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Top 10 Ways to Motivate the Millennial Associate Dentist

by Kyle Roth

They are entitled narcissists who still live with their parents. They are offended by everything. They are fickle. They are job hoppers. They don’t like to pay for continuing education. They don’t want to travel for work. They just want to have fun!”

Yes, I have heard these very statements. I am guilty of uttering some of the same things. Through years of having the opportunity to speak to thousands of dentists, the subject often turns to Millennials, or more specifically the millennial associate dentist. Call them generalizations or even stereotypes, but there are certain traits that most tend to associate with Millennials. Some of it is an image that Millennials have cultivated for themselves, but mostly it is a variety of societal factors that have formed these characteristics. While I have pointed out some of the negative stereotypes, it would be a disservice not to also acknowledge the many attributes of the millennial associate dentist. Understanding them helps to tap into those attributes and increases the chances that they will realize their full potential.

Who are the Millennials?

First, the definition; Millennials, also known as Generation Y, were born between the early 1980s and the early 2000s. Beyond the definition, there are certain truths that apply to many, if not most Millennials. One of the traits and habits that most would associate with Millennials is being extremely tech savvy. The fact that they grew up with computers in their hands gives them workplace skills that they learned as second nature. Some would say that the downside to this is an insatiable appetite for social media as they Snapchat in their sleep and are as concerned with posting to Instagram as they are with the rest of their duties. Of course this is also the activity that sometimes leads to labels of narcissism and even entitlement.

Without delving deeply into a sociological study, having a lifelong experience of technology and the bigger world that it brings may also be a big part of much of the good that is associated with the traits and habits of Millennials. While they may have a need for affirmation and enjoy immediate gratification, they desire to get more out of work than just a paycheck. They want to have a real influence on the company for which they work. It is important to understand that these workers are highly motivated for success and extremely ambitious.

The Millennial’s need for constant validation and gratification may be frustrating for the owner-dentist of a different generation, but let’s not overlook their potential to provide a fresh outlook to transition an outdated practice with stalled performance, to one with motivated employees and exponential growth.

There are an estimated 80 million Americans who belong to the millennial generation, and they comprise nearly 45 percent of the US workforce. The Millennials are the most educated and culturally diverse group of any generation in history. They are notorious job–hoppers, they dislike bureaucracy and distrust traditional hierarchies. Because of this, traditional dentist-owners have a difficult time tapping into what motivates these individuals.

So… what does motivate a millennial associate? Millennial associates are more likely to look for meaning and impact in their work and aren’t satisfied with simply working an eighthour day. It is important to help them understand their role in the practice. It will give them a clearer sense of purpose and make them feel valued, which in turn boosts productivity.

Millennials seek associate positions where they are trusted by the practice owner and given the creative opportunity to make decisions in order to help the practice succeed. They do not hop from job to job because they are disloyal. In most cases, they are impatient with systems that stifle their creative ability. They truly want to help the office grow and be successful. They simply want to have a part in that success. Micromanaging is the “kiss of death” for the millennial dentist. They prefer to learn the hard way through trial and error rather than being dictated by rules and guidelines. They would rather be allowed to fail a few times on their own.

The millennial associate places a higher priority on helping people in need, over a high-paying career. Allowing millennial dental employees to form committees and use company resources for community causes, meets their desire for social consciousness. In order to tap into their creativity, it is important for the owner-dentist to be respectful about the social programs that are of value to the associates.

Millennials demonstrate a low tolerance for insincere and non-authentic people. They value the owner-dentist who treats them with respect and will gravitate towards the doctor who is relatable, genuine, and accessible.

The millennial generation will respond well to encouragement and immediate feedback. They need to know that they are being noticed. They do not need extravagant gifts, but are fueled by a simple acknowledgement of “thank you” or “congratulations.” Make it clear from the beginning that you are going to reward only positive contributions and that you are going to keep an open line of communication to let them know how they can improve. Feedback should not be “sugarcoated,” and it needs to be constructive.

…they desire to get more out of work than just a paycheck. They want to have a real influence on the company for which they work. It is important to understand that these workers are highly motivated for success and extremely ambitious.

Work–Life balance is one of the most important ways to retain the millennial associate dentist. Most millennial associate dentists are willing to sacrifice pay for an increase in vacation time. They are not opposed to flexible scheduling and owner-dentists can use this to their advantage when trying to keep the office open in nontraditional hours.

Millennial associate dentists generally insist that the practice owners sponsor continuing education.

Most of them are burdened with large college loans that make it very difficult for them to fork over large sums of cash to attend weekend continuing education.

The millennial associate dentist will also prioritize fun in the workplace. They often view their jobs as an extension of their social community and identity. They do not need to be best friends with their colleagues, but it certainly doesn’t hurt. Many millennials enjoy leadership training games and enjoy strategy of play as a tool for personal and professional development.

