Dental hygienists: I want a raise!

The tough economic times have affected all of us in some way, and for many this effect has come in the way of no pay increase in recent years. As news of a recovery and the “new economy” cross the news media, dental hygienists wonder where their recovery is.

Because compensation is such an uncomfortable topic for many, it remains a bone of contention in many offices.

Here are six things for the hygiene team to consider when asking for a pay increase:

What value are you bringing to the practice? In order for the practice to provide the dental hygiene team with a raise, they want to see the value the hygiene team is bringing to the practice. Make sure the value you sight is tangible and not subjective. “My patients love me,” is a subjective statement. However, if you present the value you brought to the practice in to the way of revenue, it is tangible and something the doctor will appreciate.

I suggest that each dental hygienist track their revenue from day to day and month to month. This will help you see how well you are performing and providing value to the practice. If you can show your manager that you have increased your production by 10 percent in the past year, I am sure they will want to reward that accomplishment.

Now, what about the “other” value you bring to the office… the subjective items.

Yes, these are important too. They should be highlighted, but after you have demonstrated your tangible value. Your subjective value will support the obvious improvements you have already demonstrated.

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Know what the market looks like in your area. I hate to bring this up, but I want to be realistic. Dental hygiene compensation has changed a lot in the past few years, and mostly because of the high volume of dental hygienists graduating from programs across the country. The market is saturated in most areas, and this has been driving the rate of pay down. I know this is something that experienced hygienists like myself do not want to accept, but we have to factor this in. And, we need to make sure our expectations are in line with the market, just like many other professions out there.

Don't underestimate the value of benefits. Many dental hygienists will only weigh their compensation by their hourly pay, and not the whole package. Benefits can account for 30 to 40 percent of total compensation. The value of health insurance, 401K, paid vacation, sick time, etc. should never be overlooked.

Ask for quarterly performance check-ins and reviews. Scheduling a quarterly check-in with your manager is important, for you and for them. This scheduled meeting will provide you with an opportunity to discuss your performance, obstacles and needs with your manager. During these meetings you should highlight one to three specific development areas you will focus on over the next three months. These development areas should be developed in the way of a SMART action plan. SMART action plans require that you define how your goals and how success will be measured, which is key to objectively reviewing your progress.

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Don’t get angry. Be calm and ask what you need to do to get a pay increase in the next year. Together with your manager, set some short-term and long-term goals. Again, make sure these goals are measurable. (Example: Increase my periodontal percentage to 40 percent, and my production per hour to a monthly average of $140 an hour by April 1.)  Then set up a follow-up meeting in three months, and ask if your compensation can be reviewed again at that time.

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“I have not had a performance review in the past three years, what do I do?” Ask for one. Set up a meeting with your manager/doctor and come prepared. My motto is this: “you don’t know, if you don’t ask”.

Times have changed, and compensation styles and levels have changed as well. It is important that we understand the current economy and how our managers, doctors and dental groups are looking at hygiene and compensation.