How should principal dentists approach staff sickness?

How should principal dentists approach staff sickness?

Following the news that mental health benefits and sick notes will become harder to obtain, principal dentists explain how they approach staff sickness.

It was recently announced that the government intends to make changes to benefits and sick note provision for those suffering from mental health problems. Personal Independence Payments (PIP) may be replaced by vouchers for treatment for those with ‘mild mental health conditions’. GPs will also be stripped of the ability to provide sick notes to facilitate health-related absence from work. Prime minister Rishi Sunak said this was to target ‘sick note culture’ which he believes is responsible for rising numbers of people on sick leave.

Several dental practice principals have shared their thoughts on the changes and their own approach to sickness in the workplace.

Polly Bhambra, director at Treetops Dental Surgery

Sick leave is a critical component of workplace policies, ensuring that employees can recover from illness without worrying about losing their jobs or income. However, while it plays a pivotal role in maintaining a healthy workforce, it also introduces several complications for the dental practice, particularly in relation to daily operations, staffing, and financial stability.

One of the most immediate challenges is the disruption of daily clinics. When employees call in sick, especially unexpectedly, it can result in short-staffed situations, cancelling appointments which delays patient treatment. This is particularly problematic in dental care where physical presence is crucial. 

Staffing issues also become prominent, as other team members may need to cover additional duties. This can lead to increased workloads and potential burnout, impacting morale and productivity. For small practices, the absence of even one employee can significantly hinder treatment lists, emphasising the need for cross-training and flexible staffing strategies.

Financial strain

Financially, providing paid sick leave can strain budgets, especially for smaller dental clinics. While necessary for ethical employee treatment, the cost implications can be substantial, affecting the overall financial health of a business. Therefore, while supportive sick leave policies are essential for employee wellbeing, practices must strategically manage these policies to mitigate their impact on operations and finances. 

Mental health is the new whiplash era, taking away from those that are genuinely suffering on a daily basis. Since COVID-19 it’s become a free for all, and hard to manage for practice managers and principals.

Handling sickness in the workplace effectively is crucial for maintaining a healthy environment, ensuring productivity, and showing care for the wellbeing of employees. It’s important to make sure communication lines are open. The importance of return to work interviews hold weight as they allow you to ascertain sickness trends and have open conversations about employee wellbeing. Employees should feel comfortable notifying their managers about their health concerns without fear of repercussions.  

Harriet Trivedi, principal dentist at The Dental Sanctuary

I would like to think that these changes to sick leave policy won’t make very much difference to us as a close knit independent dental team.

We all have a mutual trust and respect, which also applies when it comes to employees taking sick leave. I do feel sad for those in corporate environments where the lack of a GP sick note will impact employees who actually need the support.

Alif Moosajee, principal dentist at Oakdale Dental

The better you look after your team, the better they will look after your patients, and in turn the better your patients will look after you. It can either be a positive or a negative cycle. The power and the control I have is directly on how well I look after my staff and it becomes obvious when I am generous with my staff (with time, money and gifts) who, out of my staff, are givers and who are takers.

Unfortunately in the UK there are so many people who have become so used to just taking that I can understand why the government has taken the steps that they have to disincentivise this kind of behaviour. It is so sad that the people who are comfortable taking ruin it for those who genuinely needed it.

I treat my team well, but I also expect a lot and so the hardest thing is to establish as quickly as possible who is right for my team and who isn’t. If we can make that decision quickly and fairly then those who stay are generally the right kind of people and policing them becomes much easier.

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