doctor). They should know that promoting the doctor’s restorative dentistry is important in helping patients understand their dental needs.

Another subject you broached was that of working nontraditional hours. I agree with your premise that the current job situation is making it very difficult for many people to come to our offices during regular working hours. Our dental practices should be as accommodating as possible in order for people to be able to do business with us. More and more practices are finding that offering some flexible hours has increased their production/collections.

It’s interesting how need can change our attitude. For example, I have a hygienist friend who is newly divorced. Now that she has to support herself, she feels lucky if she gets to work on Saturday or any other time, day or night.

I don’t think one has to be a business owner to develop a business owner mentality. It comes down to understanding the business, understanding that business cycles often change our routines, and most importantly, that business owners need employees who care about the business.

You sound like a business owner. Since you know the business, you understand. As a consultant, I understand the business. More hygienists need to develop a business owner mentality. I’ll go so far as to say that if things don’t start turning around soon in our economy, only those hygienists who develop a business owner mentality will still have a job. The fact is, business owners know they have to sacrifice and do things they really do not want to do in order to keep the business financially healthy. On the other hand, people with an employee mentality really don’t give a flip, as long as they get a paycheck.

Most hygiene schools, just like dental schools, are occupied with teaching the technical, academic, and mechanical aspects of dental hygiene; business training is not stressed. However, with the overabundance of hygienists in many markets today, those who develop a business owner mentality will have an advantage over hygienists who just see their work just as a job. Any employer should feel blessed to have staff members like you who see the big picture. You know the importance of keeping the business financially healthy.
Best wishes,

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