News |4 min read

Emotional Exhaustion: How to Identify and Mend Cracks In Team Culture

Joanne Miles, with text "Real-world insights from AADOM authors."

Recently I was facilitating a day of in-office learning with a dental team. It quickly came to my attention that nobody, and I mean not one single person on this large team, was laughing, let alone smiling.

As I observed this strong and capable team in action, it became clear that something was wrong.

Although the purpose of my visit was to introduce patient risk factors and treatment planning, the absolute risk facing this dental practice was an erosion of culture.

COVID fatigue is real, even to those who have not been personally infected. As healthcare professionals, we have an even heavier burden to bear.

It’s safe to say team culture across most, if not all, dental practices are suffering due to:

  • Continually shifting changes in protocol
  • Staffing shortages
  • Uncertainty about what the future holds

The reality is dentistry is no longer business as usual.

Most teams don’t have the facilitation tools necessary to address culture erosion, with many scared to confront it.

But those courageous enough to watch for the warning signs and address the elephant in the room as soon as it’s recognized stand a far better chance of elevating emotional health and well-being in the practice.

By identifying and addressing emotional exhaustion, you’ll be able to finally enjoy great camaraderie and patient care.

Keep reading to learn three tips on how you can make your dental practice stronger.

1. Acknowledge shifts in culture

Sometimes shifts in culture are easy to spot, like the sudden departure of a beloved team member.

Other cultural shifts are harder to identify as they present as gradual shifts occurring over months.

For example:

I learned that the team I visited had not been together as a complete, in-person team in over fifteen months. Over a year of Zoom meetings, staggered shifts, and shorter office hours prevented the entire team from gathering in one spot.

You can imagine how challenging it is for business owners to incorporate a new system, protocol, or procedure but cannot have the team together face to face.

You may have tried an all-hands-on-deck Zoom meeting, but the results are not the same since:

  • Not everyone’s webcam is turned on
  • Body language is not easy to read
  • Some of the team have spotty internet connections

The result is it can be near impossible to get a new initiative to stick.

2. Hold space for emotions

When teams are lucky enough to have face-to-face time together, it’s often used to train new safety protocols and other logistical elements of the practice. There’s little time left for addressing how people actually feel emotionally about the changes that have occurred over the past year.

Allowing space for people to identify and express their emotions on a typical day helps a team member feel heard.

It also shows you care and are committed to restoring a culture that aligns with your core values.

3. Dig to the root of emotions

When emotions surface, there’s always an underlying trigger that causes the feeling to erupt.

For example:

  • A child’s first year birthday emits hopeful joy
  • A job promotion surfaces feelings of pride and accomplishment

On the other hand:

Daily routine emotions can be harder to identify the root cause.

Imagine a dental assistant that may appear less willing to help than usual. Her demeanor could be described as grumpy.

Upon further inspection, the dissonance she displays at the practice is caused by the origin of feeling unseen:

  • “I’m always sterilizing, and nobody helps me.”
  • “The doctor is always running behind and doesn’t consider how hard we work.”
  • “The patients are just mean today!”
  • “I’m so sick of the gossip in this place.”

The dental practice I mentioned before was able to get on the road to healing. Finding the right facilitator to support surfacing the root of negative and positive emotions can jumpstart the process and halt the erosion of culture in your practice.

Just like a plant, keeping a healthy culture in your practice requires consistent, tender-loving care.

If your team is struggling with emotional exhaustion, you’re not alone.

Successful dental office managers know the best way out by recognizing the impact the last year has had on your team.

Dedicate time to hold space for the team to get all emotions out on the table and commit to getting to the root of the problem so healing can begin.


Meet the Author

Joanne Miles in black blazer and blue top with necklaceJoanne Miles, MAADOM, RDA, is a lifetime AADOM member. She received her Fellowship in 2010 and was inducted in 2021 as an AADOM Master.

As a business development consultant for Productive Dentist Academy, Joanne is known as the Swiss Army knife for business. With decades of experience in growing dental practices across the nation, she shares her passionate, proven methods to guide dentists as they grow their practice, whether it’s from the scratch start or large multi-practice organizations.

She can be reached at JoanneMiles@ProductiveDentist.com… This text opens a new tab to email Joanne….
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