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June 2018--If you’re like many dentists with a long-running practice, you’ve likely faced this difficult situation: Dismissing a long-time employee who’s been the rock of your office.


“She’s been there from day one, through thick and thin. Trustworthy, Loyal,” said Deb Roberge, founder and co-creator of Our Perio Team, a cloud-based program that assists periodontists and their teams with their day-to-day operations.

But it’s been 30 years, and the veteran employee hasn’t kept pace with technology or practices and she’s been miserable for a long time.


You know it’s time to part ways, but how?

Roberge has helped more than 60 dentists through this experience.

She sat down with Debbie Bush, Patient Prism’s Director of Content, to talk about the best way to hold that difficult conversation.

The key is to dismiss the employee in a way that preserves the employee’s dignity.

Here’s a framework for that discussion that may help, said Roberge:

First, sit down with the employee and tell her what you’ve observed or sensed, and she’ll likely agree that she’s been miserable. She may try to offer ideas to make it better but you’ll have to explain that you wish you could change things, but this is the direction you want to take.

At that point you both see you’re at an impasse, and now the conversation turns to what you’d like to see happen.

Roberge offers some language to use for the next step.

“You’ve been with me forever; you know I adore you. I think the world of you,” she recommends saying (if it’s true). “But I don’t see us traveling the same path at this point, and somehow along the way we’re just drifting apart. So here’s what I want to do. I think it’s best that we part ways, but with that, I don’t want to just send you out in the cold. I want to make sure you are taken care of.”

Explain that you want to start interviewing for the position, but because she’s been with you for 30 years, you’re going to give her one day off a week, paid, for six to eight weeks so she can interview for jobs and find a new place to land.


Should You Give References?

“I’m not a big supporter of giving references — they’re dangerous,” Roberge said. “But in this case, this is where I make the exception. (The dentist) writes very simply ‘Susie’s been with me for 30 years’ . . . we put in only factual information.”

Roberge recommends that you should always start with what you are giving the employee you’re terminating. Then tell her what you want in return. For example, you’d probably ask her to allow candidates for her position to get the details of her job. Since it’s been 30 years, you may not even know what her job includes now, so you could also ask her to help write a job description.

“She’s still being paid by him,” Roberge said. “It’s a reward, it’s a comfort for her, she’s not being sent out to the wolves without anything.”

Almost always, they find a landing spot, she said. Frequently when you part ways, there are no hard feelings.


Document the Conversation

The last step is to assemble a document that explains everything you’ve discussed, and you both sign it. You can put a time-frame on it or leave it open ended. The good part is she’s there as long as you think you need her, plus she’s training her replacement.

So what happens if they find a job quicker than you anticipated?

“If they find something, you don’t want them to miss out,” Roberge said. “So if you have to you find a temporary to fill the spot until you find someone. The point is she leaves with all the information you need to fill her spot.”

Roberge said there’s also another perk.

“What’s also nice about this, if they do get a position, there’s no reason for you to have to give them unemployment insurance because they found a position,” she said.

Roberge likes the dignity of the process. For her, this method started eight years ago with a client in update New York who had this same situation.

The employee is happy, the office is happy. She even comes to visit, and there’s no hard feelings, she said. The dentist was thrilled.

“He said ‘Everybody thinks I’m a hero. All my team members think I’m the best dentist there ever was.’”

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