Catherine Rutland reflects on how morale in dentistry has changed over the past 25 years, including attitudes to mental health and how to create a positive environment.
In my mind, morale and wellbeing are inextricably linked.
When reflecting over the last 25 years, the interesting thing is that the amount these subjects are discussed and considered over that time has changed beyond recognition.
Our mental health 25 years ago was not really on any agenda. It wasn’t discussed openly. And if it was, it was only when someone was really not well – certainly not from a preventative approach.
We may have known that suicide rates were high in the profession. However, sadly I remember it only being a fact, not with discussion as to how to support our peers to possibly prevent such a sad and impactful end.
A changing climate
The climate in which the profession works has also changed. When I qualified, albeit almost 30 years ago, I remember being told we would be sued three times in our life time. Back then, I knew nothing about the GDC except that I had to pay them money every year and abide by their standards.
There are so many aspects that affect morale. To name a few, our interaction with our peers and our teams, our interaction with our patients and the impact of the regulatory and legislative landscape that we work in.
There was no social media. This meant information was passed mainly by word of mouth and usually within trusted peer groups.
I may have been lucky. However, on the whole any case discussion was positive, educational and supportive. We expected that we sometimes wouldn’t get everything right. But we would learn from that, and that was a part of our development as a professional.
When you reflect on the changes over the last 25 years and how that has affected morale, it can be hard to reconcile the numerous sides to the equation. There is also always the challenge of perception and reality.
What we do know is that people can enjoy their physical job, yet the pressures around them can affect their morale. For the longer term health of the profession these wider issues will need to be addressed if we do not wish to lose people from the profession who possibly would otherwise stay.
Research shows differences between the four UK nations, and between principles and associates. The more work that is done within the NHS decreases morale according to NHS Digital, with more hours worked and less annual leave taken.
Increasing expenses and decreasing income and fear of litigation unsurprisingly affect morale. Whilst it is multifactorial with some big issues to tackle, that does not mean individual support should not be at the forefront of our minds.
The role of social media
Social media can play a very important and positive part in the profession, as communication with each other and for patient-facing content. Yet anecdotally, it also can have a negative and detrimental affect on morale.
Perceived perfection of others work can lead to feelings of inadequacy. Criticism and negative comments bounce off some easier than others. We need to be mindful that we don’t know how a comment will be perceived and the impact on the person receiving it.
Whilst most research has been done around dentists’ morale, we must not lose focus of the team morale – especially after these difficult couple of years.
Dentists cannot work without great teams around them, and they need to be supported just as much.
Over the last few years there has been some amazing work done by many across the profession, making sure all registrant groups are involved. These support tools are not about expecting someone to be able to counsel a team member. They are about asking the right questions and knowing how to support and sign post people to the right place and show the care that is needed.
How can we improve morale?
If we wish to improve morale, let us start with what we can help with. Use the resources in the links below that are available to educate your team.
Let them know who it is safe to talk to within the team, a mental health lead/champion. We can show support for each other.
Consider what you say and consider what you write, whether in person or through social media channels.
Let us not forget that we must also focus on our own wellbeing in order to affect change in morale. Making sure we look after ourselves, through sleep, hydration, exercise and diet, as well as positive social contact, will mean we can face those areas that can knock our morale with a little more strength.
Arguably over the last 25 years the morale of the profession has decreased. Yet we must also factor in increased awareness and increasing openness to talk, which is to be praised.
Whilst there are big issues to face, let us all affect the small changes and support for each other that we can.
Resources for your team:
Find out more about Denplan.