Dentistry is experiencing a significant staffing shortage, and you’ve likely felt the crunch in your own office. A poll conducted by the ADA Health Policy Institute found that more than a third of owner dentists are looking to hire new staff, and more than 80% of those who are currently hiring report that recruiting is extremely or very challenging.

Many offices are dealing with the high stress, fatigue and loss of additional team members that can accompany a long-lasting staff shortage. Unfortunately, experts predict the problem won’t end anytime soon.

Here are some tips for navigating through this tricky time to avoid lengthy and stressful staff shortages in your office.

Be prepared to act quickly

That old management saying, “Hire slow, fire fast,” should be taken with a grain of salt nowadays. Good candidates are out there; they’re just being hired fast. You need to be prepared to screen candidates efficiently and to make an attractive offer to the right hire quickly.

If you wait too long, a good candidate may slip away and accept another position. Consider time-saving steps, such as checking a suitable candidate’s references before an interview takes place so that you can make a job offer right then and there, if a candidate seems like a particularly good fit.

Train current employees

Don’t forget the benefits of taking the time to train the team members you already have. Training and continuing education (CE) units should be a feature of your practice. This not only helps with staff retention and skills, but it also makes your office more attractive to potential new hires.

Studies show higher retention and satisfaction rates among employees where there are training and CE benefits. In addition, training and CE opportunities allow your team members to see that the business cares about them and is interested in their future. That kind of mutuality inspires better morale and lower turnover. Choose the appropriate and applicable courses based on the needs of your practice and the licensing requirements of positions.

In some instances, you may be hiring new team members with fewer skills than you did in the past due to the current crunch. Your practice will need to build systems that can help guide that new staff and also maximize the efficiency and skills of the current team. Training has an important role to play during a staff shortage, so don’t let it lag during this challenging time.

Look to current staff for leads

Your current staff is actually one of your best resources when it comes to finding new staff. Your team members have friends, family members and contacts in the dental industry. With referrals, you can potentially recruit faster by skipping the initial job advertising and resume screening. And referred candidates also tend to be a good fit because they come in knowing at least one person in the office and they arrive with some idea of what the work culture is like. According to CareerBuilder, 88 percent of employers rated employee referrals above all other sources for generated quality of new hires. If you don’t have one already, consider creating an employee referral program to structure and formalize the referral process in your office.

Foster a positive office culture

Getting stressed out and overwhelmed in the middle of a pandemic when staff is short is certainly understandable. But remember, no one wants to work in a chaotic or unpleasant environment for long. Staffing woes will only get worse if your office is not a good place to work. Continue to collaborate with your team on a consistent basis to build a positive, motivated work environment. Build trust in your team through listening and empathy.

When things are hard, patients, staff and dentists are all on edge, but teams value a leader who shows up, listens, stays present and cares. Acknowledge the hard times, and celebrate the good times, like birthdays and holidays. Take a serious look at the environment, team spirit and career paths at your practice, and do what you can to make improvements wherever your office is lacking. A great dental team is the heart and soul of any successful practice, so be sure you’re leading through difficult times with trust and empathy.