November 11, 2022
by Dr. James Younger, DDS
It’s no surprise to anyone that the dental job market is in a state of flux these days. COVID threw a wrench in everyone’s plans, and the feelings about working and returning to work in dental offices span the entire spectrum.
While studies have shown that dental offices are among the safest workplaces due to our familiarity and commitment to sound infection control and PPE protocols, not everyone has quite gotten back to the level of engagement we saw before the pandemic hit.
Historically, the dental job market has always been cyclical and regional – so being in an evolving state of flux is normal, and a state of perfect balance between job opportunities and job-seekers is rare and short-lived.
But this situation deserves some reflection and I feel it’s worth laying out some important thoughts and perspectives if you’re a dental hygienist looking for work, or considering making a change from your current dental office.
Right off the start, realize that in this job market, you likely have a lot of options if you’re looking for work.
If you’re working at a dental office where you’re being disrespected and treated poorly, you can feel a sense of confidence and empowerment that you do have the option to “vote with your feet.” One of my passions is discussing great leadership and building healthy team cultures in dental offices, but not every dental office owner or manager considers this a top priority.
This job market is serving as a wake-up call to dental offices who don’t value respect for their employees – they’re the ones who are having the hardest time hiring and retaining good people.
So if you’re working in a toxic or otherwise unprofessional environment, the first step is to have a professional and respectful conversation with your manager/owner. Do your best to bring up your concerns and how things could be improved. But if you make that effort and don’t see positive changes, feel confident and empowered that there are dental offices with great leadership and cultures out there that are looking to hire.
It’s important to remember that, while the amount of money you earn matters, it’s not the only factor to consider. We’re all looking for our “work home” where we feel respected, understood, valued and like we “belong” there.
We spend 1/3 of our time at work with our co-workers and managers, and it makes for a long, miserable life if we’re unhappy and unfulfilled for that much of our time. And conversely, a positive, supportive and professional work life makes the day go by much more enjoyably and leads to a healthier outlook on life.
So just be very cautious about chasing an extra few $/hr at another job if your current dental office treats you well and you enjoy working there.
You know when you go in for a job interview, you’re always putting your best foot forward and showing the best of yourself. Well, guess what? Dental office owners and hiring managers do the same thing.
Of course, it’s very possible an office is as great as they say during the interview, but it’s also possible that cracks can quickly start to show in the rosy picture they paint after you’re hired and start working.
So be sure to ask a lot of questions during your interviews, and realize that you might not be the only one embellishing a bit during the interview. An office that is offering above-average rates might be doing so to offset a less-than-ideal work environment.
Remember – job markets are cyclical and regional, and while it’s a great time to be a hygienist looking for work, it’s important to give consideration to your current or potentially new employer. Taking advantage of the job market and asking for exorbitant rates is not setting yourself or our dental profession up for success in the long term.
I’m not saying you should avoid negotiating, but do your research, weigh various options and hourly rates, and consider the whole picture. Be very cautious about “squeezing” every last dollar out of the office for your salary – especially if you think you may have found your “work home.”
A dental office owner or hiring manager might agree to an extremely high rate because they’re in a tight spot, but it’s likely going to set you up for animosity and tension. The office is going to expect you to perform at a superstar level and might actually undermine your ability to do so, just to prove that you weren’t worth it. And when the job market shifts (and it will at some point), you may be the first one let go.
So just be careful and really try to keep your hourly rates fair and within the market range.
I’m a huge proponent of the concept that “the problem is staring at you in the mirror, but so is the solution.” So if you’re thinking of making a job change, or you’re frustrated with the job market, or you keep bouncing from job to job feeling unfulfilled – it might be time to stop and do some self-reflection. It’s possible you’re just been unlucky, but it’s worth considering that you might be carrying the problem around with you wherever you go, and causing your own frustrations.
Here are a few questions to spark your thoughts: Am I contributing to positive energy in my workplace? Am I highly skilled and committed to great patient care? Do I leave others feeling energized when I speak to them? Do I take the initiative to see how and where I can help out? As a health care professional, is my focus and intent to serve others? Do I make a commitment to consistently come to work on time and not miss shifts?
So, give some thought to these questions, and if your internal response is “no” to any of them, there might be room for some self improvement and professional development.
I hope this provides some context, insight and advice to navigating this crazy job market situation. The take-away messages here are:
Yes, feel empowered that you’re in demand and feel empowered that you don’t have to tolerate a toxic or unprofessional work environment. But do some self-reflection and consider the “whole picture” when thinking about your current or future work life.
And don’t take unfair advantage of the situation – it won’t set you up for success and will contribute to problems for yourself and our profession overall in the long term.
About the Authors
Dr. James Younger is a practicing dentist and the Founder/CEO of TempStars, North America’s fastest growing dental temping and hiring service. Est. 2015, with over 75,000+ shifts completed, TempStars has been using cutting-edge technology to connect more than 16,000 Dental Hygienists with more than 4,000 dental offices for dental temping across North America.