Workplace wellbeing

06 May 2024

Mark Garner offers advice on how to improve your team's resilience.

Chronic stress accounts for around half of all cases of self-reported work-related ill health in Great Britain, and it is rife within the dental profession. But it doesn’t just affect dentists. Dental nurses, dental hygienists and therapists are also shown to experience high levels of mental ill health due to work-related stressors.

Levels of work-related ill-health due to stress have been increasing since 1998/99 in the UK, peaking in recent years. According to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), this caused the loss of 17m work days in 2022-23. When pressure becomes chronic, it can trigger symptoms like insomnia, anxiety, depression, high blood pressure or digestive problems, among many others.

Workload is named as the biggest contributory factor to workplace stress in the UK, and dental practices are no exception. The most significant interventions recorded by the GDC in lowering stress due to workload were strategic changes, which ranged from simple shift rescheduling to adaptations towards more informed, communicative leadership and more collaborative working. The organisational allocation of duties is also very important. The more clarity and control team members have over their roles, the easier it is for them to manage workload demands.

Clinician-based interventions, like Employee Assistance Programmes (EAPs), that offer subsidised counselling and other support, can be helpful for stressed professionals.

Resilience relates to the ability to problem-solve and adapt, and individuals can benefit from developing strategies to cope with adversity in all areas of their lives, including work. However, organisation-focused initiatives are significantly more effective. Organisational resilience can be measured in how well an organisation plans and adjusts in response to external factors, and this translates directly into the wellbeing of team members.

Pressure versus stimulation

Not all pressure in a work setting is negative. There is such a thing as ‘good stress’ and it’s actually vital for a healthy life. A positive level of stress can stimulate memory and improve cognition, and in the short term, it can enhance immunity. Psychologists refer to ‘good stress’ as ‘eustress’. It’s the sensation of excitement we feel when we are mentally stimulated or challenged by a situation. Superficial symptoms may be similar to stress – our pulse quickens and our hormones surge – but there is no threat sparking feelings of distress or fear.

A lack of stimulation – being in a situation where you feel unable to utilise your skills and exert your energies in positive directions – can be as stressful as being overworked. Even in today’s busy dental practices, under-stimulation is felt by many dental staff who feel their potential and training is under-utilised.

Streamlining as an adaptation to pressure

A great dental practice, like any good business, values the contribution of each team member. This will be reflected in a system of proactive communication and, where needed, consultation over change.

Each and every role will have a stake in making the business flow. All team members will have a clear part to play, and will feel engaged, busy, challenged and stimulated. Digitally streamlining processes through dental practice management systems can enable seamless team working, even across multiple sites, by featuring secure access to shared reports, and integrated communication tools. 

Fear of complaints from patients has been cited as a prime stressor for dentists. To reduce the risk of complaints, fully informed consent must be obtained from the patient and adequately recorded. Practice management systems can incorporate signed consent into treatment plans to aid in this. Some systems can even create realistic visualisations of treatment to help patients understand their treatment better. The resulting clear, informed consent builds trust and improves compliance as well.

Workloads can be improved through practice management system functions that automate certain tasks. For example, when the information is integrated, data from appointments, team rotas, payments, treatment decisions and associated trends can be analysed at the touch of a button through comparative reports. In addition to enabling busy practices the capacity to generate metrics quickly, the data can enable strategic planning across a practice so that workload is allocated appropriately and growth areas can be identified more easily.

The dental practice management software (DPMS) from AeronaDental is a system designed to take the stress out of the day-to-day operation of dental practices. Totally cloud-based, the system works securely to enable clear communication and manage all clinical and commercial aspects of single-site as well as multi-site businesses. The system has intuitive charting tools, and enables clinicians to share and sign treatment plans digitally with patients. Patient engagement is easier with online consultation tools, forms, and survey tools. Business and finance tools are integrated, so practice managers and business owners can analyse performance to plan for improved resilience.

Structural approaches to wellbeing are most effective in dealing with the problem of workplace stress. Managing the health risks of stress are as important as managing any workplace health concern, and a collaborative approach to working is a great way to start improving workplace wellbeing. Investing in ways to streamline workload, improve communication both with patients and team members, and improve strategic planning with business tools could make all the difference.


References available on request.