Ways you can overcome apathy in the dental practice

April 15, 2014

Have you ever experienced this in your dental practice … you have a team meeting and the doctor ends up doing all the talking because team members just don’t offer anything? Or perhaps you have seen a team member slip in the back door 30 seconds before the first patients of the day are to be seated. Or maybe no one signs up for the after-hours social event planned for everyone. If you’ve seen this, it could be your practice has a severe case of apathy. Here are some ideas for breaking out of that rut and getting some enthusiasm back in the office atmosphere.

Doctor, first and foremost, look in the mirror! Is there something about your behavior that leads your team to be apathetic? Do you come in late in the morning or after lunch? Do you appear grumpy and unapproachable? Did you drop your morning huddles where you all shared important patient information about the day? Has communication shut down because you don’t have team meetings very often … or not at all? Do you vent your frustrations about poor cash flow with your team? Doctors can set the tone for how the day or week is going to go, so put on your game face and “fake it till you make it.” Act like you are in a good mood and looking forward to the day. Just like we occasionally have to act in front of our patients, do this also with your team. Nobody likes working in a “doom and gloom” office.

Ask each individual team member what motivates him or her at work. Periodically, have individual chats with each team member to find out what makes him or her show up at work every day. What do your team members appreciate or like about your office and what would they prefer to be different or better? Ask what things are motivators or incentives to them to work just a little bit harder to achieve some practice goal. Then, once armed with this information, find ways to reward your people for jobs well done (particularly for exceptional work over and above what is expected). Use some rewards from the list you kept from these individual chats.

Surprise your team sometimes with occasional fun things. Maybe it’s attending a sporting event together, or bowling together, or lunch and a movie or play. Make it a real treat and do something together on a normal workday and pay the team for the time. At times, after-hours events or weekend activities can be more of a hassle to team members who may have families or significant others who end up resenting that the doctor seems to be requiring even more time away from home. How about having patients rescheduled one afternoon and the doctor treats everyone to lunch, then they all go to the mall and the doctor hands each person an envelope with money in it? The team has 30 or 60 minutes to go spend it on themselves, then everyone meets up and does a “show & tell” about their purchases. Doctors should participate, too!

Apathy can develop in a dental practice when the team feels disconnected from the doctor’s vision for his or her practice. Have clearly defined goals for your practice posted and visible to the team, and share relevant practice numbers with your team so they understand that raises and bonuses can only come from the profit. Engage your team in brainstorming ideas for boosting production, increasing new patients, or reducing holes in the schedule, then follow through on some of the ideas so the team members feel their input is valued.

Cross-training people on your team to learn different jobs in the office can help break the cycle of apathy. It forces employees out of their comfort zones, challenges them a bit, and makes them appreciate a co-worker’s duties.

When the doctor has tried a number of things to boost the enthusiasm and participation in his or her office and still nothing changes, it could be time to have an individual performance discussion with the team member who appears chronically apathetic. Level with that person and describe the observable behaviors he or she displays and explain the negative effect on the practice. Explore what is going on (for that person or those people when it is more than one team member) and encourage them to find ways to change their apathetic demeanor.

Boredom from the same old thing day after day can lead to apathy. Dentistry is a very repetitive work environment, so find ways to change it up and make some of those ways fun and engaging.