Working Relationships, Why Things Go Wrong, Making it Work!

July 1, 2012 | Practice Management |

Having enjoyed many years in dentistry,  I have seen, heard and experienced almost every situation imaginable.  This article outlines some of these instances that were sometimes humorous, sometimes regrettable and most often a cause for thought.

It is important to have a dental office that exudes professionalism.  This includes the way staff act, the way they dress, the look of the office and what staff say to patients and to each other.  For example, i have seen a receptionist eating a mango at the front desk. Picture the mess. the doctor made an excuse that she was pregnant and had cravings for mango’s!  The puzzling, bewildered look on patients’ faces watching her eat the mango
was unforgettable.

I asked one dentist if he was having a Christmas party and he said “why would i have a Christmas party, we don’t even like each other!”  I received an e-mail from a dentist who agreed with my concern about in office issues and said he once employed a staff member that showed up drunk for work, and another that resorted to arson to get time off work.

Why sexy is not better!

The way staff dress creates an impression about the office.  I have seen a staff member in very tight yoga pants.  Another wore a great suit but matched it with a provocatively low blouse and open-toed sandals that revealed feet in need of a pedicure.  Yet another wore a fresh, white uniform with black underwear that was very revealing.  Of course, not all inappropriate dress is sexy; for example, hiking boots coupled with a clinical uniform do not match and is distracting to patients and staff alike.

Chewing gum should be part of the office policy ‘not to do’ list and aggressively chewing gum is even worse and very distasteful. in a beautiful professional practice
that oozed class, I witnessed an assistant chewing gum and blowing bubbles while assisting the dentist.  Showing a patient your new tattoo on your shoulder (even if it is lovely) is not appropriate in a dental office.

Are dentists perfect?

Of course not, no one is perfect but it is important to remember that dentists should be like any other business owner and set an example for their team. if the dentist (male or female) is overly casual or has an unkempt appearance, the message sent to the team is it does not matter how we look at work.

I have seen jeans on many dentists and there is a difference between pressed (yep i said pressed) and clean jeans and ones that looked like they have been working in the garden.

Assistants have asked me,“Anita can you please tell the dentist that patients are complaining about his/her bad breathe.”

Previously most dentists were male; today, a high percentage of female dentists are graduating.  The dynamics of a dental office are changing and evolving.  When there is a male dentist some of the employees flirt openly with him.  One dentist told me,“honestly Anita, I have to admit i have been infatuated/loved every one of my team members at one
time or another.”  He is now divorced and on his third wife.

When there is flirting it causes favouritism, and adds an element of stress in the practice.  This development is not unique to a dental practice, it is part of life; but, the negatives of flirtation far outweigh the positives not to mention the concern today about sexual harassment.  A dentist told me recently “Anita, years ago, we all used to hug in the morning and now I walk close to the wall in the hall so I do not touch anyone as I pass by.”

The way we are.

The way we look is important but equally so is the way we act.  Yes, we all have a bad day, but throwing charts, stamping around like a three year old is an amusing and silly way for an adult to act.  Patients do not read magazines in the greeting area, they love to watch everything that happens and often it is entertaining… but is it professional?

A friend told me that she knows her dentist does not like her because she can hear him talking and laughing in the other treatment room, but ignores her to the point of being rude when he comes into the operatory to treat her.  I have actually seen a business assistant slide down behind the desk because a difficult patient walked in the door.

To ignore people is not the solution, treat people the way you like to be treated. if someone is difficult it is usually because they have a problem.  Find out what the problem is and come up with a solution, it may be something as simple as not understanding their treatment or their fee and this can be rectified.

The reality is not every patient is happy; some people are happy being miserable and no matter what you do, it never seems to be enough.  A dentist told me that one of his gifts
to his team each year was to divorce the patients from the practice that were difficult and rude, did not pay their bills and missed numerous appointments costing the practice money.  Do you really need these patients in your practice?

How can you spend 8 working hours a day with someone you do not like or respect? well, sometimes you just have to!  If the dentist insists on keeping the employee because they
do their job, even though they make your life and others unpleasant, you can’t do much about it.  Smile, be professional and focus on conversing with the positive people you enjoy
in the office.we cannot always choose the people we work with, having an ‘attitude’ about this makes you as bad as them.  My advice,‘kill them with kindness’, negative people find
that really annoying.

Good boss, bad boss.

There are many excellent employers that have respect for their team, work together, communicate effectively, have office guidelines, policies and benefits, all in a positive
work environment.

Bad boss! “Fun in our office? are you crazy?  I do not pay people to have fun here, we are here to work.”  There are dentists that are critical and rude to their team members in front of patients and staff.  Sometimes staff work very long hours with not even a ‘thank you’ at the end of the day. some staff members may be treated differently than others which can create disappointment and resentment. My advice is to talk to the employer but often people are afraid to so and should at that point look for another job.

Choosing to be happy at work.

As one dentist told me “the sound of my assistants breathing irritates me.”  Another dentist told me “when I see my assistant in the parking lot I want to run her over.”  We may smile or even laugh at these comments; but, it is better to enjoy the people you work with.  We all have a choice.  My choice is to be happy in all i do, family, friends, work and play.

This is not a dress rehearsal for real life, this is the only life we have so enjoy and as the song says,“don’t worry, be happy.”

Bottom Line:  This is an often amusing account of staff, dentist and patient interaction in a dental office.