The past few months have been especially tough for community pharmacy, and there is more pain to come. With some pharmacies even facing closure in the face of government cuts to funding, this is a stressful time for owners and managers, and may be very unsettling for staff.
Even if your pharmacy is not under immediate threat, there remains an air of uncertainty about the future of community pharmacy that could have a knock-on effect on staff morale and engagement – which can be detrimental to your business.
The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) warns that having a disengaged workforce brings huge risks. As well as productivity losses, organisations may lose their best people, and the CIPD says disengagement also threatens effective collaboration and innovation, as employees become disinclined to use their knowledge and skills for the good of the organisation.
So how can you best manage staff morale and keep people engaged, especially in these uncertain times?
Dr Zofia Bajorek from The Work Foundation, part of Lancaster University, says a good place to start is by making sure all communication channels are clear. “Any information about organisational changes or information that can have an impact on somebody’s career must come from managers and not happen over the water cooler or from informal channels,” she says. “In this way, there is transparency in what is going on. Employees need to feel that they are being respected, treated fairly and have had an opportunity to voice their concerns and opinions.”
Dr Bajorek also warns that “it is important for managers to understand the implications of low morale and motivation for health and wellbeing”, which means spotting the signs of a drop in morale early.
According to talent management consultant Shona Kelso, changes in behaviour are one of the biggest indicators to look out for. “This could include things such as more sickness, absenteeism, tears at work, negative behaviour and even gossiping, as staff talk to each other to try to work out what’s going on,” she says.
“If someone who is usually confident and friendly is consistently in a low mood or reserved, this could be a marker. You might also see an increase in staff making mistakes. It is obviously a problem in the pharmacy environment if they have lost pride in their job and don’t pay as much attention to detail as they used to.”
Someone in fear for their job may not focus as well on their role as usual.
At pharmacy multiple Well, human resources director Ben Turner says the company has been working to “ensure all of our colleagues are informed about the cuts and what we’re doing as a business to remain focused on our customers and to deliver the best possible patient care”.
However, he adds that, “it is a little early to determine whether funding cuts have directly impacted team morale. Our second annual colleague survey launches in February, where we’ll get the latest measure of how teams are feeling.”
Pharmacist Jonathon Clarke is the founder and chief executive of Locate A Locum, an online platform that connects pharmacists with employers, which he says enables him to “gather feedback from both sides”.
He has already seen evidence of spirits fading since the cuts were announced. “Pharmacy employers are running a businesses and businesses have to make profit, so the pharmacy cuts have caused a massive drop in morale,” he says. “Morale is very low, especially around pharmacist salaries and locum rates. The pharmacy cuts have certainly added to this. I personally know pharmacists who have left the profession entirely because of this.”
With the feeling that the government wants to transform community pharmacy into a clinical, more efficient service – using a stick rather than a carrot – how can you encourage your team with the carrot, rather than the stick?
“It’s worth remembering that you can’t really motivate somebody,” says Ms Kelso. “Motivation is something that comes from within themselves. The best thing to do is to not demotivate your staff, so try to create an environment that will make people motivate themselves as much as they can.
She warns that managers act as “filters” for staff, so if the manager is low and behaving negatively then that influences everybody else. “You may well know a lot more of the bad news going on behind the scenes than your staff do, but you need to communicate openly with employees without bringing them down,” she says.
“Another key with motivation is that because it comes from within, you can’t motivate an entire team. You have to look at each individual. Different things motivate different people, and what motivates someone one day may not motivate them the next.”
Jennifer Ormond, partnerships team manager at Ellis Whittam, the NPA’s employment service, says there are many different managerial techniques that can be used to encourage employees. “Generally speaking, employees respond well to positive feedback and incentives,” she says. “Setting clear, achievable goals will help employees to work together to reach one desired outcome. It also enables a manager to provide positive responses and feedback to employees once they have reached the target.”
Even if employees fall short of the target, Ms Ormond says they should be praised for any achievements that were met. “In addition, managers should consider sympathising with their employees during difficult or busy periods and explaining that they, too, are doing all that they can to relive the pressure,” she says. “Understanding managers who provide good feedback and involve themselves in their employees’ work will help to boost morale.”