While learning to work with this new generation may not immediately be viewed as a positive shift, it is imperative that we strive to embrace and understand it in order to establish healthy and rewarding working relationships with associates.

10 Ways to Motivate Your Millennial Associate Dentist

1 Assign Challenging Office Projects

Use the millennial academic mindset to assist you with technology issues that may have been overlooked for the past several years. How old is your website? Is the website full of flash that was perfect twenty years ago, and is now not “liked” by Google? How relevant is your social media campaign? Nonexistent? Boring? Let the millennial go to work on modernizing the patient’s first impression of your office. It is no longer the front desk. The first impression of your office now is your website, social media or some other form of digital advertising. The same applies to your dental equipment technology. While you do not need to be on the cusp of technology, you need to at least be relevant.

Offer Philanthropic Opportunities

As a team, work for Habitat for Humanity, work on the oral health of the homeless, offer free dental days to veterans or organize a 5K run for their favorite charity. Find a cause that resonates with your associate dentist, and let them run with it.

Provide Constant Feedback

Set goals and make sure you adhere to them. Direct your millennial associate on specific continuing education classes that you would like for them to attend or even specific goals for their production. Do not just set a target and forget about it. Take time with your associate to discuss their progress, making sure to acknowledge positive contributions, as well as, areas in need of improvement. There is a fine line between continual feedback and micromanagement, so make sure you are taking a genuine conversational approach.

4 Provide Time and Money for Continuing Education

According to many surveys, the number one benefit that millennials appreciate is training and development.

Do not make them take vacation days and use their own funds for dental continuing education. If there is a particular course that you want them to take, pay for it! Show interest in what they learned and take a joint approach to implementation into the practice. You should also be willing to sponsor courses that they choose, as well. If they are only allowed to take “practice owner” approved CE, it’s only a matter of time before they feel as though they are losing their professional identity.

5 Provide Incremental Steps Within the Associate Position

Millennials aren’t satisfied waiting years and years for a promotion. The concept of tenure is a thing of the past.

Millennials believe hard work should result in advancement, regardless of how long it may have taken others to historically progress in their careers. Rather than having one generic position for an “Associate Dentist”, consider offering various titles with increasing levels of responsibility. Along with these titles, offer advanced training and commensurate pay increases. Positions such as Junior Associate, Senior Associate, Lead Dentist and Mentor can go a long way to satisfy their need for progression early on in their career.

6 Quarterly Incentives, and “Annual Stretch Goal” in Collections

If the company meets its stretch goal annual collections, maybe everybody could take a trip together and enjoy some team-building fun! It is important to allow your millennial dentist input into selecting the destination for the trip. The associate will feel empowered to pick events that they feel best rewards themselves, as well as, the team. They will also feel a sense of ownership when the team has a wonderful experience and continues to bond long after the return to the office.

7 Wellness Incentives

A very high percentage of millennial dentists are involved in fitness activities. Be it yoga, the local gym, fun runs, cycling or some other wellness-focused activity, incentives should be in place to support this. Some incentives for the associate dentist could include healthy cuisine cooking classes, stress management seminars, work–life balance workshops and the like. Healthy employees are far less likely to miss work because of illness and typically have more energy throughout the day, which leads to a more productive practice.

8 Collaboration in Preparation for Company Meetings

Millennial dentists should be involved in the planning sessions for company meetings. They should assist in leading the agenda and take an active role in the presentation. Millennial dentists want to have an impact on their surroundings and this is one way to foster an inclusive environment.

9 Involve Your Associate in the Day-to-Day Operations

Chances are you have millennial auxiliary staff in your office already and if not, they will be there soon.

A like-minded associate dentist can help bridge any generational gap that may exist between you and them. They will likely have a natural desire to bond socially with the team. Encourage them to do so, but instill professional boundaries, as well. If the associate and the team become too social with one another, the associate may struggle with being seen as an authority figure.

Also, when meeting with your accountant to review financial reports, consider inviting the associate to attend. Most of them are going to be practice owners at some point in time. Whether they purchase your office or open one of their own, they will appreciate the opportunity to learn some behind the scenes tasks required to operate a successful business.

10 Maintain an Environment of Constant Evolution

Millennials are exhilarated by constant neural input. They are constantly stimulated by their smartphones via news, videos, social media, etc. While older doctors are more likely to crave routine, millennial associates will seek constant evolution and stimulation. Solicit the assistance of the millennial associate in seeking out new technology to offer, new benefits to offer, new places to blog and different ways to use social media to bring patients into the office.

Even if you make all of the right moves, don’t be surprised if you find yourself recruiting for a new associate more often than you had hoped. In fact, you can give yourself a pat on the back if you are able to retain them for three years. While they may seem demanding, their technological mindset, confidence and determination can help make your office more productive, efficient and profitable. Understanding how to motivate the millennial generation will allow you to unlock their full potential in your practice!

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