Energizing Your Employees

Published February 19th, 2018 in Blog, Practice Management Consulting | No Comments »

By Donna Rosebush, Practice Management Consultant

While the power of positive reinforcement and the notion that “you get what you reward” may seem to be common sense, it is not necessarily common practice in all organizations that I have observed.  A lot of employers and employees think that they already do a great job of showing and communicating appreciation. Yet, here are some current and striking statistics based on an article from the Bent Ericksen HR newsletter:

  • Only 29% of employees are engaged with their work
  • 54% of employees are not engaged with their work
  • 17% of employees are actively disengaged, meaning they’re regularly sabotaging productive work
  • 79% of employees who quit their jobs cite lack of appreciation as one of the main reasons for their choice to leave

Bottom line: you may not be doing as good a job as you think.  Your practice’s staff turnover statistic is often a good measuring stick for self-evaluation.

When it comes to management styles, people have a tendency to mimic the style they learned from previous jobs, employers, or personal relationships. After all, leadership skills are not something that we were born with, they are skills that must be learned and practiced.  We tend to do what is familiar to us. And if your past experiences haven’t proactively embraced appreciation in the workplace, then odds are you wouldn’t naturally do it either. The good news is you’re not stuck with that model – you can learn a different style. There are libraries full of books on leadership/management styles, there are leadership coaches, and there is data on the most effective management styles.

At the core of any energized workforce is the quality of the one-on-one relationships that your individual workers have with you, their employer, and the trust, respect, and consideration that you show toward them on a daily basis.  So often when I interview staff members one on one, I repeatedly hear “I never know if I’m doing a good job or if I’m about to be fired. I would really appreciate some form of review from the Dr.”   When asked what would motivate them most, bring them the greatest satisfaction in their job, or what it would be if they could wave a magic wand and have any one thing change, the answer I hear 8 out of 10 times is “Better communication!  More than a raise, I would love to know where I stand, get feedback on my performance, or be shown some form of appreciation for what I do. A simple yet sincere thank-you once in a while would go a long way!”

Think about a particularly tough day you’ve had recently—maybe the air compressor broke down one time too many, or a patient decided to vent his or her anger at you.  Just when it seemed that all was lost, another patient, or colleague dropped by to thank you for doing a terrific job on a case that you are particularly proud of.  Suddenly, your troubles with the air compressor and the angry patient were forgotten—replaced with the personal satisfaction of being recognized for a job well done.  Employees are no different.  People today are looking for much more than a paycheck.  They want to be treated like professionals whose contributions are recognized and appreciated.  That may sound obvious, and yet a lot of employers still don’t understand the direct correlation of job satisfaction vs. costly staff turnover.

While some claim that appreciation (or the need for it) is a generational trend—that “baby-boomers” work all day with no whining while those “millennials” can’t answer the phone without needing a compliment from their manager—the reality is everyone wants to be appreciated.

It doesn’t necessarily take much to bring out the best in people: simply asking for their opinions, providing an individual or the entire team with timely information that is important to them or involving them in decisions—especially when those decisions directly affect them or their jobs—can be very effective.

Empowerment—giving employees the responsibility and the authority to get things done their way can unleash tremendous amounts of worker energy.  Employees want to feel that they are trusted and valued members of the team.  When they are granted independence and autonomy, not only can you, the doctor, concentrate on production and other issues, but the employees are able to make better decisions—and they’re usually a lot happier on the job.

The key to the success of empowerment, however, is strong leadership.  There is a fine line between success and abdicating the leadership role by handing off responsibilities without sufficient training, clear expectations, and/or review of the expected results.  A great leader will take the time to identify the long term vision, communicate that vision to the team, encourage and empower the team/individual to take responsibility for their part in achieving the vision, and most importantly follow-up to ensure that each employee is held accountable and/or appreciated for their role.

Energized employees are creative employees.  When they are engaged in the operations of your practice, employees will voluntarily seek out new ways to address and solve problems.  The best organizations find ways to give their employees the time, support, and tools they need to stimulate creative thinking.  Unfortunately, the hurried pace in most dental practices leave precious little time for employees to just think and create, which is why I always advocate dedicating time to productive staff meetings, administrative time, and off-site staff retreats.  When working in such fast paced environments, it’s especially important for employees to be given opportunities to relax—share a laugh with their co-workers or just get away from the office for a bit as a team.

Face it—if your employees are stuck doing the same tasks over and over again, just like you, they’re going to find themselves in a rut.  However, new challenges can reenergize them and restore their enthusiasm.  Remember how you felt when you first started in practice—the excitement and anticipation, and occasional nervousness about starting a new procedure?  Well, you can help your employees retain or recapture that feeling by allowing them to take on interesting new challenges.

Encourage employees to take on, or assign them small projects, which require learning new tasks, working under time pressure, and dealing with new groups of people.  Such assignments might include:

  • Creating a task force to revamp an inefficient office system.
  • Planning an off-site staff retreat, CE conference, or “fun day” for the staff.
  • Research a new technology in the dental field, followed by a presentation and training session for the team.
  • Supervising product, program, equipment, or systems purchases (new treatment options like sleep apnea, implant technology or whatever else you may be interested in incorporating into your treatment mix, new software, patient contact enhancement systems, marketing, social media, website development…)
  • Going off-site to work a health fair or present the benefits of good oral health to a classroom
  • Supervising or assisting in a study club
  • Supervising the furnishing or redecorating of the office.
  • Making speeches for organizations
  • Attend their local association meetings
  • Dealing with a business crisis
  • Supervising cost cutting.
  • Write a new policy protocol, to be compiled to make an office procedural manual
  • Head up a “reactivation of lost patients” campaign
  • Prepare and present a marketing strategy to grow the practice
  • Bring in a practice management coach to spark new ideas and help guide you toward positive change while reenergizing the team

As you can see, the ideas are as vast as one’s imagination or the specific needs of your practice.  Be creative!  The point is by delegating these necessary, yet interesting tasks, you will be reducing your required time while helping individuals to grow, take ownership in the practice, and reignite a new path of interest in their career.  It’s WIN-WIN.

If you are interested and yet aren’t sure how to fit these exciting ideas into what seem to be already busy days and “overworked” employee schedules, give me a call.  Where there is a will there is a way!  I am always happy to help!


Empowering employees will increase job satisfaction.  Following are suggestions for lighting the fire:

  • Encourage employees to exercise initiative in their jobs and to take risks without fear of retribution.
  • Delegate all tasks that are legally within the realm of the employee
  • Encourage and utilize expanded functions
  • Encourage team members to seek out cost saving initiatives when ordering supplies, researching equipment purchases, adding efficiencies that reduce staff hours and labor costs and reward them with a percentage of the savings
  • Have the team members rotate in planning agendas and chairing staff meetings to improve quality, productivity, training and patient relations
  • Ask your employees to make lists of opportunities for career development, such as taking on new assignments, developing new skills, and participating in cross-functional teams. Then, meet with them to determine how these opportunities can be arranged and follow-up with on their progress during their performance reviews.

Create individual career development plans for each employee, detailing the skills they would like to learn and opportunities available for them, i.e. encourage assistant registration, hygiene-local anesthesia certification, front office-advanced training in computer software technology, etc.  Make your expectations clear and reward their accomplishments.