How to Find Out If Your Employees Are Happy: It Matters

Mara (not a real person), for all appearances, was a model team member. She was competent and enthusiastic about working with patients. She was also open to learning and improving her professional skills, a pleasure to have in the practice every day, and seemed like an ideal, engaged employee.

It would be easy to casually look at her and her role and think she was happy.

But she was also sending out resumes from home every night.

And when she finally gave notice, her unexpected departure left a big hole in the practice’s ability to deliver an amazing patient experience.

But a critically important question to ask in this scenario is what her employer could have done to keep her.


A Difficult Job

Running a dental practice is not an easy job. But trusting it to run on autopilot, as many dentists do, or with the hands-off help of an office manager, has the potential to make things even more difficult. A seafaring captain needs to know what is going on with his or her ship to avoid driving into an iceberg.

To ensure the smooth running of a practice and to avoid all the hassle that comes as a result of having your head in the sands, it is essential to pause every now and then and take time to understand all that is going on in your practice. And one of the areas of your practice that deserves a bit of special attention is what is going on with your team members.

HBR, All-Star Dental Academy


Christopher Littlefield recently wrote an excellent article for the Harvard Business Review on the topic of evaluating employee happiness as a part of management. The insights shared by Christopher and the actions suggested in the article are very useful when applied to a dental practice. I wanted to highlight the important bits from the article in the hope that it will help you understand why employee happiness is important and how to evaluate and contribute to an employee’s satisfaction.


“I’m nothing without my team.” – Dr. B


Why Is Employee Satisfaction Important?

The work needed to retain an employee might seem like a massive hassle when you are used to running your practice on autopilot but the reality of the situation (today’s tight labor market and shifting cultural attitudes toward work) is that any reasonable investment in the retention of employees is worth it. The reason: The cost of retaining an employee is much less than the cost of a vacancy left by him or her in the event of a turnover. And when I say “cost” I don’t just mean the finances.

The direct costs of turnover include the cost of searching for, hiring, and onboarding a new employee. This takes up time, energy, and money. Not to mention, it disrupts the smooth running of the practice. The indirect costs of turnover include the adjustment cost and the emotional cost. When one employee leaves, it leaves an impact on other employees who have to deal with the loss of a co-worker, pick up the extra work created by their absence, and the potential cultural changes that come with the change in personnel. Bent Ericksen & Associates (Dental HR and Hiring experts) estimate that turnover typically costs a practice one- to three-times the exiting employees compensation. Ouch!


Can Turnover Be Avoided?

In the majority of cases, turnover can be avoided. In a study conducted by Gallup, 52% of the voluntarily exiting employees said that their organization or employer could have done something different to keep them. The question is, how could the employer have known what was not working for the employee? The answer is simple: By asking.


How To Measure Employee Happiness?

To measure an employee’s happiness, have a “stay” conversation. As might be obvious, the “stay” conversation is not meant to take place after an employee decides to leave, but it is to be had under normal circumstances and at regular intervals. The point of this conversation is to identify and rectify the issues that are a source of dissatisfaction for your employee and have the potential to become a reason for turnover.


“Investing in your team is the best way to improve productivity.” – Dr. G


How to have a “Stay” conversation

Following are guidelines to ensure that you conduct your “stay” conversation the right way:

1. Define the context and fix a time

Consider writing an email to your employee about having a meeting. Make it very clear to the employee that the meeting is not a performance evaluation or anything formal but is a check-in – an opportunity to understand how the employee is feeling at the job and to see if there is anything not sitting right with him/her. Once the purpose of the meeting is clear, it will take the pressure off the employee.

We also advise you to give your employee a set of questions to think about before the conversation. This will act as a prompt and will have him/her thinking in the right direction. Examples of such questions can be:

  • What do you like the most about working here?
  • Are you able to maintain a work-life balance?
  • Is there anything that you don’t like in your work environment?


2. Set the tone of the conversation

If you want the “stay” conversation to give you some real insights into employee satisfaction, it is important to make the employee as comfortable as possible. To achieve that it will be helpful to repeat the purpose of the conversation and to start the conversation on a light-hearted note.


Click to read more on working with your team:
Blog on how helping everyone on the team feel valuable makes you more successful


3. Listen

When the employee is comfortable and he/she finally begins to voice his/her concerns, MAKE SURE TO LISTEN. Pay attention int he conversation to understand where the employee is coming from.

To make sure that the employee feels heard do these two things: Acknowledge and reflect. Acknowledge what the employee is saying by repeating his/her words. For example, if the employee says that the break time is not long enough to recharge, say: “I see that you feel that the break time is too short for you and you need more time to recharge.”

Once you have acknowledged the concerns of the employee, take some time to reflect on them. Ask the employee how you can work together to eliminate those concerns. Before the conversation ends, decide on some action steps together towards working on their concerns. And make sure to communicate to the employee how much you value him/her and that it is a priority for you to ensure their well-being.


4. Take Action and follow up

The next step is to take action to address the concerns expressed by the employee so that they know you really care for them and that their well-being and satisfaction are a priority. It is also important to have a follow-up conversation with the employee about the same concerns to see if the measures you have taken have made a difference or not.


5. Repeat

Having a “stay” conversation should not be a one-time thing. We advise you to schedule such conversations at regular intervals of time. It will be a good idea to make it a point to have these conversations at significant events like work anniversary or when your practice achieves a milestone. This will make the employees feel that they are a part of a family that thrives together. It will also help motivate them to not only think in their own best interest but also to think in the best interest of the practice as a whole.


I hope you found the idea of the “stay” conversation helpful. The key takeaway from this article is to regularly engage with your staff to make sure that there aren’t any festering problems that can lead to a resignation.



Learn more about how the cost of underperforming staff and turnover affects your profitability in surprisingly profound ways. Join us in our free training event Dental Practice Excellence: 3 Steps to an All-Star Practice for a deeper look at this issue and other fundamentals critical to your success. Click here to reserve your time.




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