Recruitment, retention and remuneration in dental offices

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Recruitment, retention and remuneration in dental offices

More and more dental offices are having difficulty finding new employees or keeping existing staff members. (Image: RossHelen/Shutterstock)

Wed. 3 July 2024


Recruitment, retention and remuneration have recently become a pressing matter in many dental practices in the UK. In this article, I will discuss leadership and management of teams, with a particular focus on younger team members. However, I want to emphasise that it is not an article about what is wrong with the younger generation of clinicians and team members. Instead, I aim to explore the underlying causes of current challenges and propose a few practical solutions.

The issue of the three Rs—recruitment, retention and remuneration—is currently populating my inbox, messages and conversations every week. These are some actual examples from my clients:

  • “Numerous adverts online, posts on social media and newsletters to patients have not generated a single enquiry for the employed position in our practice.”
  • “We recruited a new member for our front-of-house team. After the interview, references and paperwork, they failed to turn up on the first morning. When contacted later that week, we were informed that a pay increase at their original place of work had been accepted.”
  • “My new practice manager resigned after just three weeks, stating that he was unable to meet the demands of the position—even though the responsibilities were spelled out very clearly during the interview and induction process.”
  • “My dental associate has requested flexible hours to accommodate childcare, wants to drop from four to three days a week and is asking for an upward review of their remuneration package.”
  • “Our dental hygienists have formed an unofficial committee and have sent me screenshots of social media sites on which hygienist pay scales much higher than ours are being posted. They are demanding a review.”
  • “Dental nurse wages in the area are on a steep climb, and I simply cannot afford to keep up, given the current financial position of the business.”

I could go on—this is just a sample—but I suspect that by now you get the picture. If none of these conversations reflect what is going on in your business, then congratulations—although I am tempted to add “just you wait!”. If you hear echoes of what is being said in your staff rooms and corridors (as well as on WhatsApp into the dead of night), then join the club.

Why is it that the three Rs have recently become a burning issue? In the UK, I think we can start with Trussonomics and the cost-of-living cycle, events that have left many people less well off than they have been for a very long time. As a 70-year-old empty nester, I have been only marginally affected by the inflation and geopolitical crises that have changed the basics for many. However, as a father of five adult children and grandfather of five grandchildren, I understand the pressures.

As a dental consultant, I advise my clients how to best navigate this cycle. As I said at the beginning of this article, there is nothing to be gained by blaming the youth of today for having less resilience or different priorities than we may have had in earlier decades—today is where we are, and we must “take the current when it serves or lose our ventures”. As a result, I am advising my clients to remember these wise words that “all problems exist in the absence of a good conversation”.

I have invested some time over the last year in good conversation with my children (a professional dog walker and rental property manager, an expert in nuclear waste disposal, a medical representative for a prosthetics company, a branding, marketing and design freelancer, and a probation officer—mixed bag, right?) so that I can fully understand what it is like being them financially. In addition, I have kept a close eye on my support team (only two people), quietly making sure that the macroeconomic situation is not affecting their ability or desire to work for me. As leaders, we have a duty of care to do that.

I will share with you some tough love that I have been giving my clients recently: to deal with the three Rs, you have to activate the three Ps—pricing, productivity and profitability. This means boldly increasing your prices, actively supporting your fee-earners to increase their production and keeping a very close eye on the profitability of every one of your products and services.

At the end of the day, your team do need pay rises to keep pace with what is going on. You are going to have to pay top dollar to attract and keep the right people. Resistance to that is a road to nowhere. So where is the extra money going to come from?

Tactic 1: The price rise

Cutting to the chase, many of my clients have implemented 25% price rises across the board in the first quarter of this year, and the unanimous feedback has been that “we had a few grumbles, but nobody left”. Put your prices up—you are worth it.

Tactic 2: Work with your fee-earners to increase average daily production

I have advised my clients on improving communication with their existing clinicians to foster a mutually beneficial relationship. Here is how you can support your clinical team:

  • Invest time and effort into the internal and inbound marketing systems to generate new patient enquiries.
  • Ensure that the front-of-house team are properly trained to handle all patient enquiries and deliver a first-class patient experience.
  • Use the treatment coordinator to triage new patient enquiries and help to manage the sales pipeline.
  • Give the team access to an intra-oral scanner (with training) to assist with patient communication.
  • Train the team on effective treatment plan presentation skills.
  • Ensure that the team members have access to the very best clinical equipment and administrative support.
  • Provide clinical mentoring.
  • Provide supportive sales performance management.

Here are some ways you can expect team members to show support for the clinic:

  • Attend the morning huddles, with particular reference to marketing opportunities, each day.
  • Work with the treatment coordinator to manage new patient flow, pipeline and end-of-treatment reviews.
  • Learn how best to use the intra-oral scanner in patient diagnosis and communication.
  • Learn how to create effective treatment plan presentations using technology, including video.
  • Invest in communication skills training.
  • Take part in regular peer review meetings.
  • Be a team player.
  • Accept performance targets on days worked and average daily production.

Survival and prosperity through the next few years are going to be dependent on a realisation that the economic landscape has changed, that the younger members of our teams have had little experience in how to navigate the work environment and that, ultimately, patients are going to have to pay more. We have a collective duty to guide our younger colleagues, not just as grandparents and parents but as employers and fellow professionals.

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