4 tips on hiring for your dental practice during a pandemic

By Malika Azargoon, DrBicuspid.com contributing writer

August 26, 2020 -- The current state of our world has thrown everything we thought we knew to be true out the window. This new reality has left many doctors unsure of how to manage many aspects of their practice, especially managing their team. If you are feeling overwhelmed and stressed, let the steps in this article be a guide to make one aspect of your job easier. The goal of sharing this information is to bring some confidence and comfort in a time of uncertainty and stress.

Even with almost 2 million jobs added to the market in July, the unemployment rate in the U.S. still tops 10% (at the time of writing). Specifically, in the District of Columbia, Maryland, and Virginia, the unemployment rate is between 8% and 9%. Historically, high unemployment rates indicated a favorable market for businesses looking to add new members to their teams. The current situation of our world, however, is nothing comparable to historical trends.

Malika Azargoon
Malika Azargoon.

Even with the benefits of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act ending and sending individuals looking for sources of income, another congressional act could mean more unemployment benefits and allow individuals nervous to return to work the support they need to stay at home. What does this mean for you as a doctor and practice leader? It means that it is critical now more than ever before to be clear in what you offer and why people should want to work for you.

The following are four areas that individuals are focused on when job searching during the circumstances presented by the current pandemic. Although these include my experience with other consultants who work across the country and my understanding of national trends, these specific aspects come from my experience trying to hire here in the mid-Atlantic region. I currently work with more than 120 offices, and hiring has been the No. 1 stressor, both before and during this pandemic.

Throughout the past four months, my team has continued to screen individuals for every role possible in dental offices. The feedback I have received from these individuals has given me direct knowledge of what current potential hires are focused on in the market. It has also shown me that these four aspects can make or break whether an individual accepts a position, even if they have no competing offers.

Safety

Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) training and personal protective equipment (PPE) protocols have always been part of new hire orientation for dental practices. The safety of team members may not be a new concern, but it is higher on the list than ever before for individuals choosing to join a practice.

With potential hires, the first question asked is almost always about PPE protocols concerning COVID-19. OSHA training was always crucial for compliance. Now, clarity around safety measures is so important that people will move on to a different opportunity if they are not completely satisfied with the response. In light of the pandemic, a focus on safety demonstrates care and respect for the team. Investing in the proper PPE and communicating clearly about how your practice is functioning helps new or potential employees feel safe from the start.

So here's my first tip for you: Create a concise statement of safety to be presented to new and potential employees that demonstrates how your office functions and how much you care about them.

Benefits

Similar to having clear safety protocols, the benefits offered -- specifically healthcare benefits -- has emerged as another make-or-break area of concern for individuals looking for work. The fear ignited by the pandemic has traditionally healthy, younger individuals more focused on their need for healthcare coverage.

In this uncertain world, having coverage as a part of employment brings the certainty people crave. It goes beyond simply wanting to be covered in case of COVID-19. People see the benefits offered by a company as a direct reflection of the investment that company makes in its team. With the realization of the importance of long-term, steady employment sparked by the pandemic, people are searching for a company willing to take them on for the long haul. The benefits you offer are how people determine that.

Therefore, here is my second tip: Determine what you can offer and implement it now. It does not have to be full healthcare coverage for all employees, but it needs to be something you can tell new hires about and offer them right away.

Culture

Culture was important before the pandemic, and it remains a crucial indicator that individuals look for in a practice.

Practice culture is about more than employees, but it starts there. Culture disseminates through all, meaning what is good for the team will be good for your patients, and vice versa. For example, if a doctor does not accommodate a team member needing to come in a little later because day care hours and restrictions have changed, that team member might show up stressed and worried. When treating a patient, he or she could make a mistake or simply come off cold. Either way, it reflects poorly on the doctor and the practice.

Building a culture of care in a world full of stress allows and encourages team members to perform at their best despite the circumstances. It all starts with the doctor and the team creating a welcoming and positive environment that your patients (and potential new hires) will experience.

My culture tip for you is the following: Build a culture of care that shows team members they are people first and employees second. Start small by simply accommodating complications related to childcare.

Communication

Lastly, it's a tale as old as time: Communication is key! When interviewing candidates for dental offices, the top reason listed for leaving a previous practice is lack of communication and organization. The importance of this goes beyond COVID-19 times. Communication is documented as a critical feature of a practice. While this may seem like a time when you are forced to focus on too much, communication could be the key to making it all easier. As you have to rewrite protocols and train new team members, take advantage of the opportunity to implement clear and effective communication practices.

Similar to my previous tips, start small: Onboarding is the first chance to build the foundation of strong communication. Focus on making new hires feel welcomed and safe by having everything ready for them the first time they walk through the door, clearly communicating with them all they need to know for their time with your practice.

These four aspects of a practice might be what people are focused on now, but I also speak from experience when I say they are areas to invest in regardless of the pandemic. While safety and benefits may be higher on the list than ever before, practice culture and communication are two constant pillars. Focus on them now, in the midst of a crisis, and watch your practice not only weather the storm but also thrive amidst the chaos.

Malika Azargoon is a consultant and the founder and principal of Zar Dental Consulting. With more than 18 years of experience as a professional in the dental industry, Azargoon and Zar Dental Consulting now serve more than 100 different practices in the District of Columbia metro area and surrounding Mid-Atlantic region.

The comments and observations expressed herein do not necessarily reflect the opinions of DrBicuspid.com, nor should they be construed as an endorsement or admonishment of any particular idea, vendor, or organization.


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