Ms Kelso says there are plenty of small gestures that managers running pharmacies can make to keep people buoyed up. “Even just buying them a coffee or breakfast can make a difference,” she says.
Ms Ormond suggests managers should also consider whether they can arrange any other organised fun. “Perhaps a weekly quiz to keep employees engaged,” she says. “The benefit of organised morale boosting is that it can control when employees are distracted from their work.”
Innovation is another way to keep teams engaged, but it’s hard to encourage new ideas in an environment that feels unsteady, so this is another area where managers have to take the lead.
“There is no innovation without communication, so get your team together and ask them all if they can come up with new ideas for initiatives that could help the business,” says Ms Kelso. “People like the feeling of creating things that contribute to positive outcomes and, if you wish, you could even offer small rewards for the best idea or the best results every month, but make sure it is a reward that suits the person so they feel you have really appreciated who they are and what they have done. Things like this let each person know they are important. It doesn’t have to cost a lot or take much effort, but it shows staff that you care.”
As well as ideas for improving working practices, Ms Ormond suggests that managers should ask employees for feedback regularly. “Managers should try not to be dismissive of ideas but implement those that will make a difference,” she says. “Where an idea has been implemented, a system of recognition or reward could be used to encourage further ideas from other employees.”
This is something that Well has been putting into practice. Since April of this year, the multiple has received 800 submissions from staff to its Big Ideas scheme, which invites people to share their suggestions on ways the business can improve and innovate. “The initiative has not only helped us to listen to them, it has also enabled us to implement change,” says Mr Turner. “We are welcoming ideas from our colleagues and it is this open relationship that we feel has helped to maintain staff morale.”
If it’s possible to find a bright side among all the disappointment and uncertainty, Mr Clarke says it could be an opportunity to be more innovative. “If I can attach any light towards the cuts, it would be that more pressure is put onto pharmacy contractors to move outside the traditional medicinal supply model,” he says. “Pharmacy owners have to be more innovative to bring higher revenues into their pharmacies. The future is a service-based model and the key issue is ensuring proper remuneration for services.”
Mr Turner agrees that a positive attitude towards service development is vital for steering community pharmacy through the choppy waters ahead. “It is important for us, and other pharmacies, to focus on the challenges that are in our control, such as customer care,” he says. “The role of pharmacy is becoming increasingly important in the community, so it is key for the industry to continue to ensure that we are offering relevant services.”
Advice from Jonathon Clarke, founder and chief executive of Locate A Locum
1. Empower them
Do you know what motivates your staff? Do you know what makes them get up and come to work each morning? If you don’t know, ask. And remember – not all staff are motivated by money. In one pharmacy, one member of staff had lots of time off sick. Upon investigation, we found it was because of boredom. A simple solution was to give them ownership of the smoking cessation service. Once this change was implemented, the absenteeism quickly resolved.
2. Celebrate milestones
Do you celebrate your successes? If not, why not? It is important to celebrate all success, no matter how small. For example, a team member could have sourced a drug on short supply so the prescription didn’t get diverted to another pharmacy. The celebration doesn’t need to be expensive or elaborate – bring in a cake. The employees you recognise will be delighted that their work has been noticed and appreciated.
3. Create a learning environment
Giving feedback to staff can be used as a starting point for discussion in creating a good learning environment. Are you aware of your staff’s knowledge gaps? Are they possibly frustrated because they lack knowledge in a certain area? A positive learning culture allows any employee to learn in a non-judgemental environment. Always remember that this works both ways – your staff will know things you do not, so you should learn from them, too.
4. Provide a career path
Do you know your employees’ career preferences? Can you provide them with opportunities to progress? You should know when and how to discuss each employee’s career path. Doing so will allow you to create specific actions that support their career goals.
5. Lead by example
This is probably the most important point of all. Always lead by example. You can’t expect your employees to be happy and motivated if you don’t behave in this way yourself.