Don’t let your discomfort put you off asking your employer for the pay rise you think you deserve. By Clea Sherman
While the dental profession offers rewarding and fulfilling work, many employees find career progression a challenge. Once you have completed training and are established in your job, pay levels can plateau, leaving you to wonder if and how you can earn more money.
Approaching the subject of a pay rise can be a difficult one. If things don’t change a great deal in the clinic where you work, how can you justify asking for a higher salary?
The challenges around pay
For employed dentists, dental hygienists, and oral health therapists, salary can be a tricky subject.
The industry is award free, which means it isn’t easy to benchmark your pay against others. Many dental practices don’t have a structure around salary review, pay rises and performance assessments. In practice, there is no real obligation on an employer’s part to even make adjustments for CPI increases.
Being part of a small team makes it difficult to discuss wages among peers, and for those who only work part-time, finding a platform to ask for and justify a pay rise can be even more of a struggle.
Industrial relations, salaries and benchmarking are areas Bill Suen pays close attention to as CEO of the Dental Hygienists Association of Australia (DHAA).
Suen agrees pay can be a confusing subject when it comes to the dental profession, particularly as there is no set standard. However, he mentions that establishing an award which covers assisting health professionals across the board may backfire and be lower than a lot of dental staff would currently expect.
“Often pay comes down to supply and demand,” he explains, saying that a country-based practice may end up paying a higher rate in order to be able to attract the right professionals. “It also comes down to experience, skills and how you perform in your role.”
How to get a pay rise
Having worked closely with many small businesses and their owners, Suen explains being granted a pay rise is about more than making demands.
“In terms of pay rises, it’s not about how long you have served but the benefits you bring. Your salary is paid in time spent but the hourly amount is calculated on how much value your work brings to the business. What you have to do is identify the value your work delivers, then find a way for it to be recognised.” This can be a test if you’re not used to marketing your value and benefits to others.
Before you ask for a pay rise, Suen recommends you start by requesting a performance appraisal. “It doesn’t often happen in small business but there should be an annual review at the very least.”
During your first appraisal, don’t kick things off by talking about money. Instead, focus the discussion on where the business is going and how you can help add value.
“You and your employer can mutually agree on targets based on quality and/or quantity, and work towards them,” says Suen. Skills enhancement, patient safety improvement, customer satisfaction and loyalty, operational efficiency gains, local health promotion and community outreach are areas of common interest for consideration.
Where to find advice
When talking to colleagues isn’t an option, you can turn to other professionals for ideas on how to approach a pay rise. You may have a family member or friend who has a management or leadership position, who can explain what’s involved with granting rises from their perspective.
A mentor or a coach may be another figure who can help you develop your career and benefit from the income growth that often follows. Your professional peak body should be able to support you in your career planning and development. “DHAA members can certainly contact me if they need advice,” offers Suen.
Pay rise alternatives
Suen reminds dental professionals that improving your circumstances doesn’t always have to be directly connected to money.
“You can discuss other things of value. For example, your employer may be willing to pay your education requirements, for your professional indemnity insurance or for equipment like a laptop.”
Employers can claim tax deductions on items like these so they may find it easier to absorb the costs as operating expenses. Other perks could include an extra day of leave, to give you more time to spend upskilling or with family.
When asking for a rise, one thing Suen recommends keeping in mind is that your pay rise needs to be a win-win for you and your employer. “If your employer is paying you more, it should be because you are delivering advantages for the business.”
Getting a raise: tips from a mentor
Dr Hercules Kollias (iamhercules.com) mentors executives and medical professionals, helping them to grow their careers and their salaries. He recommends asking yourself these questions before you pitch to your employer for a pay rise:
- Do you actually believe you deserve more money?
- What is better at the practice because of you?
- Where is the business at right now?
- Will your request be seen as reasonable or will it be another thing for the owner to worry about?
- Is now the right time to ask for a rise?
“You need to be honest with yourself. Is wanting more money a reaction to something or
do you genuinely believe you are being undervalued given your current performance?” says Dr Kollias.
“My advice is to approach asking for a rise armed with humility and facts. Don’t bring threats, the undercurrent of threats, or veiled tension. Stick with a matter-of-fact analysis of what is going on.”
Embed your request in a plan or vision to demonstrate how things will improve in the area you are responsible for, and then present the argument of their increased investment in you in terms of that.
“Your employer will want to know what’s in it for them,” says Dr Kollias. “If you can show them paying you more will increase something they want, or decrease something they don’t, they will consider it.”