The recovery from the COVID recession has been both the fastest and the slowest in history. While unemployment rates recovered faster than most other recessions, labor participation has proven to be an unusually slow recovery. In the dental industry, too, the staffing crisis, which predated the pandemic, and this extreme labor imbalance continues to pose significant challenges for dental practices.
How did we get here?
Global trends point to an across-the-board staffing problem in every industry including dentistry. According to a recent report, the world is experiencing the biggest talent shortage in 15 years. Compared to 2013 when 35% of companies were experiencing talent shortages, by late 2021 that number had grown to 69% of employers struggling to hire talent.
Although the entire dental industry continues to also face shortages, the biggest shortage appears to be for dental hygienists.
A Dental Products Report article identifies several reasons for the shortage of dental hygienists.
- Burnout: higher production goals and demanding schedules.
- Fewer graduates: the number of qualified dental hygienists entering the profession is outpacing the aging boomer generation’s demand for dental procedures.
- Early retirement: many dental hygienists who were close to retirement have chosen to leave the industry permanently.
- Lack of certainty: continued uncertainty caused by the COVID-19 pandemic is also causing hesitation to return to work.
- Industry disenchantment: some hygienists are not considering lateral move even with an increase in pay.
Even among hygienists who may be open to a new position, many are not actively seeking job opportunities. This means that dental practices need to do more in order to attract the right candidates.
How to attract and retain dental staff in a challenging job environment
Rethink recruiting and job postings
It’s no secret, attracting talent in 2022 needs to look different than it did in the past. Here’s a couple ways you can rethink your search for talent:
- Prioritize recruiting instead of waiting for potential team members to find you.
- Position your dental practice as a competitive force in the open dental job market (e.g., compensation, culture, career advancement, etc.).
- Balance your hiring efforts through resume searches and job postings.
Showcase your dental practice culture
First, this requires that you have a practice culture worthy of attracting potential team members. A toxic or unappealing culture is among the top reasons for team member attrition. Learn how you can prevent burnout for dental practice employees.
You’ll increase your odds of attracting new hires if they feel confident that your practice has a healthy work environment. As an added benefit, this exercise will help ensure that you retain your current talent. Audit your practice’s culture by conducting an honest assessment of the practice culture. Ask yourself and your current team members:
- Are there any team members whose goals or workloads are unrealistic?
- Are team members overdue for merit-based raises or cost of living adjustments?
- Is there a sense of well-being, community, and mutual respect among team members?
- Does each team member feel that what they do has a positive impact on the practice and patients?
- Is there room for improvement in daily operations and workflows?
- Do team members feel they have a voice and are they regularly invited to provide input?
- Are team members given the opportunity to advance their careers and expand their skillset?
Once you’ve completed your audit, come up with action plans to improve your practice culture. In the spirit of transparency, share your plans with your current employees and raise these topics with new hires and job candidates as well. Making improvements to your practice culture will not only help you attract more candidates but also help you retain your current talent as well.
Leverage compensation and benefits to your advantage
Another important aspect of attracting and retaining talent is compensation and benefits. A good place to start is to investigate how your practice’s benefits compare to industry averages.
- Researching other dental practices in your geographic area by viewing job postings or asking a trusted colleague.
- Conduct a survey of your current employees to find out what possible changes to benefits would be most valuable to them.
- Identify gaps in compensation and benefits. Are you underpaying employees or offering below market rate to candidates?
- Be creative with benefits. Are there non-monetary ways to make job offers more attractive? This could include flexible schedules, remote working, etc.
You might be surprised to discover that the benefits your practice offers might be below average. In an era of dentistry where workloads are heavier due to team vacancies and COVID-19 risks, it makes sense to offer increased compensation and benefits to attract and retain staff.
By completing an honest appraisal of your practice’s compensation and benefits, you may realize that you need to increase pay but in the long run, ensuring that your team is engaged and has high job satisfaction pays dividends. Happier employees are more productive employees and can drastically improve the patient experience, too.
The current hiring crisis in dentistry demands a long-term plan to attract and retain talent. Invest the time to create benefits and compensation packages that help your practice stand out. The results could produce new levels of team member loyalty and role fulfillment.
Explore the following resources to improve your hiring and team building strategies:
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