How to Deal with Staff Conflict
Most dentists simply don’t know how to deal with staff conflict. Instead of taking steps to resolve any problems that come up (and they will come up), they turn the other way and convince themselves team members will work out differences on their own.
Unfortunately, that isn’t what happens. Instead, what might have started out as a small annoyance turns into a much larger problem. The eye rolling, gossiping and passive aggressive behavior takes over the practice, hurting your production and patient retention numbers. Team morale continues to take a hit, as does your bottom line.
If ignored, staff conflict can really damage your practice, causing you to lose patients, team members and money. I know you didn’t become a dentist to deal with these types of human resource issues, but it’s an important part of your job as the practice CEO. Remember, your team members look to you for guidance, and that guidance is key to resolving conflict before it gets out of control.
While conflict is inevitable, if you use it to create positive change, it can actually benefit your practice. The key is knowing how to handle it. Here are a few tips.
1. Don’t let your emotions take over. Trust me, this will only make the situation worse. Instead, be strategic. Remember your goal is to resolve the problem so everyone can move on, not place blame. Take the employees involved aside and talk with them about the problem. Work together to find a solution that benefits your team members as well as your practice.
2. Stay upbeat. Conflict creates a negative vibe in your practice. This not only hurts team morale, it also effects your patients – and might even send them looking for a new dental home. That’s why it’s important for both you and your team members to remain positive as you address the situation.
3. Create clear policies. If you don’t already have them, I recommend you create policies that clearly outline standards for professional behavior in your practice. Include these policies in the employee manual and make sure every team member reads and signs off on them.
4. Hold daily huddles. This is a great way to avoid conflict in your practice. During these meetings, team members can discuss any problems they’re having before they become bigger issues. Daily huddles also give team members the opportunity to talk about what happened the day before, what’s on the schedule for today and what they can expect tomorrow. This helps ensure everyone stays on the same page so there’s no confusion – or conflict.
5. Put an end to gossip. Petty gossip and snide remarks fuel conflict and serve as a distraction. I guarantee you if team members are spending time gossiping, they’re not focusing on providing exceptional customer service or working toward production goals. To eliminate gossip, I suggest you tell team members to only talk about co-workers when they’re in the same room. If other team members try to gossip, they should know to change the subject or simply walk away.
6. Improve practice communication. The better the communication is in your office, the better chance you have of reducing conflict. Holding monthly meetings will help you improve that communication. Team members should be prepared to give updates on their systems. Spend time talking about each system and come up with ways to make improvements together. Then, task an employee with pursuing some of the strategies discussed during the meeting. This gets everyone involved with strengthening the practice.
7. Realize conflict is part of practice ownership. I know most dentists prefer to avoid conflict at all costs, but that just isn’t possible. Even if you take steps to prevent it, conflict will come up. But that’s ok. Look at conflict as an opportunity to grow your practice and make positive changes. Address problems right away rather than ignoring them as long as you can. Trust me, you’ll be glad you did. Team members will be happier and more productive and patients will be more likely to stay loyal.
Staff conflict doesn’t have to damage your practice, and I’m here to help make sure it doesn’t. Feel free to contact me if you need more guidance. I’m happy to help.
For additional information on this topic and more, visit my blog: The Lighter Side
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Do You Need To Hire Another Dental Assistant?
Dentist Case Study #233
The doctor’s concerns: “I feel like I’m always stressed. I spend most of my days running from operatory to operatory just trying to keep up. I think it might be time to bring another assistant on to help relieve some of that stress and improve practice efficiencies.”
Before this dentist (or any dentist for that matter) hires a new assistant, he needs to determine if he actually needs one. When he came to us, this doctor really didn’t want to put another employee on his payroll, but he didn’t know what else to do.
• Doctor sees 10-12 patients a day for a variety of procedures, including restorative and endo. About 65% of his procedures are fillings. A local lab fabricates his crown and bridge cases. He typically places one or two crowns a day.
• The Scheduling Coordinator gives the doctor 90 minutes for crown preps and an hour for one to two composites. To allow for adjustments, crown cementations are scheduled for 40 minutes, or 50 minutes if they’re bonded. Endo cases run about 90 minutes for anteriors and 2.5 hours for molars.
• There are three treatment rooms, all equipped with digital radiography.
• Doctor is usually booked out six or seven working days, with slots available for new patients. The practice is open five days a week, and there’s one hygienist in the practice every day. There are currently two assistants, one hygienist and two full-time business employees.
We also know our doctor is stressed out. He feels like he doesn’t spend enough time educating patients or building those all-important connections.
We suggested ways the doctor could streamline his schedule and reduce stress from his day. Here are the recommendations we gave him:
Don’t feel like you have to work out of all three treatment rooms just because you have them. Work out of two treatment rooms instead. This makes it easier to check on hygiene patients and reduces the time patients have to wait to see the doctor. Remember, the number of treatment rooms a dentist should use depends on a variety of factors, including workload, how many days the doctor is booked in advance, procedure mix and the number of assistants the doctor has.
Schedule patients further out. If patients would like to be seen sooner, put them on a priority list and let them know you’ll be in contact if an opening comes up. This also helps alleviate another problem that plagues dental practices: cancellations and no-shows. With this system, the practice has a list of patients who have indicated they want to come in sooner if possible, making them more likely to fill those last-minute openings.
Overlap patients 10 minutes at the beginning and end of every appointment. Finish the last 10 minutes while the assistant seats the next patient.
Communicate procedure times to the Scheduling Coordinator to make sure the correct amount of time is allotted.
Fabricate crown temps chairside to save time.
Consider building in 30 minutes a day for admin time. The assistant can use this time to order supplies and finish equipment maintenance.
Ask business team members to take patients back when necessary.
Like this doctor, if you’re considering hiring another team member then I recommend you ask yourself these important questions first:
• How many patients do I see each day and what type of procedures do I perform?
The answers to these questions will help determine if you really need to hire another assistant or if it’s time to make some changes. Remember, hiring more team members than you need won’t necessarily improve efficiencies, but it will increase overhead costs.
Still not sure if you need to hire? Contact McKenzie Management for more guidance.
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