This article is contributed by the American Association of Dental Office Management.
If you’ve been a part of a dental team where negative habits have taken root, you likely understand the impact of culture and the importance of building a healthy work environment. Not only do these habits impact the effectiveness and day-to-day work life for your team, but they also play a pivotal role in shaping your patients’ experiences and the overall success of the dental practice.
Identifying a toxic culture
Changing systems and resetting your team atmosphere takes work, but it can be done. Since dental assistants work with everyone in the office, they can play an important role in bringing the team together to address these issues. The first step is to identify the signs of a bad culture.
From jam-packed workloads and negative co-workers to feeling underappreciated, here are some key indicators of toxicity in the dental office.
- Poor communication: Lack of transparent communication creates confusion, misunderstandings, and frustration among dental team members, leading to decreased morale and collaboration.
- Low morale: Team dissatisfaction, absenteeism, and high turnover rates often indicate a toxic culture where employees, especially dental assistants, can feel undervalued and unsupported.
- Negative attitudes: If negativity and distrust prevail among the team, it can poison interactions with patients and hinder the overall patient experience.
- Lack of empowerment: A culture that discourages initiative and innovation stifles growth and inhibits the potential of both the practice and its employees.
- Disregard for work-life balance: An environment that demands excessive work hours without consideration for personal well-being fosters burnout and dissatisfaction.
Changing the culture
Once areas for growth are identified, everyone can work together to find solutions that will help improve office culture. For example, cross-training in the dental office can go a long way to improve role transparency, team dynamics, and positive collaboration. Here are more ways the entire dental team can make a positive impact.
Leadership alignment: A critical step in transforming a toxic culture is aligning leadership around a shared vision for a positive dental office environment. All leaders, including dentists, office managers, and dental assistants, must commit to change and serve as role models. Since they work with everyone on the team and the patients, assistants are well positioned to bring positivity and leadership to every interaction.
Open communication channels: Establish regular team meetings, encourage feedback, and provide a platform for everyone to voice concerns and suggestions without fear of retribution.
Values and mission: Define and communicate the practice’s core values and mission, like working together as a team to provide high-quality patient care. These principles guide behavior, decisions, and interactions within the practice. If your practice does not have core values or a mission statement, there are great team exercises to help you create one.
Empowerment and autonomy: Encourage your team to take ownership of their roles by allowing them to make decisions and contribute to practice improvements.
Recognition and appreciation: Regularly acknowledge the team’s achievements and contributions. This can range from sharing simple thank-you notes to implementing formal recognition programs. Dental Assistants Recognition Week in March and Office Manager Appreciation Month in September are great opportunities to recognize teammates.
Professional development: Invest in team training and education opportunities to enhance staff skills and promote a culture of continuous learning.
Work-life balance: Prioritize employee well-being by implementing flexible scheduling, encouraging breaks, and respecting personal time.
Team-building activities: Foster camaraderie and teamwork in the dental office through team-building events, retreats, and activities that promote positive interactions outside of work.
Conflict resolution: Develop a clear process for addressing conflicts and grievances in a fair and timely manner, promoting open dialogue and resolution.
Monitor and adjust: Regularly assess the practice’s culture through employee surveys, feedback sessions, and ongoing communication. Adjust strategies based on feedback.
Transforming a toxic culture within a dental practice requires commitment, patience, and collective effort, but the reward will benefit your patients and your team, as well as your practice. By recognizing the signs of a negative culture and taking actionable steps to address them, practices can create an environment that fosters collaboration, growth, and exceptional patient care.
Changing culture is an investment that pays off in the form of improved team morale, patient satisfaction, and overall practice success. Remember, a positive culture is not only a reflection of the practice’s values, but also a driving force behind its future achievements.
About the Author
Born and raised in Philadelphia, Tito Albino, FAADOM, found his passion for dental management while working at the University of Pennsylvania School of Dental Medicine. He now lives in Florida, where he serves as regional manager of four dental practices. Albino is a proud member of the American Association of Dental Office Management (AADOM), the membership association for dental office managers and practice leaders, and was inducted as an AADOM Fellow in 2021.