Smile Source Private Dental Practice Blog

8 Must Dos for Dental Team Retention

Many open positions on dental teams went unfilled in 2023. You’ve heard of colleagues being in this situation, or maybe you experienced it. Because worrying about worst-case scenarios and how to hold on to their staff is draining their energy and their practice success is on the line, dentists are eager to know what is in their control to do. What are the best retention practices? 

The ongoing encouragement and advice of our networked Smile Source members are helping each other. However, we thought we would share best-practice retention insights from DentalPost.net’s most recent dental team salary survey – the largest annual survey to understand dental professional compensation trends, job satisfaction, and job turnover.

What happened in 2022 and 2023?

The post-pandemic labor shortage fueled workers’ demand for higher wages across all industries, including dentistry. A high percentage of dental team members changed employers due to pandemic-related family relocation and for better commutes, income, benefits, and work environments. Open positions were abundant, making this possible.

In 2022, 16.5% of dental practice staff turned over, and in 2023, 19% turned over (DentalPost.net). The top two motivations cited by respondents to DentalPost’s survey in Q3 of 2023 were higher income and a better work environment. 

Private practices thrive on personal relationships, so front desk and clinical team longevity play a significant role in patient retention and growth.

The following recommended actions (things you can do that are in your control) focus on the top two factors influencing dental employee job decisions: compensation and work environment.

 

Must Do #1: Pay above average.

To feel their services are valued, dental employees need to be paid above average. That’s the advice of human resource experts.

The individual employees in your dental practice may know more about what other dental practices in your state are paying for their position than you do. They watch job listings, apply for jobs, speak with hirers, speak with colleagues, and read available data from multiple sources (e.g., DentalPost, Bureau of Labor and Statistics, Indeed, and U.S. financial news media).

DentalPost’s data is primarily from private practices like yours (88%) and there were thousands of respondents during the months of August-October 2023, so you may want to read this recent wage and salary data



#2: Catch up with (and exceed) the rise in cost of living.

According to DentalPost data, the average reported income increase in 2023 was 5% or more for 63% of dental professionals. If the cost of living in your area has increased by 3.4% (as it did in much of the nation in 2023), make sure your wages and salaries increase by at least 3.4% in 2024, and realize dental workers are seeking jobs that will pay them even higher.

If you have not given each employee a performance review and pay increase within the last 12 months, you are overdue to do so. Don’t wait for your employee to quietly quit and move to a higher-paying office.

 

#3: Consider whether your employee benefits are competitive.

DentalPost has been tracking benefits trends for the past three years. Most private dental practices provide some benefits and the percentages of workers receiving standard employee benefits like paid time off, retirement, medical, dental, and vision have been growing. 

Adding one or more benefits can make a difference in maintaining employee satisfaction with their compensation. Smile Source members have the advantage of many free CE opportunities for their teams. They also have the advantage of our Smile Source vendor relationships for implementing low-cost group insurance plans. Make use of these resources to expand your benefits.

Full-time Employee Benefits Nationwide (Stats from DentalPost’s 2024 Salary Survey

 

Paid Time Off

Retirement

Medical

Dental

Vision

Paid CE

Associate Dentists

32%

48%

57%

48%

34%

43%

RDHs

87%

60%

42%

58.5%

24%

42.5%

Dental Assistants

78%

44%

40%

45.5%

23%

22.75%

Front Office Team Members

89%

59.5%

40%

66%

20%

37.5%

 

 

#4: Frequently communicate your vision of success and celebrate making milestones with your entire team.

Everyone wants to be on a winning team. They want to know clearly the objectives they are aiming for, the Why behind these objectives, that you recognize their individual contributions, and that your winning team is “rock’n it” as a whole. It’s not unusual for “thriving” employees to rave about the practice online and among friends, nor for dental workers to seek outstanding dental practices on social media and network with your employees for when you do have a job opening.

 

Our office has attended Smile Source's annual The Exchange meeting for the past two years and it has renewed the staff's passion in making the office the best it can be.
Kristin-Severence-Jennifer-Shau-DDS-Smile-Source-Member
Kristin Severance

Administrative Specialist, Jennifer Schau DDS

 

#5: Fuel engagement in their work!

DentalPost’s 2022 Dental Job Satisfaction Survey measured the post-pandemic engagement of dental team members with their jobs. 

