Are You Frustrated and Burned Out As An Office Manager?

So many dental office managers feel that they are stuck between a rock and a hard place. No matter what they do, they can’t make traction with their doctor, the office or their team. They are burned out and frustrated. While there may not be an easy fix for this common issue, I do have some guidance. To learn what you can do to improve the situation, first let’s take a look at why this is an issue in a lot of dental offices. There are 5 main reasons that a lot of dental office managers feel this way.

First, if you’re the office manager, you will need to face the fact that the problem may actually begin and end with you.

It comes down to what I always suggest when tackling an issue in the office—stop and look in the mirror. Many dental office managers might have the right attitude and desire to improve in their role as well as create lasting improvement for their offices. However, they might not be going at it the right way or have the skills to do it. Most dental office managers have not gone to business management school and therefore are doing a lot of their management and communication based on gut feeling, instinct or maybe something they learned at a seminar or conference. Of course that’s not a bad way to grow and learn, but most are not formally educated in managing a small business.

Which leads me to the second reason that office managers often end up burned out and frustrated.

Dentists are typically not educated in the business side of things, so they know where they want their businesses to go but don’t know how to get there. Combine that with the fact that office managers usually do not have management or business training. What you have in this scenario is two leaders of an organization who are doing the best that they can but really just guessing from moment to moment, not following any kind of structured framework. It makes sense that this is a recipe for frustration and burnout over time when they generally cannot get the results they want.

The third issue is related to the lack of formal training for office managers…

Which is that there is an entire team that also needs to be educated, motivated and trained in how to run and grow the office. Not to repeat myself yet again, but team members also have not gone through formal training in this area. There are a lot of team members that seem to be more worried about how things will affect them personally or their job, and so they will push back on any office changes or certain management approaches.

Which leads to the fourth issue: the office manager is considered a middle manager.

What that means is, their job is to know what the owner or doctor wants and then be able to get the team to do it. When you work for an owner who is not clear on what they want or good at communicating it, that can be very difficult. The other side of that coin is equally challenging—no matter how much you know about what the owner wants, if you can’t get the team to do it, then the result is that the office manager couldn’t do what was needed. Talk about stress! Also, as an office manager, you are on an island all by yourself, or at least that is what it feels like. Many times you don’t have any decision-making power because your name is not on the wall, but you are also not one of the team members. The office manager is stuck in the middle and often bears the brunt of any stressful situation.

The final thing that causes this stress is the environment in which we are working.

Dental offices are inherently high-stress environments, where time is of the essence and the patient’s care is the utmost priority. A lot of challenging moments can occur throughout the day, and the office manager is typically the one most responsible for making sure to put out those fires. No wonder this job can take the toll on almost anyone.

As an office manager, you may be wondering what you can possible control about these elements of the job. What strategies can you use that will make the role less stressful but will also help grow the office and make you proud of what you do?

I am going to suggest four things that will combat the typical office manager challenges, and let you not only enjoy the role more but also improve in the position over time.

1. The first is that you have to have a real heart-to-heart with your doctor.

Remember that your dentist is probably not trained in this area, so you have to take the lead. You should have a very open discussion with your doctor about your role, their expectations, their support and what they want you to accomplish. You need a clear outline of what you are supposed to be doing for them, and make sure they know that they have to work with you to get their practice where they want it to be. It takes both of you to lead in such a way that the team will get on board.

2. The next is to communicate with the team and let them know that you are on their side.

Remind them know that your role is to help make the doctor’s vision a reality. Tell them that you are there to support them and to support your doctor, and that you will make sure they have whatever they need to be able to do that. Then, once you have seen which team members are enthusiastically supporting the office goals and which ones are choosing to dig their heels in the sand and not grow, you can meet again with your doctor to discuss who on the team may not be a good fit with the office long-term.

3. Another thing you have to do as an office manager is to being proactive and planning for things.

As you grow in this role, you can start to predict and determine that things might happen, such as the schedule will fall apart the day before a three-day weekend or the team will have a big issue implementing a new piece of technology. Your role as an office manager is to start to predict things and then help the dentist and team plan for it. Help them with the unexpected surprises with a potential game plan, because you were thinking ahead.

4. Last, take look at your attitude and your ability to do this job.

Are you really in the right position, excited and ready to take this on? Do you have the skills and interest to do this? Do you fully believe in your doctor and know your team can do it? Do you have the capacity to do some hard things, such as initiating difficult discussions with your dentist about letting someone go, or put in extra hours to make something go right? It takes a strong leader and one who is willing to do what is needed to succeed in this role. Sometimes, in reflecting on yourself and your situation, you might find that you are actually not the right person. There is nothing wrong with this. As long as you are completely open and honest with yourself and your doctor, don’t hold yourself to expectations that you can’t accomplish for them. They will thank you for it.

That being being said… Most of the time what I find is that when the doctor, office manager and team really make a concerted effort to look at where they are and where they want to go, they can do it. I have faith that you can grow your office manager skills and lead your team to success!

Laura Nelson

Laura Nelson, BS, MS, FAADOM is the founder and driving force behind Front Office Rocks, and the leading provider of on-demand virtual training and resources for dental practices.