What? You’re Leaving? But Why?
So you’ve lost another good employee. It’s one of the most frustrating and unpredictable situations that dentists face. Everything is humming along just fine. The schedule is full, production is solid, collections are good. The doctor is happy! Then, as they say, the other shoe drops. A long-term employee – the one who is the expert on treatment presentation, “the closer” if you will, hands in her two weeks’ notice. There’s no hiding your shock and disappointment. WHY is she leaving? She’s one of the good ones! And how is it that you didn’t see it coming? What happened to trigger this?
The scenario is all too common in dental practices in every major city, small town, and growing metropolis. Employee turnover is nothing new; in fact it happens about every 18 months in most dental offices. After the initial shock and feelings of betrayal subside, most dentists shrug their shoulders and resign themselves to the “good help is hard to keep” attitude. As most of you know, it’s even harder to find. Estimates for replacing an employee range from $20,000 to 1.5 times the team member’s annual salary. And when it comes to quality personnel, you’re losing far more than money when they walk out the door.
In working with practices for more than 30 years, we’ve found time and again that when employers ignore problems, it’s the good team members that silently fume and eventually leave. These team members watch as the doctor doesn’t address the negative behaviors of other staff. They become hurt, disappointed, and angry. Eventually they reason that the doctor would prefer to tolerate the bad behaviors at the expense of loyal dedicated staff, so they start looking for job opportunities elsewhere.
Typically, the high-turnover workplace has a culture that breeds negativity and even sabotage. Interesting research from the University of British Columbia showed that employees are more likely to undermine their peers if they do not feel connected to the group. These individuals can do serious damage. They withhold useful information, spread nasty rumors, and secretly damage their colleagues’ work.
If the doctor/manager isn’t paying attention or is dismissing expressed concerns, s/he is paving the way for good employees to exit. Oftentimes, the doctor simply doesn’t know how to deal with the issues, and neither do the employees.
In most practices, there’s no mechanism or process in place for employees to effectively share concerns or grievances. Typically, most doctors or office managers mistakenly believe that if they claim the office has an “open door policy” they’ve done all that’s necessary to encourage employees to come forward with issues. But team members need to know that if they have concerns or complaints, there are procedures in place in which they can voice them, without fear of punishment.
We encourage practices to implement an “Employee Concerns Policy.” This is a defined procedure in which employees complete a form that is available to them and give it to the doctor, anonymously if they choose. Rather than saying, “We have an open door policy,” the policy needs to say that the employee will be protected if they come forward with a concern. There will not be any retaliation. The purpose is to encourage discussion about the issue. It may be as small a concern as how staff breaks are handled to the more serious issues, such as reporting harassment.
The most important aspect of this is that there is a section in which the employee writes down her/his concern and the doctor writes down the practice’s response to the employee’s concern. The employee knows that the problem will get a response, it won’t just be ignored. A key benefit of this type of process is that it enables the doctor or office manager to learn much more about what’s happening in the practice and among the team. But the greatest benefit is that both employees and the doctor genuinely appreciate the policy because it makes it much easier for the entire team to deal with problems as they arise.
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