Managing Employee Compensation in a Fair & Open Way

August 13, 2021 North Shetter DDS

As a small business owner emerging from the Covid crisis, one of the issues we face is how to manage employee compensation in a fair and open manner. Are we paying our employees a fair wage for what they do in the demographic area that we live in? Often it is not possible to know what the competition is paying.

In our current job market, skilled labor knows that they can be tough negotiators. Under current National Labor Relations Act rules employees have the right to discuss wages, hours and working conditions with others. Pay discrepancies can result in potential claims of discrimination and resentment. A mix of new hires and old hands, in particular, may lead to conflict about wages.

Your Wage Budget & Scenario Analysis

One way to address this as an owner is to create a spreadsheet that establishes the range of wages you are able to pay for various positions based on your requirements and your budget. It might look something like this:

In my case, I need to know not only what I am paying and whether I am competitive to get the best talent. I also need to know how any changes will impact my overall budget. As I am considering changes in my current employee wages and what I can pay a new hire, I need to know my overall business finances.

I also need to not manage my practice revenue to cover the luxury items I want in my personal life but instead to grow and sustain my business. I need a business growth mindset plus the attitude that Dr. L.D. Pankey promoted when he admonished dentists to learn to live on less than they make. Our teams make it possible to be in business. People come first. We’re in a people business.

Professional Guidance & Standards

My state professional association conducts a survey of offices every few years that provides a reasonably accurate picture of wages and benefits based on a number of demographic variables. That information, along with discussion of this issue with my peers, provides me with an idea of what the range of wages should be in my area.

My industry ideal is to keep total overhead for staff as close to 25% as possible, but in today’s economy this is becoming more difficult. I have found it helpful to define the market value of the various positions in the business and to understand the difference between the team members who produce income and those who do not.

Ask & Answer for Yourself a Few Questions

Where are your wages relative to your peer group? Are you underpaying, or overpaying, some of your people, and if so, what will you do about it? Where are your wages with respect to your budget and to what business analysis considers Ideal?

Something Most Dentists Don’t Do

You can take the information from your spreadsheet and share what you have learned with your team on an individual basis.

Each person needs to know that there is a range of pay for what they bring to your business. When they reach the top of the range, often due to longevity, that is all you can offer in wages. You might consider offering additional employee benefits, for example, additional vacation time. But know that what you offer will very likely be shared with everyone else.

Your wage budget worksheet allows you to develop an open and fair discussion of compensation. It helps remove much of the emotion that often gets in the way when employer and employee seek to justify levels of compensation. Your team members need to know you respect and value them, and to grasp that to remain in business there must be a profit and a budget for the business that makes sense for all concerned.

Relationship-Based Dental Practices Have an Advantage

Although recent news and chat forums indicate wages are rising for dental workers and this is putting pressure on dentists to increase their fees, we have much goodwill we can use to counterbalance this. Employees are not apt to jump ship when they like the environment in which they work…where their work is respected, their work is meaningful, they enjoy their co-workers, and solutions are found to reduce stress.

Dentists, who are truly relationship-based in their philosophy of dental practice, offer a totally different working environment than the many dental practices, in which employees describe their workplace as toxic. You can leverage the goodwill of your team members to help recruit the right new employees and stay in budget.


In the comments below, I’d love to hear how other private, fee-for-service dental practices are currently mindfully managing hiring and wages.

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About Author

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North Shetter DDS

Dr Shetter attended the University of Detroit Mercy where he received his Doctor of Dental Surgery degree in 1972. He then entered the U. S. Army and provided dental care at Ft Bragg, NC for the 82nd Airborne and Special Forces. In late 1975 he and his wife Jan moved to Menominee, MI and began private practice. He now is the senior doctor in a three doctor small group practice. Dr. Shetter has studied extensively at the Pankey Institute, been co-director of a Seattle Study Club branch in Green Bay WI where he has been a mentor to several dental offices. He has been a speaker for the Seattle Study Club. He has postgraduate training in orthodontics, implant restorative procedures, sedation and sleep disordered breathing. His practice is focused on fee for service, outcomes based dentistry. Marina Cove Consulting LLC is his effort to help other dentists discover emotional and economic success and deliver the highest standard of care they are capable of.




A Sturdy Foundation for Relationships

May 7, 2021 Mary Osborne RDH

What would you like to build your relationships upon in your practice? With all the attention that is paid to dental insurance, it sometimes seems as though that becomes the foundation of our relationships with patients. When this is the basis of our relationship, the moment the plan changes, the patient may be looking for another dental office. Do we want to have our relationship based on such a fragile platform?

