Is your dental office environment changing? It’s not uncommon for an office to evolve into something different than what it was when you started working there.
Your office environment includes a lot of things like leadership within your office (boss or bosses), temperament of your co-workers, the workflow, and even the situations and moods of patients you are seeing.
Ideally, you want to be in an office environment that is improving or at least moving in the right direction, even if at a slow pace. But there are lots of offices that are going backward and so it’s important to be aware of some warning signs.
The Revolving Door
Does it seem like new employees just aren’t sticking around? An office with a healthy work environment should be able to retain most of its employees for a fairly lengthy period of time five to 10 years, and even well beyond.
So if your office seems to have this steady flow of hires leaving before their first year is up, or if the doctor has been there forever, but only has one or two employees that have been there forever, too, that’s an indication that the work environment isn’t the best.
Most people generally like to stay for a long time. It’s painful and challenging to change jobs so people often have very good reasons for doing it.
Complaint Control is Out of Control
Almost every office has some level of moaning and complaining about this or that. That is VERY normal – in fact it can actually be a little bit cathartic or therapeutic for co-workers to vent a little bit about patients who just don’t get it or an insurance company that keeps rejecting coverage they should provide.
What you want to watch out for is EXCESSIVE complaining “things,” but even more important is about each other (sometimes a form a gossip). It can be a nasty habit to constantly be complaining about one co-worker to another, and very seldom leads any solutions or long-term job satisfaction for the person complaining, the co-workers hearing the complaints, or the person being complained about.
The bottom line is that complaining can often get out of control if not checked. And that lack of complaint control leads to bad office environment and even bad patient experiences as they can sense the tension, and that can lead to a whole new level of problems for an office.
No Bonding Experiences
Offices need bonding experiences. This could be as simple as harmless inside jokes and gags everyone shares, to having themed dress-up days on Halloween or other occasions, to after-hours office parties and even trips or retreats the boss pays for.
Co-workers need to see and spend time with each other when they can shed the scrubs and lab coats for their “normal” attire. When all we do is work together we soon only see each other as one-dimensional people, and that at best can lead to boredom with each other and at worst foster a culture of criticism and backbiting.
Offices and co-workers who play better together will also work better together, and so if you don’t see any fun or play time it’s a problem.
Disruptive New Hires
Everyone new has the desire to gain the trust and respect of their employer and co-workers. Most new employees are pretty reserved and careful to keep their behavior in check until they get a lay of the land and feel it’s safe to be themselves – preferring to gain respect over time.
But occasionally, a new employee will come in and feel the need to assert themselves right from the start as a way of gaining credibility and trust. And that can create some disruptions that divide the office or alienate some. I’ve seen this lead to showdowns and some pretty ugly situations if the boss is not strong, able to jump in and head things off.
Personal Life of the Boss
There’s a saying that goes something like, “If momma’s not happy, ain’t know one gonna be happy.” The premise is of course that the mood of the person in charge dictates the mood of the entire group.
We all go through some bumpy roads in life, stresses from outside relationships, to financial, health-related, and clinical problems such as depression and anxiety can certainly be a factor. And because our boss is human like us, he or she will go through some of this, too.
So watch for mood changes or changes in behavior from your boss. Watch for how they interact with your co-workers and patients to try and detect if there are some issues. Without prying into the details too much, I think it’s acceptable to talk to them about why they seem a little off that day or that they seem to approach people and situations different than they did six months ago.
What More Can You Do About Office Culture Changes?
The biggest thing is to stay alert to these things and process them in your mind. Don’t think about any one of them as the end of the world or cause for you to jump ship, but you shouldn’t necessarily ignore them either.
The first thing is to determine if they are systemic or isolated, meaning are these things going to be the way things are for a long time or forever, or are they just temporary? It goes without saying systemic problems are much bigger concerns that have to be addressed. But sometimes we have a bad day and confuse isolated issues as systemic and so there’s an important distinction we have to make.
Secondly, how bad are they? Are the problems fairly small and common within a lot of work places or are they over the top? For that, you can talk to your friends to see how their workplaces compare. One of things I like about all the dental hygiene Facebook groups out there is a way in which you can present your situation to the masses to see if it’s normal.
The other thing is some things can seem really bad, but they will sometimes lead to good things in the very near future which means they really aren’t so bad if you think about it. Whatever causes or leads to a positive change is a pretty good thing and sometimes we just need to be patient and work with what we have to help that change along.
Finally, along those same lines, you can work to create change. Have those difficult conversations with people (boss and co-workers) to see what you can do improve things. Don’t expect a miracle right away, but small progress is good and should encourage you.
There are lots of warning signs your office could be headed for stormy times or may even have been there for years, probably a few I may have even left out. But if you stay alert to these things you can be a powerful agent for positive solutions, and if things don’t turn around you will have at least gained some valuable experience and be able to jump ship with a clean conscience knowing you gave it your best effort.