It’s been said that the art of communication is the language of leadership. In the dental office, open communication between practice owners and staff ensures an efficient workplace, reduces employee turnover and helps mitigate potential employment-related claims.
Communication is at the heart of maintaining a cohesive team, thus improving job satisfaction and reducing employee turnover. There are many factors that go into job satisfaction. Some are obvious, such as pay and benefits, while others less so, such as opportunities for advancement, feeling of belonging and being professionally challenged.
One of the most important aspects to job satisfaction is a positive working environment. Positive working environments are those that embody fair policies and practices, good leadership and strong relationships among colleagues and supervisors.
In one case reported to The Dentists Insurance Company’s Risk Management Advice Line, an employee was hired as a full-time registered dental assistant. She was instructed to write down eight hours on her timecard, regardless of the actual hours worked. She was also asked to report 15 minutes prior to the start of her shift for a mandatory daily huddle.
Although the employee was not happy about these requests, she complied because she needed the job. Ultimately, the employee became fed up with not being paid for the actual hours worked. After a few months, she began to record her accurate hours on the timecard. Payroll denied the overtime. The employee questioned the dentist about the missing overtime on her paycheck and was told that his office policy is not to pay overtime unless prior approval is obtained. However, he had not previously informed her of his office policy regarding overtime.
To make matters worse, the office manager changed the employee’s schedule, resulting in a reduction of hours. The manager also changed her position from RDA to DA without prior notice. The employee contacted the office the following week and informed them that she would not be returning to work. Two months later, the office received a letter from an attorney representing the former employee, who alleged a hostile work environment and failure to pay overtime. Eventually, the case was settled through mediation for a high five-figure amount.
When communicating with employees, TDIC recommends that practice owners be clear, direct and decisive. This should begin with employee onboarding and continue through the duration of employment. A good starting point is a comprehensive and up-to-date employee manual. In addition, new employees must clearly understand the practice vision, goals, policies and procedures.
It’s also a leadership best practice to clearly outline each employee’s role and responsibilities. Each position should have a written job description and written expectations, and these expectations should be discussed with the employee in person to ensure understanding. This establishes accountability and increases motivation and performance for each member of the team.
How you communicate is often as important as what you communicate. The following tips can help:
Be authentic. Being honest and approachable helps build relationships. Sharing personal stories, finding common ground and asking open-ended questions creates a connection with the team, thus establishing trust.
Be positive. Approaching challenges with a can-do attitude works wonders on employee morale. Letting staff know you’re in it together creates a camaraderie that leads to buy-in from the entire team. Focus on successes and learn from failures.
Be consistent. Nothing kills employee morale faster than employees who feel they are treated differently or unfairly. Maintaining consistent policies in all aspects of practice management, from dress codes to time off, ensures each staff member feels respected.
Be concise. A lack of clear instructions is one of the greatest causes of lackluster performance in the dental office. Giving directives and using straightforward language illustrated with cause-and-effect examples can help in understanding. Practice owners are advised to conduct regular performance evaluations and morning huddles. Employees should also be asked whether they have follow-up questions.
It’s not enough to simply talk to your employees. Listening is arguably the most important skill in effective communication, and too often people listen only with the intent to reply. Instead, effective communication means listening with the intent to understand. To ensure goals and policies are clearly understood, practice owners are advised to encourage employees to provide feedback and comments, which can identify weak spots and provide valuable information for improvement. Simply asking the team “how can we improve communication in the office?” or “what would be one thing that you would like to change in the office?” can provide valuable insight and solutions that may not have previously been considered. Open-door policies encourage employees to speak their minds and further promote the team mindset.
Using the right communication channel for the message is also important. While email and texting have become commonplace in our society, they are not appropriate for sharing information in the workplace. Having face-to-face conversations with employees, whether individually or during morning huddles or meetings, builds relationships and trust in a way that sending a group email can’t. It also provides the opportunity for employees to ask clarifying questions, thus ensuring everyone is on the same page. Texting is especially detrimental to workplace communication as it decreases professionalism and makes it difficult, if not impossible, to deliver clear, concise information. Similarly, it’s a communications best practice to require employees to call in sick, rather than emailing or texting.
Naturally, the focus of most practice owners is on clinical care. But brushing up on basic leadership skills, such as communication, can do wonders for improving the workplace. Open dialogue between practice owners and staff establishes clear responsibilities and expectations, builds relationships and improves employee morale. Not only does an efficient workplace improve employee morale, it can help mitigate potential claims in the long run.
TDIC’s Risk Management Advice Line is a benefit to TDIC policyholders. To schedule a consultation with an experienced risk management analyst, visit tdicinsurance.com/RMconsult or call 800.733.0633. For Risk Management guidance in Idaho, Oregon or Washington, call 800.452.0504.