When I think about what we could have at the foundation and how we could make this happen, several things come to mind.

Compassion as the Basis

Basing a relationship on compassion can begin with the very first phone call. When a new patient calls, compassion can be expressed by something as simple as, “What prompted you to call us today? I hope you are not experiencing any discomfort.” Right out the gate, you are putting out there that you care about their comfort.

For a new or an existing patient, you might to say something like, “I’d like to make sure we schedule enough time to do this very thoroughly…very gently, and that we provide you with the best possible service so you are as comfortable as you can be.”

When you talk with patients about conditions you are seeing in their mouths, you can express concern as simply as saying, “I see a crack in this tooth, and I am concerned that, as it gets larger, you may experience some pain. Have you experienced any pain there?”

Mutual Trust as the Basis

On the very first call, you can begin to base your relationship on mutual trust and respect. You might do this by saying something like, “I’d like to schedule enough time for you to get to know us and for us to get to know you. When we learn what is important to you, we can help you make choices that are in your best interest. We’ll want to know what your previous experiences have been in dentistry because we want to provide you with the best possible experience in this practice.”

During Hygiene appointments, you might say something like this, “As I look in your mouth, it appears to me that over the years, you’ve gone to the dentist regularly and done everything you could to take care of yourself. You’ve chosen to have treatment when it was recommended. I believe that if you have the right information and you have some support in working through the process, we can help you make good choices for yourself in the future.”

If the patient is not in pain, you might say something like, “You’re in a really good position right now. We’ve got time to study the information we’ve gathered and to learn about your preferences. The doctor will want to go over all the information we’ve gathered today and spend time thinking about your oral health circumstances and options. If you decide later to have treatment, you will be fully informed about your options so you can make the decision that is right for you.”

Shared Values as the Basis

When we discover shared values in conversation, there is a powerful connection between us and the patient. If a patient mentions a filling has lasted for decades, you might say something like, “It seems to me that you like to have your dentistry last as long as possible?” And if the patient says yes, you might say, “Excellent, we’ll take that into consideration when we think about options for you.” Give them opportunities for discovering together with you what is most important to them.

The foundation you intentionally build on compassion, mutual trust, and shared values will enable you to expand conversations you have with patients about insurance and the cost of care. You will be able to assure them you will do whatever you can to make the dentistry they value affordable for them.

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Mary Osborne RDH

Mary is known internationally as a writer and speaker on patient care and communication. Her writing has been acclaimed in respected print and online publications. She is widely known at dental meetings in the U.S., Canada, and Europe as a knowledgeable and dynamic speaker. Her passion for dentistry inspires individuals and groups to bring the best of themselves to their work, and to fully embrace the difference they make in the lives of those they serve.




Here. Now.

September 23, 2019 Paul Henny DDS

While communicating, we can learn to become more mindful of the emotions which are rising up in our body and the sensations we are feeling on an intuitive level. We can begin to notice what has happened that has triggered our initial response, as well as feeling the sensations it has created in our body.

This requires us to remain in a state of curiosity and observation rather than in assessment and judgment. And when we treat these thoughts and sensations with equanimity, we are less likely to react inappropriately during stressful situations.

When I mention staying curious, I mean to approach the experience with the curiosity of a child.

When we remain curious, we are inspecting our experience like a child who has seen a flower for the very first time. This helps take the power away from the strong emotions we might be feeling in that moment. To paraphrase Mary Osborne from this past weekend at The Pankey Institute Annual Meeting, “You are standing on the balcony, and not on the floor.”

This whole mindfulness practice is extremely important as it gives us a chance to hit the pause button.

And when we pause, we’re able to respond rather than simply react. Reactions are often what our limbic brain wants us to thoughtlessly do. And if we have developed an insensitive pattern of reacting over the years, it can lead to regret and suffering. Hence, by developing an ability to pause our limbic brain’s instant impulses, we become more capable of responding in a much wiser fashion.

Mindfulness is at the epicenter of a truly relationship-driven practice.

And it’s a skill which can be developed and enhanced over our lifetime. Hence, it’s at the epicenter of “knowing ourselves” as well.

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About Author

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Paul Henny DDS

Dr. Paul Henny maintains an esthetically-focused restorative practice in Roanoke, Virginia. Additionally, he has been a national speaker in dentistry, a visiting faculty member of the Pankey Institute, and visiting lecturer at the Jefferson College or Health Sciences. Dr. Henny has been a member of the Roanoke Valley Dental Society, The Academy of General Dentistry, The American College of Oral Implantology, The American Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry, and is a Fellow of the International Congress of Oral Implantology. He is Past President and co-founder of the Robert F. Barkley Dental Study Club.