PRACTICE SEEKING THE NON-DISPOSABLE EMPLOYEE:
A PROMISE TO VALUE THE HUMAN FACTOR
However wrong, I grew up in an era where being a doctor, an owner, a boss, or a manager was a position that was to be revered. I say however wrong because it seemed there was no other reason to revere the person beyond the position itself. No matter the character of said boss, the status and rank were to be celebrated, respected, even on the side of worshiped. I say however wrong because as you’ll read in a few sentences, it gave me personally, and perhaps many others, a false sense of confidence and an overinflated ego. I’d recently read in ‘Love as Business Strategy,” that students in MBA programs are still taught that employees are disposable and replaceable.
Disposable: how absolutely awful to consider people disposable. My own mislead understanding of putting rank over people calls to mind my very first (failed) associateship where a hygienist and I went head to head. Each of us had a different way of approaching patients and treating periodontal conditions, and we became quite verbal about it. It finally came to the owner of the practice to find a resolution, or more truthfully, pick a side. There was no part of me that doubted and wrongfully predicted that he would choose a dentist over a hygienist. After all, I was the doctor.
I was a doctor he’d paid thousands of dollars to hire, an investment, a producer, a potential partner for a buy in.
I was also immature, arrogant, and wrong (this I did not understand at the time). And thus, I felt like a semi ran over me when he chose the hygienist, a tried and true, philosophy aligned team member over me, the doctor. It’s taken me 17 years to understand his decision point. 17 years to put into perspective that people matter over status, that people matter over rank, that hygienists, dental assistants, administrators, and even janitors can matter more than a doctor or manager. And today, with 22 years in the field of dentistry, I finally not just understand that people matter more than profitability, I understand why they do and how we can make them feel like they do.
Attaching a human factor to the business acumen of running a practice has made it a lot easier for me to find team members. In a landscape of corporations, business, and practice owners scrambling to find team members, considering people over profit and communicating that has put me first in line for finding and surrounding myself with potential and current employees. With many ads across the country going unanswered or having very few clicks, mine get more than 500 views with each post and the candidate pool from which I can choose goes into double digits for hygienists. It climbs into triple digits for practice administrators.
I want to spend the next several paragraphs disclosing the secrets of what attracts those candidates. In the past, I have chosen to keep that close to my vest. I felt that if I were to share with others the ads I’d written to attract potential team members, it would dilute my own message. To a certain extent, I still stand behind that. Ultimately, my choosing to share the ad that gets me so many clicks is simply for the sake of sharing, for learning from one another. I also happen to understand that the words I am sharing with this audience only fit the promises I am willing to make and not ones that anyone will choose to live up to. I will spend the next few paragraphs explaining how to research and write an ad to attract the absolute best. In subsequent articles, I will talk about the following steps in interviewing and keeping those best.
TO BE PICKED, NOT BE THE ONE WHO IS PICKING
As we embark on a journey of looking for a new team member, the most important thing to keep in mind is the fact that many employees today, whether it be in dentistry or other industries, have been forced to perform more than their fair share of tasks and job descriptions. The lack of staffing has put undue and unprecedented pressure on those who still remain in the profession of said understaffed office. Yes, it has driven salaries and benefits up more than we might have anticipated, but with fewer employees delivering the care of a full team, fatigue, and mental exhaustion run rampant. And thus, when these overloaded and overworked current employees of other practices become potential employees at our practice, we must understand their list of non-negotiables. The non-negotiables being a list benefits, promises, and rewards that employees are no longer willing to compromise on.
These non-negotiables are a wake up call for any and all business owners. Because we will continue to work short handed, unless, as employers, we are willing to participate in this new paradigm shift and find a middle ground, compromising (at our expense) on how to reward current and future employees. With the great resignation so talked about in the media and the news, the tables have turned. Employees are not disposable like MBA programs teach.
Managers and doctors are no longer revered. The playing field has leveled. A doctor is no more important than a practice administrator.
Shocking to type these words and maybe even more shocking to read them. But once again, if this information seems too hard to swallow or appears erroneous, I believe a practice’s ability to grow and disperse the currently heavy workload will be stunted. What I propose, is that when searching for team members, when attracting the burnt out current employees looking for a healthier and more balanced work environment, the idea of what we offer, as opposed to what we are looking for, needs to be communicated in the advertisement.
KNOW YOUR AUDIENCE
One of the first steps in writing an attractive ad is to figure out both your audience and your competition. Yes, I know, we hadn’t done that before, we’d never needed to do that before, but it’s time to start.
Times have changed and we must evolve with them. For the sake of this writing, I will refer to ads specifically focusing on a hygienist. I do this not just because the demand for said provider is so high, I also do this for the sake of being able to exemplify my recommendations somewhat specifically.
Let’s pretend you are looking for a hygienist in the above area. The first thing is to perform research. Keep in mind that by the time this article goes live, or by the time you get to it, some of the data I present may be outdated. In my search in the month of October, and steady for the last month or so (as I’ve been checking), there are almost 300 jobs available for a registered hygienist 25 miles of Elmhurst, a western Chicago suburb where I practice.
As you perform your due diligence, start asking yourself: Who are these hygienists that are looking for a new dental home, what do they value, why are they leaving?
Go to RDH boards, facebook groups, read magazine articles specifically designed for hygienists to find out all you can on this. You can also refer to my articles about RDH burnout and their reasons for leaving the profession. I believe this investigation is an incredibly important step. It’s not just important to understand your audience, it’s important to know how to serve them. The potential pool of candidates is no longer there for our taking, it is no longer there to be engaged and dismissed at the pleasure of the doctor. The tables are turned, and as leaders we must eat last, per Simon Sinek.
