Reflecting on A Crazy Year

Reflecting on A Crazy Year

Like many of us, I learned a lot in our year of Covid-19. Perhaps the most valuable lesson was not to take everything that went wrong as a personal failure.

From the shortage of nurses to teachers to supermarket cashiers, many businesses struggled mightily with staffing issues. It was no different at my nine dental practices and, quite frankly, it really caught me off-guard.

I thought I was a great boss with a happy and thriving staff when we all closed down for quarantine. When it was finally time to reopen nearly three months later, a lot of my staff didn’t want to come back. Some were afraid of catching the virus, some had been lured to other practices with higher pay, and others were making more money from unemployment benefits than actually working. 

Then it became a Catch-22 situation. I couldn’t find enough hygienists and assistants, a situation that was frustrating enough to cause one dentist to quit. A few others left when their spouses were forced to relocate for new jobs. My staff of 60 was down about 40 percent, but the phone was ringing off the hook with patients making appointments. Everyone was ready to come back to the dentist, it seemed, but no one wanted to come back to work. 

I realized I had to get creative to hold onto the staff members I particularly prized. Rather than view their position as simply a job, I wanted them to think of it as a career, so started a 401(k) for all positions. (I can’t afford it yet, but am looking forward to the day when I can match employee contributions.) I also raised the minimum hourly rate I pay, and guaranteed some employees that I would pay for a set number of hours each week, even if it turned out we wouldn’t work them. 

I also learned that I can only delegate so much – it was essential for me to be on site to show my hard-working staff that we were all in it together. That’s not easy with nine practices! To improve morale, I occasionally sent flowers or bought lunch for the team. I learned just how much people need to feel appreciated and to be told thank you. And it came from the heart.

I also had to extend that appreciation to myself. I was so hard on myself, thinking it was all my fault when everything seemed to be going wrong. In one particularly brutal week, a dentist, a hygienist and two assistants all gave their notice. I took that really personally. Why were they all leaving me? What was I doing wrong? It didn’t help that I was in the middle of a high-risk pregnancy and working six days a week.

Happily, that guilt tripping didn’t last too long and I finally came to see that I was simply trying my best to cope with unprecedented challenges. Change is inevitable and employees move on. There’s only so much anyone (including myself) can do to mitigate the circumstances.

Flash forward several months and happily, I’m back to being fully staffed and, most importantly, gave birth of Anna, my first child, on October 6.

So what did I learn through this crazy period? First, that it’s important to regularly show my staff how much I appreciate and count on them. Little things like a vase of flowers or small gift can go so far. Second, I learned that not every staff member was a perfect fit, and that there was nothing personal about it. 

And finally, I came to realize that each of us can only do our best. For someone who tends to overachieve, that’s a humbling lesson I have really taken to heart. It’s made me a better dentist, and a more appreciative and emphatic employer too. 

0 replies

Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply