Tina Wixon, Practice Plan Regional Support Manager, caught up with Sarah Buxton, HR and employment law Solicitor, to discuss how practices can overcome the current difficulties in recruiting and retaining staff…
TW: Hi Sarah, we’re hearing from a lot of practices who are struggling with recruiting and retaining members of staff at the moment, what are the reasons for this?
SB: From what I’ve been hearing and from what I’ve seen, there are a few reasons behind practices’ struggles, and the main one is the pandemic.
A lot of staff members, in particular dental nurses and hygiene therapists, have been working in layers of PPE and are doing the same level of work in a lot less time, and that isn’t what they signed up for when they moved into these jobs.
Those are internal factors, though externally I think the pandemic as a whole has changed society’s outlook on life. Many people have reset and asked themselves whether they are 100% happy in their jobs and, if they aren’t, then the pandemic has given them that kick to retrain and look for other roles.
We’ve also seen an issue around the recruitment of associates, and this boils down to security. Many are self-employed, which has meant that during the pandemic they didn’t meet the criteria for grant help when practices were closed.
That, quite rightly, left many of them concerned about their financial security, and they have reset and realised that the best way to secure their income in the future is to own a practice. So, there has been a big rise in associates buying practices, which then leaves a gap in the supply of dentists.
Also, there are some dentists who have come from overseas to train who are now returning to their home countries because of the uncertain future brought on by Brexit, so that has also left a gap in the supply.
TW: What sort of things can practices do to increase their retention rate among their existing workforces?
SB: One of the most important things you can do is create a positive atmosphere and workplace culture, somewhere where people want to work.
This must begin right at the top with the leader. If the practice manager or the principal dentist has a positive attitude and creates a positive mindset at the top, this can really go a long way and can filter down to the staff.
Alongside the practice atmosphere, the topic of communication is really key in a number of ways. Getting to know your staff and creating that relationship with them is crucial, as well as focusing on things such as personal training and development, and putting steps in place that allow staff members to progress.
This can come through things such as setting goals and offering them the support they need to thrive in their role. By focusing on these areas, it makes your staff members feel valued and gives them a purpose in the practice.
Other small things you can also do include scheduling regular check-ins to chat about your team’s wellbeing; this sounds quite small, but offering them an extra holiday day can go a long way.
Your team will have been working really hard over the last year, and by acknowledging that and offering a reward in the form of an extra day’s leave, it can help to make your staff feel valued and appreciated.
TW: When it comes to recruiting new members of staff, what would your top tips be?
SB: Many practices will recruit like-for-like, so, for example, a practice manager leaves and the practice advertise for another practice manager.
However, when someone leaves you have a chance to reassess and re-look at what role you actually need. It may be the case that a different role, such as a business manager, would be better suited to that position.
So, advertising for a business manager would be more beneficial and lead to more applications, rather than looking for a like-for-like replacement.
Another key aspect of recruitment is getting the job specification correct, making sure all the right information is in there to help you attract the right candidates. And when you are recruiting it is important to look not just externally, but internally.
There may be a staff member with skills suited to the role you’re looking to fill, or someone who wants to progress and learn in a new position. Also, by doing this, it may lead to a word-of-mouth suggestion through a member of staff who knows someone suitable for the job. I find that often this is a better way of recruiting, rather than putting the task out to a recruitment agency.
TW: Can you see things changing and recruitment becoming a little bit easier as we move forward?
SB: I think at the moment it is probably harder than it has ever been to recruit in dentistry, but things will settle down. We’re moving back to a bit of normality in society, and we will get to that stage with recruitment.
What you can do is put your practice in the best position for when that time comes, by doing some of the things I’ve mentioned above. If you do that, then when things do begin to settle down, you’ll find it an awful lot easier to recruit.
TW: Thanks for taking the time to talk to me on this issue.
Tina is a Regional Support Manager at Practice Plan
Sarah is a Director and Solicitor at FTA Law, specialising in employment and HR