The pandemic and resulting lockdowns have undoubtedly caused many dentists to re-evaluate their lives and priorities. Many have found themselves at a new and unexpected crossroad, one they hadn’t anticipated and one that may look very different to how they saw their career trajectory panning out pre-March 2020. Although man of us regularly question our work/life balance, the last 18 months have brought this issue sharply into focus again.
Many dentists have taken some big hits recently with the increased use of PPE and stress of the new working environment, struggles with recruiting staff, financial difficulties, staff absences, or cancelled appointments due to the “pingdemic”. So, it’s really no surprise that their thoughts are turning to the future, with questions around financial security, regardless of what stage they are at in their career.
Time to make a plan
I have spent more than two decades as a financial planner, helping dental professionals see their full financial picture and understand their options so that they can get more out of life.
One of the reasons I enjoy working with dentists is the unique challenges they face when it comes to money matters. Many dentists have fairly complicated financial affairs: they often have NHS pension scheme membership, are typically higher rate tax payers, and they’re extremely busy, so it can be difficult to find the time to sort it all out.
Our role is to support dentists throughout their lives, from when they graduate to retirement and beyond. We often find that we’re really needed when clients reach a crossroads in their lives or careers and need help in working out what lifestyle they want and can afford to have now and in the future.
Many dentists were able to take a significant amount of time off at the beginning of the pandemic (albeit they had to stay at home), and most enjoyed the enforced break. However, for practices to re-open, there was a significant amount of work, reinvesting in ventilation, figuring out new workflows, creating infection control measures and sorting out the furlough scheme among others.
Recruitment has also been an issue which is an issue for the whole country. The MP Dame Andrea Leadsom confirmed in a recent interview that businesses are struggling to get furloughed staff to return. The former business secretary said, “Some staff who have been on furlough do not want to return to work because they feel the time off has been ‘great’ for them”.
There are certainly many people on furlough who have thought about early retirement or going part-time because they enjoyed the time off during the pandemic.
Principal dentists also have the additional issue now of employees being pinged and having to self-isolate. This results in having to use expensive locums or simply cancelling patients, costing even more money.
The GDC summarized in their latest report, “the COVID-19 pandemic is causing a range of issues that are leading to greater uncertainty among dental professionals. This uncertainty is leading to greater anxiety and stress amongst dental professionals, which could lead to more people leaving the profession and further strains on the system.”
As the issues keep coming, it’s not surprising that many dentists are looking to make some changes to the way they are working and even considering whether they should wind down.
Thinking of winding down?
Most people accept that compromising on their work/life balance when they are younger is part of the deal. If they own a practice in their 30s and 40s, they will be busy working in it. But as your career develops, and you’ve got a bit more money, many dentists find they have a few more options.
During the lockdowns over the last 18 months, many people had a change in lifestyle where they’d been at home more, and found it was not as bad as they thought it would be and have even quite enjoyed it.
Our role is to put the numbers on the big life decisions and help clients to understand the answers to some of the important questions they’re likely to be asking: What happens if I earn less money? Can I afford to move house? Do I need to work beyond 60? How much do I need to sell my practice for, and can I even afford to think about that at this stage?
Discovering your why
A key part of the financial planning process is helping people to figure out what it is they really want to achieve.
If you want to own several practices and build a multi-million-pound empire, then great, but that’s not the only way to be financially secure for the future. Sometimes, a single, well-run practice can be more profitable than six and almost certainly involve less stress. Whatever your goals and ambitions are, we can help you see what you need to do to get there.
The other important thing is that the plan is always fluid. Things change. Circumstances change. Lifestyles change. Covid has changed everything. It’s okay for your goals to change. In fact, in my experience, it’s absolutely crucial to keep reviewing your goals. Otherwise, you could end up chasing something that no longer applies. You certainly might not want the stress and hassle involved with buying more practices.
Life and work can be a constant trade-off. You decide how hard you want to work and how much money you want to earn and how much tax you want to pay, versus what kind of lifestyle you want.
Sometimes, when we meet dentists at a tricky point in their career all we can do is to advise them to hang in there. Provided they’re doing most of the right activities, they don’t actually need to do anything differently. They may not have the lifestyle or the freedom they’re aspiring to, but sometimes with a comprehensive review of their situation we can see they’re likely to turn a corner soon. So we can simply provide the reassurance needed, create a plan and encourage dentists not to quit or sell too early.
Work/life balance as an elusive goal that so many people crave, even when working in careers they love. Striking the perfect balance between building a successful career and finding time to enjoy your hard-earned wares can be challenging for busy dentists and particularly for practice owners, especially now in the post-Covid landscape.
We’re here to help whatever point you are at in your career, and love nothing more than helping dental colleagues work their way to a happy and secure future.