Long-Term Employee Retention at the Dental Practice: It Starts with Your Culture

May 17, 2022

What makes talent stay and work at your dental practice for years to come? While your first thought may have something to do with pay or benefits, that may not be the case. According to IBM, a positive employee experience and meaningful work are key to retention. In fact, when employees feel that their work is consistent with their organization’s core values, 80 percent of them report a more positive workplace experience. That’s a 50 percent increase from just 29 percent of employees who report enjoying their work when it is not aligned with organizational values.

While offering benefits and opportunities for growth is important, retention starts with culture. Everything that you do in the office should reinforce your culture to your patients and your employees. As the last blog in our dental office HR series, we will dive into exactly how you can use your culture to foster long-term employee retention. From identifying your leadership ideals to asking for employee feedback, there are several important things you can do to create a more positive experience that leads to greater retention.

Define Your Unique Ideals and Values

If you haven’t already done so, you should start by answering a simple question: “Why would a patient come and visit our practice as opposed to one down the street?” Imagine an ideal vision of your practice with everything that you and the rest of the leadership envision. This should include everything from your primary reason for building your practice to your unique value propositions. For example, you might include any of the following:

  • Low cost
  • Wide acceptance of insurance
  • Location in an underserved area
  • Multiple locations to choose from
  • Providing more services than competitors
  • More accurate billing
  • Better staff
  • Better technology
  • High-end, first-class experiences
  • Community involvement
  • Availability for emergency patients
  • Offering treatment to patients scared of the dentist

You cannot embody all of the above priorities at once, so you should focus on the things that are most important to you. By identifying your unique market value first, the rest of your culture will follow. Upholding your culture isn’t a one-person job; feel free to ask your staff for their thoughts as well.

Once you’ve identified your vision, you need to focus on what values your practice believes in that set you apart from competitors. For example, these can include one or more of the following:

  • Integrity
  • Accountability
  • Diligence
  • Perseverance
  • Quality
  • Diversity
  • Innovation
  • Sincerity
  • Teamwork
  • Leadership
  • Compassion
  • Honesty
  • Frugality
  • Environmentalism

Once you’ve identified which of these qualities you want your brand to represent, you can foster them in both your organization and individual people.

Play to Your Employees’ Strengths

Again, you can’t be everything at once. Rather than being something you aren’t, focus instead on the strengths you and your team already have. What does your team do best? This will vary over time based on employees coming and going from your practice; however, there are a few variables that you can continue to foster with new hires.

Write these strengths down; then, consider thinking of your culture based on this hierarchy:

When looking at your culture, there may be team members who simply don’t buy in. For example, maybe they don’t believe in the way you’re treating patients. Perhaps they don’t love the way you organize your business. Those types of employees may never realistically buy into your practice. In these cases, practice leadership may need to consider moving on from them or removing them from the practice.

In order to maintain your culture, you need team members who buy into your vision, agree with your values, and bring strengths to the table that reinforce your vision and values. Not only will you inform the culture by communicating it, but your people will also create it. Don’t make the job harder for yourself by trying to convince unconvinceable people that there’s value in your practice.

Communicate Culture Early and Regularly

Now that you’ve identified the values and ideals of your culture, you need to communicate them early and often. You shouldn’t assume that your employees will inherently recognize and embody your values. They may not even understand why they’re important. To make sure that there’s a complete understanding of your culture, consider adopting the following practices:

  • Explicitly explain why your culture matters: For example, share specific statistics that reflect the positive impact of your culture, such as expressing that referrals increased by 10 percent over the last year as a result of focusing on building relationships with patients.
  • Set behavior expectations: If someone has a question and cannot reach a leader for an answer, they should use the practice values and culture to guide them. By having a set of expectations in place, they will always have something to refer back to.
  • Thread culture throughout everything that you do: Whether it’s marketing, finance, OSHA, safety, or something else, your team should have your culture and values at the forefront of their minds.
  • Create opportunities to live the culture: The more involved your team is, the more they’ll feel a stake in it. Allow employees to pitch ideas on what they would like to see in line with the practice culture and implement them.
  • Create traditions around your culture: Special days at the practice, costumes, prizes, and rewards can all make celebrating your people and culture that much more powerful. These are great ways to show appreciation for those who live out your culture, even through something small like thanking people for a job well done.
  • Share successes with the team: Live by the standard to praise in public and punish in private to encourage employees rather than beat them down.
  • Spend time as a team together: Morning huddles, voluntary after-work events, and company dinners can boost morale and foster understanding between employees.
  • Find stories that communicate the culture: Every time an employee does something great that represents your culture, share it with the team! It can be big or small, but recognizing team members for a job well done can encourage not only that individual but the rest of the company as well.
  • Have quarterly check-ins with employees: Regular reviews with employees can help you see if they have anything inhibiting their performance and give them the chance to share any ideas to get better.

Some practices distill their culture into a saying like “We do dentistry the right way.” While that is perfectly fine, know that the minute an employee perceives that a leader—whether it’s a doctor or office manager—is not doing the things “the right way,” they will throw it back in the leader’s face by saying they are not living out the culture. Practice leadership must hold themselves accountable and to a higher standard on living out culture; otherwise, everything falls apart. For instance, if part of your culture is providing low-cost dentistry, the doctor can’t be driving a Bentley to work every day, or staff will perceive that as not living out the culture.

Having a great culture doesn’t mean that employees will never resign, as there are always things that occur outside of employees’ control. However, employees understand through culture how a practice will react to difficult situations, which gives them a baseline of consistency that will help prevent them from actively looking for a new role.

Have any questions about the content covered in this series? Feel free to reach out to me at [email protected].

About the Author

Tom Nemcek works as the human resources director for Vivos Therapeutics, Inc. He graduated from Xavier University in Cincinnati, Ohio, with a bachelor’s in human resources. Tom has over 13 years of experience working specifically with dental offices. Prior to starting with Vivos, Tom ran the human resources department for a dental service organization with over 160 dental offices in 14 states with over 2,000 employees.

Tom is passionate about creating a dynamic and unique culture in dental offices to set them apart from competitors. Tom currently lives in Dallas, Texas, with his spouse and likes to travel and read in his spare time.