Dentistry has always been a stressful occupation, with most dental professionals considering their jobs being significantly more stressful than any other career. The stress didn't get any less with COVID-19. And while a small amount of stress is fairly common in almost every job, it’s when you let things build up for too long that serious problems start to arise for your staff, your patients and yourself.
To be able to continue providing the same top quality care your patients deserve and expect while maintaining a strong dentistry team and looking after your personal wellbeing, here’s everything you need to know about burnout as a dental professional and how you can prevent it.
What is burnout?
Professional burnout is experiencing overwhelming stress caused by ongoing physical and mental exhaustion over an extended period of time. While you can experience professional burnout in any line of work, dental professionals are at an increased risk because they’re affected by both mental and physical stress.
As a dentist, dental hygienist or dental assistant, mental stress is created by trying to reach targets and treat high volumes of patients within a limited time frame. Physical stress is generated by being on your feet all day, often with your hands and arms in unnatural, uncomfortable positions. Physical pain and heavy workloads are two of the downsides of a career in dentistry, but there are ways you can manage these two cons so you can still enjoy your work day.
If you’re a dentist who also owns a private practice, you’ve also got the burden of managing a business to bear. Add all these stresses together, throw in the everyday problems which quickly build up and it’s no surprise 84% of dentists have experienced feelings of burnout during their career.
What are the signs of burnout?
According to the European dental professional community for Colgate, Elmex and Meridol, these are the primary signs of burnout in a dental professional.
- Skipping meals or eating basic snacks instead of nutritious meals
- Working late, during breaks or on weekends
- Chronic lethargy and difficulty getting out of bed in the morning
- Showing up late for work due to lack of concentration
- Avoiding socializing with friends or practicing hobbies
- Not finding enjoyment in your work like you used to
If you’re experiencing one of more of the above symptoms, you’re at risk of professional burnout. Equally, if you’ve noticed any of the above signs in your employees, it’s also possible they’re on the road to burnout. But don’t worry. There are ways you can prevent and avoid workplace burnout without closing your practice.
What are the consequences of burnout?
Workplace burnout affects many individuals, from the person experiencing it and their family to their colleagues and ultimately their patients. Feeling constantly stressed and overworked puts a powerful strain on personal relationships, often resulting in the person suffering from burnout to block out family members and friends entirely.
When someone is experiencing professional burnout in a dental practice, it puts additional strain on other members of the team who are forced to pick up the slack when the suffering employee is distracted or too exhausted to perform as usual. Ultimately, when a dental professional is suffering from workplace burnout, it’s the patients who are affected the most.
Someone who is feeling run down and chronically stressed isn’t able to provide top quality care to everyone who walks through the door and your patients don’t deserve second-rate treatment. To maintain your practice’s excellent reputation, it’s important you do everything you can to prevent workplace burnout.
How to prevent burnout
Whether you’re concerned about yourself experiencing burnout as a dental practice owner or your employees becoming overly exhausted from work-related stress, here are some tips to help you prevent burnout throughout your dental office.
Make breaks non-optional
Patients who are late for their appointments or make last-minute changes and cancellations are some of the biggest struggles dentists experience on a day-to-day basis. And while it’s important to accommodate patients the best you can, it’s also vital you take care of the mental wellbeing of you and your staff. Instead of skipping your lunch break to treat a walk-in patient, delay your break to a more suitable time and encourage your staff to do the same.
Even if it’s just a 15-minute break to eat a sandwich and browse the internet on your phone, prioritizing taking a few minutes of time each day to yourself greatly reduces the risk of burnout.
Improve the working environment
It’s important that you and your staff have somewhere quiet to escape to for a few minutes when stress begins to build up. Ensuring employees take their breaks is a great start, but if they’ve got nowhere to unwind except for a bustling reception area filled with anxious patients, chances are they’ll return from their break even more stressed. The same goes for you as a practice owner.
You don’t have to create a spa-like experience — simply a room with comfy seating, some colourful artwork and tea/coffee making facilities will do. When the pressures of the day get too much, having a tranquil place like this to withdraw to will make all the difference.
Stick to the schedule
Workplace burnout is often the result of a lack of discipline when it comes to dividing your time. This usually takes the form of letting your work run into time when you should be socializing or relaxing. It’s difficult to say no, especially to your boss, which makes employees more likely to accept additional work, even if they’re really not prepared for it.
As a practice owner, if you often find yourself working overtime or asking your employees to stay late, it’s time to consider hiring additional staff. That doesn’t necessarily mean taking on new full-time employees. A great alternative is to hire temporary staff via an online matching platform like Cloud Dentistry. This way you keep any risk to a minimum by only hiring the specific staff you need for the exact hours you want them.
Not only is hiring temporary dental staff, dental hygienists or dentists a great way to help your staff avoid burnout, but it will also lower your stress levels, too. When you’ve got access to a superb collection of excellent dental professionals quite literally at your fingertips, you won’t have to worry when a member of staff asks for vacation time or personal leave. Showing your staff you care about their personal lives is one of the best ways to build an excellent dental team and will benefit you and your practice in the long run.
Encourage staff to talk
As the saying goes, “A problem shared is a problem halved” and this is certainly true when it comes to dentistry burnout. While a friend or family member might not be quite empathetic enough to understand just how much strain you’re under in the dental practice, another dental professional who works in the industry certainly will.
To help take the weight off the shoulders of your staff, let them know that you’re there for them if they want to discuss any workplace issues or even if they just want to vent. Having clear lines of communication is one of our top tips for dental office success and it works both ways. Encouraging your staff to be open and talk when they’re feeling overworked will make them feel better, just as unloading your stresses of managing a dental practice will help you feel better.
Don’t hide from it — deal with it
Almost every professional will experience workplace burnout at some point in their lives. Instead of putting yourself under increased pressure until it builds up to the point of exploding, it’s important you take a step back and remember why you got into dentistry in the first place. Like everything in life, the stress you’re currently experiencing is temporary and won’t last forever. Soon you’ll be back to your old self, enjoying your role in dentistry and the challenges it provides.
If you’re not concerned about yourself, but think it’s an employee who may be experiencing workplace burnout, consider sharing this article with them. Just one simple gesture could take a huge weight off their shoulders and help them get back on track.