Incentives for dental staff: bonuses and benefits

incentives for dental staff
Incentives for dental staff make good financial sense.

On top of their base wage, there’s nothing like paying an annual bonus or providing other benefits to motivate workers to try that bit harder. Marian Edmunds reports incentives for dental staff.

When seeking to fill positions or hiring staff at Australian dental practices, there is no strict formula in place for setting bonuses or benefits. However, new and expanding practices and corporations—and the people they seek to recruit—take bonuses and benefits seriously in the quest to find and keep motivated and talented staff. 

“Most dentists have trouble attracting and retaining good employees,” says Phillip Palmer, founder and chair of Prime Practice which helps dentists to grow their leadership and management skills in order to run successful businesses.

“Part of attracting and retaining good employees is a salary package but team members also want a lot of other things—appreciation from the boss, a sense of importance, personal growth, a nice environment—to get job satisfaction. So a good salary package on its own won’t cut it. Part of a salary package can be a bonus system, and a bonus system can take many different forms. 


“Twelve to 18 per cent of turnover should be allocated to non-clinical wages,” Palmer suggests. “Most practices do not have any bonuses in place at all, and they just pay normal salary only,” he continues.

“There is no particular formula to determine how much of that 12-18 per cent should or could be allocated as a bonus, and how much should be normal wage. You just wouldn’t want to go much above that guideline goal as the total percentage for the non clinical wages of a practice.”

Benefits vs bonuses 

Palmer adds that wages are fairly reasonable and since most practices provide their team with a living wage, bonuses tend less to form an essential part of their package. Where there is a bonus system in place, sometimes these are designed in such a way so that the team never gets them. “That quickly becomes demotivating,” he says.

“Most dentists do not have in operation properly thought-out bonus systems. A bonus is seen as nice to have if it can be set up to be motivating, fair and equitable. But it’s not a fundamental in order to give staff food on their table.”

“Part of attracting and retaining good employees is a salary package but team members also want a lot of other things to get job satisfaction.”—Phillip Palmer, founder, Prime Practice

Focused more on benefits than bonuses is Coastal Dental Care, a dental cooperative in Northern NSW and South-east Queensland that helps dentists achieve their dream of running a practice through economies of scale.

“We try to motivate our staff more in an intrinsic way than giving them a monetary reward,” says Julia Riese, marketing manager for Coastal Dental Care. “Extrinsic motivation only works on a certain level—but we want our staff to love working here.

“One of the greatest benefits of working together,” she adds, “is the ability to refer internally to dentists that have special interests in certain fields. Our dentists can refer patients to that dentist knowing they already have a good working relationship.”

Other benefits include access to its own training institute, the Australian Institute of Continuing Education in Dentistry, with courses that include those offered by international lecturers. These are provided at a reduced rate without the need to travel, and with many continuing professional development (CPD) criteria. As part of its education program, Coastal Dental Care also offers a monthly study club to its dentists.

Bigger picture 

The Coastal Dental Care team says its business model allows it to give flexible, local, up-to-date service backed by the support of the overall organisation with the efficiencies in marketing and management, and training benefits they can offer.  

A similar situation occurs for National Dental Care, according to Antony Benedetto, clinical oversight committee chairman. “With the training, you have the option to travel and meet colleagues from other practices. It means you have your immediate practice team but you get to be part of a bigger picture and help set the benchmark for the way things are done across Australia.

“If I decide tomorrow that I want to learn how to do CEREC, I have the opportunity to have a machine at my practice, I can access training, I can talk to other dentists who consider me a colleague—not a competitor because we work for the same company,” he says. 

Bonus systems 

Benefits aside, if bonuses for team members are designed properly and fulfil appropriate criteria then most dentists would want to be involved, says Phillip Palmer.

“A bonus is seen as nice to have if it can be set up to be motivating, fair and equitable. But it’s not a fundamental in order to give staff food on their table.”—Phillip Palmer, founder, Prime Practice

“The criteria should be that it is affordable, keeps pay to the right proportion of turnover, and should result in behavioural change on behalf of the beneficiary.

“That change needs to be measured and demonstrated,” continues Palmer. “Targets that could meet such criteria might include supply expenses being below a certain threshold; or the number of patients reappointing, or decreased downtime including that for cancellations that haven’t been refilled. It needs to be something that the team can have a profound effect on.

“Once the criteria are met, and the team has shown changed behaviour that can be easily measured and was specified before the period starts, then a bonus is payable.”

Piece of the pie 

“Another bonus system that can be used is called a piece of the pie, says Palmer. “So if I dedicate a percentage, say 18 per cent, of my turnover of my practice to my staff, and the practice grows, so does the staff income. If the practice doesn’t grow, nor does their income.”

This system requires no change in behaviour or management or investment; it’s a matter of everyone working more effectively to make the practice grow but it can be motivating to staff. 

“These types of bonuses are as relevant for a small one-man practice as a large practice, and I know as I was a dentist and did it myself for my small practice,” says Palmer.  

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