Business savvy speaks volumes during negotiations for a raise

Oct. 1, 1996
Before negotiating a raise, a hygienist must be aware of the factors that will achieve a balance of objectives. As with any imminent negotiation, the person seeking changes must be armed with as much relevant knowledge as possible.

Your bottom line should reflect an awareness of practice productivity

Jeanne Corso, RDH

Before negotiating a raise, a hygienist must be aware of the factors that will achieve a balance of objectives. As with any imminent negotiation, the person seeking changes must be armed with as much relevant knowledge as possible.

The dental hygiene professional offers a plethora of skills. She must be very adept at clinical dexterity and possess a full complement of knowledge relevant to the practice of dental hygiene. In addition, good communication skills are required, and these verbal skills also help when taking a stand during negotiations for a raise.

The business of dental hygiene is a very profitable, large component of a practice. When a hygienist is addressing the treatment of patients, her own morality and ethical conscience must be factored into their clinical assessments. In order for us to be more valued, we must first be aware of the enormous impact that we have on a dental practice.

Prior to any negotiations, assessments must be addressed based on the type of practice where you are employed. If it is a practice that does not conduct periodic reviews, then let your employer know that you are conducting your own. This, of course, requires a great deal of objectivity on your part regarding your job performance. How do your co-workers perceive your performance? Are you a "team-player?"

Raises can signify other options besides direct salary increases. Know what you want and what other priorities might be important to you. More importantly, know what your self-worth really amounts to in dollars and cents. Speak to your colleagues and use that network for the information that you must have to achieve your goals.

If financial reward is not an option, can you compromise with more paid holidays or other benefits that would give you compensation with non-tax dollars?

In the preceding months before asking for a raise, take it upon yourself to know what the fee is charged to each patient that you have treated. This will give you your gross production figures for each day, week, and month. Now factor in the cost of your daily or hourly salary. You should also have some knowledge of the percentage of your employer`s overhead (payroll taxes, dental supplies, rent, electricity, salaries of other staffers, etc.) - expenses faced by the employer each month. You should also have a general awareness if the practice has a healthy accounts receivable and not too many balances that are outstanding.

The bottom line would be what the profit margin shows in relation to the dental hygiene department.

When negotiating a raise, perhaps your employer might accept the concept that a percentage of adjunctive hygiene services might be given instead of a set figure. This would give you some leverage and, at the same time, provide alternatives for your employer. It would enforce the team approach and serve to motivate the hygienist to control and increase hygiene production.

Furthermore, when you review exactly what services you administer, ask yourself if you are consciously trying to increase production so that the profit margin becomes more negotiable. The point that you can address the needs of a patient and successfully increase your production should create harmonious results.

Many products are brought into the realm of marketing in the hygiene operatory. For example, there are electric oral physiotherapeutic aids, bleaching kits for home use, periodontal fiber placement, and different treatment modalities such as soft tissue management. The hygienist is usually trained to inform and suggest these adjunctive services.

Generally, a hygienist should have an adept awareness of the individual needs of each patient. Are full-mouth radiographs proposed when many years have passed with regards to a patient`s dental history? Are adults receiving appropriate fluoride treatments? Are patients being educated and prompted to be involved with soft-tissue maintenance programs or non-surgical counseling? Are enough sealants being placed on children`s teeth? Is there a service that provides desensitizing for hypersensitive teeth?

The most important part of the relationship with the dentist is the support that the hygienist shows for her employer. It is the responsibility of the hygienist to make patients aware that, in appropriate instances, there may be dental treatment that the dentist might need to address. The duty of the hygienist is to educate and create an awareness for the employer to recognize her skills as a communicator.

Some strategies in negotiating a raise include:

- You do not have entitlement. Review your performance record. What are you doing better now that you were not doing then?

- Know where your employer stands financially. Is the practice solvent?

- Are you and your employer on good terms?

- Know what you are worth.

- Document what your specific contributions have been in the last three, six, or 12 months.

- Pick the right time.

- Go in with a good attitude. Do not demand a raise. Be armed with other suitable options. Would you want a percentage of your production instead of a fixed salary? Would your employer provide incentives for successfully incorporating new programs for dental hygiene services? Or pay for continuing education courses?

- Don`t give up. If you get turned down, find out when would be a good time to revisit the subject. Ask what it would take for further consideration. Consider your options.

As the profession of dentistry moves into the new millennium, so must we as hygienists refocus our goals. Our awareness of the business aspect of dental hygiene assures us a greater credibility in our chosen profession.

Jeanne Corso, RDH, practices in Danbury, Connecti-cut. She is a 12-year veteran who will obtain her bachelor`s degree in dental hygiene later this year from the University of Bridgeport before pursuing a master`s in bionutrition.