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Avoiding Dental Practice Turnover

Your day has taken a turn for the worse; one of your team members quit unexpectedly. You did not see it coming, and to make matters worse, today will be their last day. Once the initial shock of their exit has passed, how do you respond?

What do you do when your dental assistant or administrative team member quits out of the blue? How do you keep the morale in the office high with the sudden loss, fill the gap that has been created, and make sure that your team isn’t overwhelmed by the added responsibilities everyone will have in the days to come?

You begin scrambling and enter panic mode. What are you going to do? How will the practice manage being one team member short? How quickly can you find a dental assistant that knows everything they need to do? Or a treatment coordinator that speaks insurance like a pro?

As you think more about it, you’re not even 100% certain what tasks this team member was responsible for!

You are not alone!

Many dental practices across the country have found themselves in this exact situation. In this post-COVID environment, being suddenly down a team member, or two, or more, has been the reality for many practices.

Every established practice, no matter how successful, has been through this and will go through it again. Now is not the time to panic. Now is the time to assess what you had, what you have, what you need, and how to move forward in a way that supports the practice as a whole.

In our 20+ years of coaching dental teams through transition, we know turnover happens! We have developed a checklist with five key steps you can take to make sure this process goes as smoothly as possible without creating chaos in the lives of the rest of your team members.

Immediate Action Steps

Step 1: Communicate
The best leaders and the best teams do not just communicate, they over-communicate. Do not leave your team in the dark, wondering what has happened, and what happens now. As soon as possible (I’m talking the day that your team member left or the next morning if they quit at the end of the day), have a brief meeting to let the rest of the team know what has happened. You don’t want the gossip mill to start churning or fear to rise out of wondering. Convey with confidence “We’ve got this, and it’s going to be ok.”

Step 2: Pause and assess the true needs of your practice.
Your immediate thought will likely be “I must replace this team member”, but I encourage you to s…l…o…w… d…o…w…n. Take some time to revisit your vision and  core values. Where are you now, and where are you hoping to go? Is replacing this individual in alignment with your ultimate goals? Do you need this position to operate efficiently? We often act out of fear and without thought, which does not serve us or our team. If you are growing, yes, replace this team member! Yet if your goal is to cut back or reduce patient hours, maybe this was a blessing in disguise.

Step 3: Sort through and/or create job descriptions RIGHT away.
Clear and concise job descriptions are a key component in the success of any team member. If individuals don’t know what is expected of them, they will struggle to consistently deliver on their “expected” roles. If you already have job descriptions, fantastic! Take this time to review them and make sure they still align with what you need. If you don’t have them, this is the time to get them. Begin with the team member that you need to hire. Enlist the help of your team to make sure that the job description is thorough and accurate. Also, give some thought to the personality characteristics needed for this position so you can find the right PERSON for the job, not just the right SKILLSET. This information is not only imperative in the hiring process, but it will also be key in this interim time before you either decide to hire a new team member or assign their tasks to the remaining team members.

Coaching tip!  As you work through job descriptions, identify tasks as being either primary or secondary. This will assist in the prioritization of tasks in the immediate days to come.

Step 4: Identify key tasks for current team members.
The next step is to determine what are essential tasks for current team members, and what items can be ‘set aside’ for now, to make room for other primary tasks. After you identify the primary tasks that need to be absorbed, highlight any secondary tasks, and add them to the downtime task list for other members of the team. This will help to ensure that the practice does not fall too far behind in any area. Once again, you see how important job descriptions are here. If they are missing, this is the time to create them.

Step 5: Divide and conquer.
Make some new agreements about how the rest of the team will complete the key tasks of the now-departed team member. General tasks can be assigned once, but as we all know, many things arise daily in dental practices that we need to address. The daily huddle is a perfect time to make sure that nothing falls through the cracks. Carve out an extra few minutes to discuss the items that need attending to today that we can’t miss out on. Your daily huddle is a perfect time not only to review and make sure that the team is staying on top of things but also to keep connected to ensure that the team is not becoming completely overwhelmed by the added work.

Moving Forward

You may know from day one that you cannot function without an extra body, or it may take a bit of time to realize that you must replace the individual that left. If you know or soon realize that the team absolutely cannot complete the tasks of the missing team member, reach out for temporary help. Just remember that a part-time dental assistant or hygienist is simply meant to be a stop-gap until you can hire an individual that fits the specific needs of your practice. While you have a temp filling the open position, you need to be actively working to hire a permanent replacement.

Finding out a dental assistant, hygienist, or any team member is leaving the practice with little to no notice is never an easy thing to manage. Just remember, this is not the time to panic and make a rash decision that will only cause more frustration With solid job descriptions in place, a team supporting you and supporting each other through this transition, you can take the time needed to find, hire, and train the best member for your team.


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