We are to serve them. And it’s not just important to recognize it, it’s important to believe it, to live it, and to place honor in delivering it. When I first posted my ad, “A Love Letter To My Dental Hygienist” almost a year ago, one of the applicants responded simply to prove to herself that the hiring dentist (myself) could not possibly live up to promises made in that ad. She answered the ad to call me out on what she thought was my b.s.
That was Diane, 9 months ago, a hygienist I’d waited to work with my entire career, and one I would have waited for 18 more years to meet. Diane and I have been on the same page from the first 5 minutes of our initial zoom call. I hope no doubt that she will stay with our office for as long as I continue to live out and deliver on the promises of taking under consideration who she is as a person, what she loves as a human, and what she needs as a team member.
PEOPLE OVER PROFIT
Let’s talk budget, not for the ad, but for the position. What are you willing to pay? What will it take to hire a great new employee? Now, most people in the world work because they have to. Money makes the world go round, puts food on the table, and ensures a roof over our heads. Sometimes, it affords a nice dinner or a vacation. I do not pretend that the compensation package isn’t a vital part of the equation when attracting an employee.
It’s very important, but it isn’t key, or perhaps not as key as most imagine it to be (more on that later). The wage, along with other benefits such as paid time off, health insurance, life insurance, and profit sharing are now an indispensable requirement and are up quite a bit in the last 3 years. I’ve discussed that in each one of my articles on cultivating a relationship with our hygienists. Having said that, the hourly wage still must be appropriate for the time and the area. While $42 may have been a reasonable compensation for an RDH 3 years ago, posting that as your upper limit today will not get clicks.
It may not even get clicks as your starting point for a salary.
Base compensation is a start; that number is simply an initiation to the process, an aid in whether or not the hygienist will make a split second decision to click on the ad and then maybe read it through.
Now, there are a number of ways to determine what that wage is. One is to talk to your colleagues in the area and see what they are offering. Another is to talk to an accountant that’s specific to the area you’re serving and ask what they are seeing as trends. The last is to evaluate your competition by—you guessed it—returning to research.
APART FROM THE REST
Once you know who is out there and what they are looking for, it’s not time to evaluate your completion. An indeed search, as pictured at the beginning of this article, will show how many jobs are available near your zip code. This helps understand and put into perspective how many other offices are competing for a certain candidate pool. The number itself may seem overwhelming, as it does in the screenshot above.
Yet it will be combing through the ads themselves that will help evaluate the quality of completion, and whether your office has what it takes to rise above the rest. Poll after poll among hygienists have told us that one of the main reasons they are leaving the field has to do with lack of benefits from their dental small business employers. As you examine the ads of your competitors and take a look at the rate of pay, be sure to pay even more attention to the offer of insurance benefits, schedule flexibility, paid time off, profit sharing, continuing education, and overall career advancement.
Make a list of what you offer and see how you compare.
Are you competitive enough on paper alone? By competitive, I mean anything other than average.
Is what you offer enough for someone to consider uprooting their current position, in the face of fear and anxiety about what that new position may bring?
EXERCISE FOR ALL
Pretend you are a hygienist. You love working with patients, enjoy the clinical nature of what you do, but feel underpaid, burnt out, and there is a lack of benefits in your current position. You also feel under-appreciated, you feel you have no say in delivering patient care, and feel very little room to grow and advance within your career. This is a fairly common finding.
There are a little less than 300 jobs available for your taking.
What would you notice among all of those ads? More importantly, what would you choose to respond to?
Do any of those ads stand out? Even the wages on some of those are significantly lower than what the market bares right now. We all know the job responsibilities of a hygienist, so to restate that one has to “identify conditions like gingivitis, caries, or periodontitis” is redundant. And more alarmingly, the ads only speak on the expectations of the potential employee, none address the promises of employers short of the bullet points presented at its end.
As a hygienist, would you feel compelled to respond to any of these ads? I, personally, would not.
Now take a look at the difference with the following ad titled “A Love Letter to My Dental Hygienist.”
Though I still have reservations about diluting the value of the above by sharing and worry about plagiarism, the difference between me, who posts it, and another, who plagiarizes it, is that I authentically and whole heartedly mean every word and am willing to live out its value. Whatever ad you put together yourself, it needs to represent the core values of your office, the pride with which you take care of your patients, the collaboration you’re willing to make with your team members, and the effort you bring in keeping them happy. But even more importantly than that, the words you put on paper (errr… type on a screen) cannot be empty declarations.
What you put up at the top of the ad needs to play to the non-negotiable human. What will draw applicants to said ad needs to reflect what you offer to the human and not what you request of the position. Those few words need to put on display what you are proud of, your culture and team work; it needs to show that you care about the overall satisfaction of those who take care of patients and that it has priority. Sometimes more priority even than profitability.
It seems we’ve had the equation backwards all along. A happy team, a human team, a collaborative team will create a far more profitable practice than one who is thought of as disposable.
Writing the ad is just the beginning.
Living up to the promises made in those ads is what will bring the return on the investment of looking for the team member.
We’ll cover that in more articles to come.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Dr. Maggie Augustyn is a general dentist (Elmhurst, Illinois), an author, and columnist (Dentistry Today). She completed her formal dental education, earning a doctorate of Dental Surgery from the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC). Augustyn reads, researches, writes, and speaks on the things that make us human first and dentists second. She has also been featured on various podcasts bringing attention to mental wellbeing, the things that make us hurt, and those that make us come alive. She is an inspirational speaker around the country and can be reached at email@example.com.