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11.21.08 Issue #350 Forward This Newsletter To A Colleague

Stress Boiling Over? Turn Down The Heat
by Sally McKenzie CEO
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Some dentists are utterly convinced that stress is an inherent part of dentistry, so much so that without significant quantities of it, they believe the practice must not be performing as it should be, the team must not be working as hard as they could be or the office must not be making as much money as it might be. In fact, just the opposite is true. Dentists and dental teams are paying the price personally and professionally for life in the pressure cooker.

Studies cited by the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health show that stressful working conditions are associated with increased absenteeism, tardiness and intentions by workers to quit their jobs—all of which have negative effects on any business’s bottom line, particularly a small dental practice.

Although stress neither can nor should be eliminated, managing it is critical. Dentists and their teams need to identify those areas that cause negative stress and take concrete actions to reduce them. It all starts with changing the things you can. Staff can be changed, educated and properly directed; schedules can be changed; collections can be changed; treatment presentations can be changed; business procedures can be changed—all to yield improvements and reduce strain on the practice and team immediately. Take these steps:

  • List the stressors, starting with those issues that are most intense. Develop a plan of action to address the sources of stress through a procedure or system.
  • Meet regularly as a team to refine systems and procedures that continue to cause stress.
  • Clearly define staff roles and responsibilities.
  • Train your team to ensure that they are prepared to carry out their responsibilities and can succeed in their positions.
  • Establish work schedules that are compatible with demands and responsibilities of the job. If Julie is responsible for delinquent account calls but is never allowed time or a quiet space to make those calls, she cannot meet her job expectations. Make adjustments so employees can actually carry out the duties they are assigned.
  • Improve communications. If you are stressed out because cancellations and no-shows have occurred at record pace the last few months, rest assured your team is worried, too. Don’t just wring your hands and silently agonize over what will happen next—talk about the situation as a team and together develop strategies to address it.
  • Take time out for fun. Schedule an afternoon at the movies, a day at the zoo, a long lunch for everyone at a favorite restaurant. A little fun can go a long way towards reducing stress.

In addition, take a few pointers from “healthy” businesses. These companies have some key characteristics that keep office stress under control, thereby improving morale, increasing productivity and reducing absenteeism and attrition.

Recognize employees for a job well done not just once a year but routinely. Make an effort to acknowledge the good work of at least one employee in your practice every day. Provide opportunities for career development. Most quality employees want more than just a job; they want the chance to become truly proficient. Provide opportunities for professional growth to your staff and your practice will likely benefit every bit as much as your employees do.

Give your team a voice in the practice improvement process. Make them a valued part of the solutions. For example, if the new patient experience is lacking, create a subcommittee to identify ways in which it could be improved and present their recommendations to the group.

Make sure your actions as the leader of your practice are consistent with practice policies and values. In other words, if you have a collections policy that you expect your business team to follow consistently, don’t engage in your own financial negotiations with your favorite patients. If you expect your staff to be on time for the daily huddle, make sure you are punctual as well. If not, you are further fueling practice stress.

Remember, old habits die hard. Often it is essential to bring in a third party to help develop a plan of action and assist the doctor and team in implementing and maintaining systems that reduce stress.

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