Managing a Short-Staffed Workplace: 6 Things to Keep in Mind
Organizational change can be a huge point of tension in an office...
…especially in production-oriented patient care environments. It is only natural to feel a sense of dread when you find out a coworker just put in their two-week notice. It’s easy to feel panic as you move forward with a skeleton crew not knowing when there will be extra hands to help. Meeting revenue objectives and upholding standards of patient care are added stressors when your team is not at full strength.
Every office will undergo a short staff situation eventually. Some offices will experience this occasionally, but for others it can seem like a never-ending cycle. No matter where it seems you are right now, here are some tips to reduce stress while you are making every effort to bring additional team members on board temporarily or permanently.
Managing a Short-Staffed Workplace: 6 Things to Keep in Mind
Jul 26, 2021 | News
By Rae Senger
A group of people can accomplish more than one person by themselves, so encourage everyone to pitch in to get through crunch times. Not only does teamwork help get critical tasks accomplished, but it also can raise employee morale and help ease the stress of being short-staffed. While keeping the staff invested in office initiatives, it is important to not overlook the importance of creating individual goals to allow team members to feel a sense of accomplishment in controlling their own success. This will keep them involved in a positive way and will ultimately help the team be successful.
Until you can hire someone, you may consider shifting some responsibilities.
Be creative with what roles you can accommodate. If you have not had a hygiene assistant previously, consider putting one in place to take the burden off a short-staffed hygiene team. The assistant can escort patients to and from the operatories, help with simple tasks like making notes and gathering patient history, or sterilizing and cleaning operatories between patients. Assign the assistant tasks that will streamline the appointment/patient care process and give a fully booked hygienist a quick break to change and catch a breath of fresh air between patients. Having this support can help you retain your current hygiene staff, as well as, recruit new team members, as having a hygiene assistant can be a selling point when recruiting new hygienists.
Some offices are adding a temporary dentist to do hygiene and exams in this time of severe shortages in hygiene staff. Adding an occasional fill-in dentist can create patient care efficiencies and frees up the primary dentist to focus on treatment without having to switch PPE to do a brief hygiene exam. By carefully orchestrating your schedule you could find efficiencies in working the two doctors.
A recent article in Dentistry IQ by Anne Nugen Guignon, MPH, RDH, CSP discussed the challenges of returning to work with the new personal protective equipment recommendations. The article studied 2,529 dental professionals in the clinical setting who were experiencing the effects of added PPE, including profuse sweating, headaches, fatigue and more. Avoid staff burn out. Proactively encourage team members to get the self-care they need to cope with staff shortages, added PPE and other changes in the office.
Regular self-care can fend off stress, fatigue, depression, burnout, and anxiety and cannot be overlooked because the office is short staffed. A common reason cited for hygienists seeking alternative employment situations is workplace exhaustion and not having enough of a break between patients to adjust physically. It is hard to stay productive and positive when you are not feeling well. Offer short paid PPE breaks or encourage staff to add stretching breaks. Scheduled breaks help employees remain more alert and productive and will provide endurance in the long run. A meditation session, some isometric or deep breathing exercises can do wonders for your well-being. Perhaps consider adding this to your morning huddle or as a motivational start to your afternoon during a short session after lunch.
While you may prefer not to build these things into structured time, even providing the reminders about self-care can be beneficial. Post ideas for stretching and reminders to consume water when changing out of soiled scrubs between patients. Perhaps consider stocking bottled water or other hydrating beverages. Encourage staff to bring hydrating snacks such as fruits and vegetables and limit salty intake. Make employee well being a part of your office culture.
Keep the team apprised of your progress. Let your staff know you how much you appreciate the extra efforts they are giving. Listen to their concerns but help them to understand the deeper objectives and the efforts being made to find a good fit for the team.
The loss of a teammate can trigger all sorts of emotions, grief, worry, stress. Many close-knit teams are like families and experiencing the departure of a teammate can be emotional. Listen to remaining team members and have empathy, but do not let negative emotions become a distraction. You do not want to create domino-effect within your team.
The right addition to your team is out there. It may take flexibility and creative thinking, and your idea of perfect may evolve. Stay positive and think about all the good things your office has to offer. Losing a hygienist to a shorter commute can seem crushing when you are already short staffed, but don’t lose sight of the idea that your office will be the ideal commute for someone else. Flesh out the best things about your office and promote them when attracting new candidates. Being grateful and excited about your workplace is contagious and will be the best way to recruit new staff and keep your co-workers motivated.
Often, the best way to get through difficult times is to practice gratitude and express it often. Let people know how much you appreciate what they are doing. Previous motivators such as potlucks and group shared food is no longer considered best practice, so find other ways to create camaraderie and staff appreciation. Ideas might include:
- Cheers from peers. Make it easy for your staff to show appreciation for each other … kudos sheets, teammate voting or other mechanisms for calling out teammates who have gone above and beyond or have done something extra to make the day successful.
- Go public with your appreciation. Let your customers know through signage or social media. Bring back the wall of fame.
- Sign in with a positive. Have your staff note one thing they are thankful for, proud of or are happy about as they start the day. Team members could do this on a whiteboard for all to see, or simply enter in a note on their daily timecard. The point is for them to start the day on a positive note.
- If your office is big enough, track team goals and create friendly competition.
- Ask your staff what they would like. Give your employees real choices and actual voices. Make sure you consider this when showing your appreciation. Be genuine and sincere.
- Beyond that, consider keeping a gratitude journal for yourself. It is hard to get your day off to a bad start when you’ve taken time to acknowledge your blessings and define what brings you joy.
Working through staffing and organizational changes can be difficult, but as a leader in your practice there are plenty of ways to help ease the stress for you and your staff. Keep your current staff happy, motivated and healthy so they can take genuine pride in promoting your practice as a great place to work. Flush out the exceptional attributes of your work environment and lead with that during your recruiting efforts. Let prospective candidates know about what you do to maintain a safe working environment. Tailor your job description and communications to feature the reasons they would want to work for you. And, stay positive and know that an exceptional team member is out there wanting to make your office their home.
Complete Dental Staffing matches high quality dental professionals to premier dental offices.
If you would like to learn more about working with CDS or having our staff in your office, please call 608-492-5752 for more information.
Or, email firstname.lastname@example.org to let us know how we can help.