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Top tips for competitive associate pay

Associates often ask us what percentage is fair for splitting costs with practice owners. We recommend reaching a figure based on the individual circumstances of each practice.

Sabina Mirza Practice Management Consultant

Our updated model associate agreements set out the licence fee arrangement, on the basis that you pay for the use of facilities, by paying a licence fee to the practice owner. Practice owners usually charge a percentage of between 45-55% of gross earnings for you to practise, however this is anecdotal, and practice owners will have to make a commercial decision based on their operating costs.

It may be advantageous to request a review of your fees with the practice owner every year. Remember to consider your performance and cost of living changes, whilst bearing in mind the practice owner will need to consider practice overheads too. If these discussions are not taking place, ask your practice owner for an annual review.

Requesting a pay increase

We'd recommend watching this video from the BBC with three tips on how to ask for a pay rise– it's not specific to dental associates, but some of the tips are translatable to you. A BBC survey recently suggested that women are less confident than men about asking for a pay rise, and with the issue of gender pay equality never far from the headlines, and the number of women working in dentistry rising, the advice in this video 'to just do it' is good advice to follow.

Discussing your issues and problems is important to help combat tension and frustrations, both practice owners and associates need to realise the mutual self-interest in making the practice successful, and working together is the most effective way to do this. Practice owners will tend to look at the gross fees of the practice and the overall cost targets. The practice needs to cover all its expenses and return a suitable profit.

Making a case for pay uplifts

Each year the Government's review body on pay (DDRB) recommends an uplift to dentists' pay across the UK. The Government then decides on whether to agree to the proposed uplift (sometimes at inflationary levels, but sometimes below – dentists pay has fallen considerably since 2008 due to the Government's austerity measures) and sets out other uplifts made to NHS payments in practice expenses.

Each year, we undertake a huge amount of research into the state of dentistry and submit recommendations to the Government based on our findings. We are the only organisation that does this for you, across the four nations. We consistently make the point that dentists' pay has been deteriorating since 2008. With declining real term incomes, below inflation uplifts cannot reverse the downward trend.

For 2022/23, the recommendation on dentists' pay – accepted by all four UK governments – was 4.5%. While the DDRB recommendation does not apply directly to the pay of associate dentists in England and Wales, associates might reasonably look to the award for an indication of an expected uplift in income. This is a matter for direct negotiation between associates and practice owners and will inevitably reflect local business circumstances.

It's about more than pay

We are all motivated by money to some degree, but there are many other factors that contribute to our level of happiness and job satisfaction at work. Working conditions, flexible hours, the personalities in the practice, respect between colleagues, the ease of getting to and from work, opportunities for further training and career development, are all important things to consider.

You should take a range of factors into account when thinking about what makes you happy at work, and ensure you are clear on what you are willing to negotiate and what you are not, when you go and have that all important annual conversation. To support associates and practice owners in pay discussions, we've produced a UDA value checker that allows members to search estimated UDA values by contract and within local areas and regions.

Our advisory services team offers advice to members on a huge range of issues, such as employment law, health and safety, the NHS, business support and regulatory inspections. We also provide employment representation, an associate contract-checking service, mediation services, tribunal support and consultancy services.

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