Office Morale: Extracting “Bad Seeds” From Your Dental Practice

Real-World Insights from AADOM Author Denise Coyne

I am an office manager in an orthodontic office in the Quad Cities, IL/IA. We have a staff of 12 and one doctor. It’s often challenging to keep things running efficiently, deliver excellent care, and to top it all off – keep up team morale! Out of all three, keeping team morale up is the most challenging.

No matter what, team morale is going to have its ups and downs. However, the matter of how long you allow low morale to last is crucial. Many factors can contribute to poor team morale and knowing the signs can help.

Factors contributing to low team morale

Over the last seven years of managing a practice, some of the biggest sources include:

  1. Negativity
  2. Team division
  3. Coworkers talking behind others’ backs
  4. Undermining management
  5. Complaining
  6. Not following rules

Such factors usually don’t happen in front of the office manager. But your team needs to realize that a practice administrator can only help with the situation if she only knows what’s going on.

If a team member cannot go to their manager with a problem, then you as the practice leader cannot address the situation. It’s frustrating to have a situation that is destructive to the team and not be able to do anything about it. But on the other side of the coin, if a team member cannot allow the office manager to address it, they must let it go. It’s a fine line, because you want your team to have enough trust to come to talk to you. Finding that happy medium is essential.

The token system

Whenever we have a situation arise in our office, team members utilize our token system. This is how it works:

  1. Everyone has a wooden token with their initials on it.
  2. You give the token to a coworker that you need to address a situation with.
  3. They must come together and talk by the end of the day to resolve the issue.

We encourage our team members to come to the office when they need help finding a solution. Most of the time, the token method takes care of the situation. However, if a problem continues, the staff must go to the office manager to have the issue addressed. At this point, they must allow the manager to take care of the problem.

Remove negativity to maintain team morale

The most challenging employee for me is the one with a negative attitude. Personally, I feel any employee who is always complaining or negative has it built-in as part of their personality. You cannot change their personality, no matter how hard you try. Remember the saying, “You hire for personality; you can always train them.”

As an office manager, you try so hard to work with every employee. However, there comes a time when you have done everything possible. At that point, you must make the decision to dismiss poor employees.

Dismissing a team member

Dismissing a team member is one of the most emotional tasks an office manager can do. Even though they are not working up to standards, you are still affecting their well-being. Remember, a dismissal may be best for the practice and overall team.

Be sure to keep up your employee records, whether it’s asking for a day off or past write-ups. In the end, you can look back and feel at ease knowing the employee made their own choices and showed them through their actions. Life is about choices; you create your own path.

It’s amazing how office morale changes once you remove negativity and complaining from your team. A team once divided can now come together to work and have fun again. The change shows your team that you’re serious about the office philosophy and how everyone is accountable for their own actions.

The pledge I make to my staff is that I will not allow an employee to create excessive negativity and complaining. In return, my team realizes they need to address situations rather than let them fester. They know that I cannot address a situation if I am unaware of the problem. It’s all about communication.

To all of you with an employee that you have tried everything to do to get them on board… your team is worth it to let that person go. It’s a hard thing to do, but you will be glad you did it once it’s all said and done.


Meet the Author

Denise Coyne, FAADOMDenise is a farmer’s wife. She and her husband recently celebrated their 30th wedding anniversary. She’s the proud mother of her two grown children, Kelsey and Dayton, and her two fur babies (both German Shepherds), Izzy and Bryzzo.

Denise attended dental assisting school at Blackhawk College in 1989 and has a combined 30 years of experience in dentistry, ranging from lab tech to office manager. She was inducted as an AADOM Fellow in 2019.


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