Flu season apocalypse is the breaking point for so many pharmacies.
Colleague after colleague throws in the towel and turns in their resignation letter.
Even your Pharmacy Manager is quitting.
You know you have a house of cards when any one thing collapses your entire operations.
With so many voices yelling at you from all corners (patient, boss, regulatory, etc.), how do you focus on the truly important activities your pharmacy needs?
Everyone knows that staffing is the problem, but how do you actually double down on that?
The one thing that will get you out of this situation is a commitment to purpose.
I can’t stress this enough.
But if you’re hiring during flu season, it’s too late.
I start hiring for flu season 1 year PRIOR.
With that being said, the next best thing is:
1. Borrowing Internal Employees
Call every single store (or influence your DM to help) in your market (not just district).
Rule of 10% means this is a numbers game.
For every 10 stores, you may have ONE LEAD.
You need to use your influence, build rapport with other pharmacists, and network across districts to gain support.
If you have no influence, now is the time to build it.
Start by adding value.
Be nice, offer inventory to solve their problems, deliver supplies, or do SOMETHING that shows you won’t just be a mooch, but a valuable business partner.
Even if you only acquire a one day a week commitment for a month, you are building the foundation of your coalition.
This is the fastest, cheapest, most effective solution to BUY YOU TIME.
Right now, you also need the time to focus on HIRING and TRAINING.
2. Transferring In Internal Employees
Best case scenario, is you find an employee who is ready to move to your area and is up for the challenge.
But don’t hold your breath. The chances are super low.
You need to be honest with internal candidates and explain the current apocalyptic state of your pharmacy.
Only those with the right mindset coming in will have the endurance and truly be able to help.
Partner with your DM to approve job changes/compensation for those that are up for the challenge.
Even a lateral job change can be offered a rate change.
IMPORTANT: Do Not offer this to everyone.
You don’t want someone interested only in the money.
They won’t last and will take their promotion with them when they leave you.
You have to do the hard work to filter and select the best candidates, but then reward them afterwards so they stay.
If your store is half as bad as you say, most DMs will be okay approving AT LEAST a dollar or 2 raise to fix a black hole.
Any DM that can’t get their Regional to approve a few bucks for this type of situation is forever doomed.
3. Hiring Experienced Externals
This is the long term solution that requires your investment.
We all know how slim the chances of finding the best techs (and retaining them) are.
But this is your most important talent strategy.
Here Are 3 Ways To Retain Exceptional Talent
Again partner with your leaders (DM, RM, HR).
You must be prepared to justify your decision (years of experience, background, skills, etc.).
It can be difficult to quantify and measure these things in dollar amount.
But you’ll learn quickly how to do it right after you fail a few times.
You need to top the average market wage by at least $0.50 cents.
I recommend to start with $2 above (this takes at least 2-3 levels of approval, so be prepared to wait).
But if your store is hemorrhaging $$ and company brand image is at risk, this should be an easy approval.
You may have to spin it so they see the ROI.
Not talking about vacation and PTO, although this is possible.
It’s just a lot of work that’s not within your control. I would avoid this.
Instead, what you can offer is the schedule of their dreams.
Always ask, “What’s your perfect schedule in an ideal world?”
Repeat it when you offer the job to them, repeat it when you onboard and train them.
Remind them that they get the schedule and hours that they asked for and FOLLOW THROUGH on your promise.
A technician’s work/life balance is the most valuable thing a pharmacy leader can offer.
Promise it, and keep the promise and you’ll retain your techs longer.
This is the long term solution.
The glue to every “pharmily” culture is building trust and good will between all colleagues.
There’s so many things your can read about online about leadership and culture.
This won’t get you out of your crisis, but it needs to be invested in for the long term.
Spend dollars right now to fix your black hole, but spend pennies EVERY single day towards promoting a positive work environment.
The compound effect will reveal itself over time.
4. Hiring Trainees
Long term solution, but will be worth it. Everyone wants an experienced employee.
No one wants to put in the work to train someone from scratch.
And they miss out on the very best talent.
If you’re filling 3 full time positions, you don’t need to hire just 3 people.
Hire 3 FT and 1 PT. Or 2 FT and 2 PT.
Or, what I recommend is 3 FT techs and 2 part time, per-diem tech trainees.
Your payroll budget is only affected by the hours you and your company promise and give to your team.
So, if you have a mutual understanding that a brand-new tech has to train and meet certain expectations before they are promised FT hours, you can have as many part time per diem techs as you want.
We all need cashiers during crazy times, and this is an opportunity for them to learn the ropes and add value to your team.
It’s like an intern position they have to prove themselves in.
As long as you keep your promise (scheduling, availability, and training), and even find them hours if they want to float, they will remain loyal.
Out of my team of 8 techs, 4 of them had no experience when I brought them on.
And now they are my life blood at the pharmacy.
Talent is talent, and you need to incorporate trainees into your hiring strategy.
Save Your Energy
While you’re doubling down on hiring and training, which will consume 50% of your time, you need to focus on the minimum viable standards for operating a pharmacy.
That means, only focus on patient safety, BOP, and DEA requirements.
Third party regulatory bodies are your only enemies right now.
If you’re the last of the Mohicans in a pharmacy where everyone is jumping ship, your leaders should be treating you like royalty.
They cannot afford to lose you.
Metrics, flu shots, and even service are EXPECTED to go down the drain.
Allocate your energy and resources wisely.
Bide your time.
Protect patients, focus on the waiters, learn to work in the red, teach your team how to de escalate for you, and give away lots of $5 gift cards to protect your company brand image.
Ask for help, and don’t stop.
Your bosses should be hearing from you daily, weekly, monthly until they are so sick of your situation they willingly throw $$$ at you.
You are doing your job, and if you do all the above, you will get out of this black hole sooner than later.
But you have to put in the work.
You have it harder than most, but there’s always a way.
-Mr. Corporate Pharmacist