Respondents cited positive interaction with patients and using their skills as the top things they enjoy most about their jobs. These two aspects of their jobs are paramount in maintaining engagement among dental practice team members to the extent that even when there is dissatisfaction with pay and the hours they work, they are still glad they chose their profession. 

The four things RDHs, DAs, and front office employees liked most were positive interaction with patients, using their skills, good income, and the trust and appreciation of their employer/supervisor. 

 

 

Positive Interaction with Patients

Using Their Skills

Good Income

Trust and Appreciation

RDHs

72.75%

58%

63%

29.75%

Dental Assistants

71.5%

73.5%

29.5%

28.5%

Front Office Staff

64.75%

70.5%

4.25%

26.5%

 

Tips for building on their likes:

  • Schedule appointments so there are a few extra minutes for conversations that build rapport and strengthen bonds between your employees and your patients.
  • Understand the strengths of individuals and provide them with opportunities and empowerment to use those strengths. 
  • With each employee, show you care about their advancement by setting semi-annual goals to develop one or more skills relevant to their position. 
  • Provide them with paid/free educational webinars or CE courses. Smile Source is a great resource for their educational development.
  • Take opportunities to teach your clinical staff chairside and while case planning. Ask them to take notes and be another set of ears to listen to the patient’s concerns and preferences during a consultation.
  • Dentists have constant opportunities to collaborate with and thank their clinical team members as they work together with patients. But if you haven’t already done so, develop the proactive habit of checking in daily with your front office employees to demonstrate an interest in how their day is going, help solve any brewing issues, and recognize their efforts. 
  • RDHs, in particular, are seeking dental offices in which they could spend more time with each patient to perform the most comprehensive exams, cleanings, and education they know are in the best interest of patients.
  • Dental assistants are seeking more opportunities to develop their skills, fully use their expanded licenses, and receive higher compensation for this usage. 

 

# 6: Learn the hours your employees need.

An employee might not bring this up, but in DentalPost’s survey comments, they learned that numerous low-wage earners were searching for a job that would pay them to work more hours. Receptionists commented, “I can’t live on what I make. I need a second job or more hours.” Are you aware of the financial needs of individuals on your team? You depend on them, so develop the right fit between increased wages/hours and expanded productivity/results.

And then, there is another situation. DentalPost reported that they received survey comments about employers adjusting the work hours of an employee to better meet the employees’ family obligations and lessen commute stress. By talking and working together to create a compatible schedule, their employees were so pleased they decided to stay in the practice.

 

 

#7: Understand their perspective.

“Good” income is competitive, steady income that is not only growing and commensurate with their efforts, knowledge, skills, and professional judgment, but also covers their cost of living so they do not need to take on a side job outside their primary employment.

A “good” work environment is one in which they can mentally and emotionally thrive and where the mission of the dental practice is clear and in alignment with their ethics and core values. They desire a workplace in which co-workers help each other and respect each other’s best efforts. Dental team members are looking for practices where team members receive consistent recognition or praise for their good work. Dental workers flee from toxic work environments in which there is high tension, gossip, bullying, chronic disrespect, and sexual harassment. So, take note. Some dentists lose valued team members because they retain an employee who disrespects other employees, gossips, is a showoff, or otherwise makes others uncomfortable.

In an environment of “high trust and appreciation,” they know they can safely talk about their aspirations and concerns and know they will be heard and appreciated. They know their opinions and suggestions will be well received and considered. When there is high trust and appreciation, they sense they have an influence on improving operations and have power in co-creating a positive culture.

 

#8: Conduct stay interviews.

You may be familiar with and conducting regular 6-month performance interviews with each of your employees, but I recommend that you treat these interviews as “stay” interviews. Go into them with the attitude that you want to learn about the other person on a deeper level. It’s not out of line to ask them about their life aspirations. Ask them what they like most and least about their jobs. Reveal your insights into what they have accomplished as an individual and team member. Reveal your thoughts on how you hope to expand their position but don’t overpromise.

Perception of a broken promise is often why an employee has one foot out the door. Be listening for bits of information that will inspire you to think of ways to engage them more and help them continue contributing with enthusiasm. Speak frankly about your retention concerns. Together you might find a solution or help each other transition most healthily.

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Smile Source provides limitless inspiration for ways to “be present” with your employees, teach, lead, and collaborate. By caring and sharing with your team and inviting them to share with you, even if the conversations are for only one minute on your busiest days, you can become the dentist everyone wants to work for.

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