Dr. James Younger is both a practicing dentist and the CEO of TempStars, a company that provides termpoary staff to dental practices in the US and Canada. We asked Dr. Younger for his views on finding good staff in 2022, and this is what he told us.
In the world of dentistry, we all know that there is no such thing as a “solo practitioner”. Every practice needs a team to create a prosperous dental practice.
One of the challenges in this pandemic environment is that dental office owners are finding it harder to recruit and retain good people for their teams.
The dental job market is inevitably cyclical from a supply and demand standpoint. If you’ve been practicing for more than 10 years, you’ve seen times where there was an abundance of applicants to interview. Those times will return again, but right now the COVID pandemic has put us on the other side of things.
What Are The Causes?
COVID has caused a convergence of factors that affect the number of quality applicants available:
- Graduation cohorts of dental professionals were delayed
- Some have chosen early retirement or otherwise left the workforce
- Others have chosen to work in fields other than dental
- Some are waiting to return to work until they feel safer
Any of these factors can affect the number of dental professionals available, but when combined it does make for a frustrating hiring experience.
What Are The Effects?
Naturally, these causes have many direct and indirect effects:
- Hourly rates are going up
- There is a lot of employee turnover
- The imbalance of demand has led to some aggressive recruitment tactics by offices
- Payroll expenses are going up
- Team members are leaving for higher hourly rates or benefits
- Dental offices are in a position where they’re looking to hire without the luxury of selecting from a pool of candidates in search of the best fit for culture and skills
How Widespread Is This?
These trends exist across North America. As TempStars expands into new markets in the United States, we’re hearing of the same frustrations everywhere. It’s important to keep in mind that this situation is not unique to dentistry. Every industry is seeing the same challenges, from Hospitality to Trades and Construction.
Further, we can’t forget that inflation in the fall of 2021 hit 4.7% – the highest rate in 18 years. Inevitably, this drives up wages along with the cost of living.
What Can We Do?
While there are always systemic improvements that can be made in public policy, government and educational infrastructure, I’m always one to think, “What solutions to this challenge lie within my direct ability? What can I do to improve the situation that doesn’t hinge on what others are doing?”
For illustrative purposes, let’s discuss two representative dental offices on opposite ends of the spectrum of hiring frustrations – variants of which we encounter regularly. Let’s discuss the differences in their experiences of finding, hiring and retaining great people.
Dr. Smiles Dental Care (names are changed) is owned by leaders who have historically placed high value on treating their team well, building a healthy team culture, clarifying and living their values while prioritizing sound leadership.
Dr. Smiles hasn’t suddenly decided these things are important because of a pandemic, but rather those values are baked into the leadership style of Dr. Smiles and the manager.
This dental office has spent years building a reputation as a great place to work with wages that reflect the skills of a high-performing team. They have an aligned team and effective systems that set everyone up for success. Dr. Smiles and the office manager model the behaviors they want in teams, act as an inspiration, and help their team feel energized doing work that matters.
When Dr. Smiles is looking to fill an opening, she typically doesn’t need to post the position. They’ve built a network of great dental professionals, so typically Dr. Smiles gets quality applicants via word-of-mouth. And those they hire develop a “missionary” mindset – they believe in the office’s Mission, Vision and Values and are a great fit for the healthy team culture. Missionaries are much more likely to be retained by a good office like Dr. Smiles runs.
Dr. Frowns Dental Care (again, names are changed)is on the opposite side of the spectrum. The office manager and dentist are rude and demeaning and don’t treat their team with respect and professionalism. They have no defined values or culture, and their leadership styles are abrasive and condescending.
Dr. Frowns places little value on the positive work experience of his team, but rather relies on keeping the professional esteem of their employees low, so they feel “lucky to have a job.” Dr. Frowns compensates the bare minimum to fill the position and minimizes positive feedback, lest someone thinks they’re doing a good job and asks for a raise.
In this current climate, Dr. Frowns has challenges hiring good people. And those employees hired will likely apply elsewhere and jump ship for an extra few dollars without hesitation.
Dr. Frowns needs to offset the poor working experience of their team by offering higher than average compensation – and even then, they would only be able to hire “Mercenaries” (as opposed to “Missionaries”). Someone with a “Mercenary” mindset doesn’t believe in the Vision or Culture of the business, but is working strictly for the money and will chase the next job if it pays a little more.
Please don’t misunderstand – I’m not saying that if you’re struggling to hire and retain a great team, that you’re a bad boss like Dr. Frowns. Everyone is struggling with this problem in the COVID environment. It’s just that some offices make the problem even more challenging.
If you are struggling to find good people, is there room to start shifting your office culture, leadership, and systems to make it easier to build and keep a great team?
Investments in improving the work experience of your team are worth it – and while the job market is cyclical, these challenges aren’t going to go away. Even from a strictly monetary standpoint, it makes for higher production, increased revenue and profits (and a happier life) if you can build a work environment that attracts great people with a ‘missionary mindset’.
“Sink or swim” is “hit or miss”.
The idea of the ‘sink or swim’ mindset is – hire someone and let them prove on their own that they can ‘swim’ at your office.
Using this strategy, maybe 10% of people will ‘swim’. By investing in creating proper searching/hiring/onboarding systems, you’re going to multiply the number of people who can ‘swim’ at your office – because you’re teaching them about the pool and how to swim. Before they touch the water and once they get in.
This is a sound principle in any job market, but especially these days where applicants might not be flooding in, you want to have systems that set as many people up for success as possible.
It’s apparent that navigating this job market is a fact of life, but there is solace in knowing – the more effort you invest in creating a great work experience and setting your team up for success, the less susceptible you will be to losing someone. But let’s be honest – no matter how great your office is, you still have to pay respectable rates relative to the job market – those on your team need to know that they’re being paid what they’re worth.
- Create and value a great work experience for your team
- Create systems for finding, hiring, training new team members.
- Build operational systems that reduce the need to have a constant flow of exceptional people. Having great systems means you have a much larger pool of applicants to draw from who would be capable of exceptional performance and success. If your systems are poor then it means you need to be finding and hiring those rare and exceptional people who can succeed without clear systems. That’s very difficult, especially in today’s job market.
- Pay people what they’re worth
- Expand and strengthen your relationships with great dental professionals to make it easier to hire via word-of-mouth.
Because it really never ends. Even in the best of circumstances, retaining a great team is an ongoing process – there is always going to be turnover, and hopefully your practice is on a growth path that requires hiring additional people to the team.
I know we all want to shake our fists at the world right now, and it’s fine to take those moments to rail against the situation. But it’s counter-productive to wallow in those feelings. Ultimately, it’s up to us as leaders to rise to the occasion. And the more you prioritize strong culture, leadership, management and operational systems, the more “pandemic-proof” your team will be.
Dr. James Younger is a practicing dentist and the Founder/CEO of TempStars, a dental temping and hiring service that just works the way you wish dental temping services would work. Connecting over 4,000 dental offices with more than 14,000 dental hygienists and assistants, Dr. Younger is passionate about helping dentists and office managers be happier at work, providing insights and perspective on dental leadership, building healthy teams and keeping a finger on “the pulse” of the dental job market.
TempStars website is https://www.tempstars.com/