5 tips for handling personnel issues in the pharmacy
Monday, February 29, 2016
"It was the best of times. It was the worst of times."
Those opening lines of Charles Dickens' classic novel "A Tale of Two Cities" may serve as a commentary on life as a pharmacy manager as well.
For some, this career path is the best of times. It offers new opportunities to learn and grow and develop skills beyond traditional medication counseling and dispensing. For others — depending on your setting, skills and personality — it may also turn out to be the worst of times, with piles of paperwork, time-consuming training, unreasonable demands and unexpected responsibilities.
What exactly are the issues you may end up encountering if you choose to pursue an opportunity to be a pharmacy manager of a retail or community pharmacy? As someone who has managed pharmacies for 20-plus years for multiple employers, I recognize there is no way to sum up all the issues encountered in every setting. Pharmacy management will look slightly different from one chain to another, between a busy store and a new store, from state to state, etc.
But of all the issues you will encounter as a pharmacy manager, the personnel issues might be the most challenging and frustrating.
Pharmacy management almost always will thrust you into the arena of personnel issues. This means several things.
First, it probably means dealing with issues related to managing your employees' schedules, vacations and benefits. Additionally, it may include some traditional human-resource functions like interviewing candidates, hiring, training, disciplinary actions, goal setting and reviews.
Finally, and less formally, personnel issues sometimes means managing employee interactions (for better or for worse). Hopefully, this will usually be positive, but as pharmacy manager you will likely become the sounding board for internal complaints, disputes and frustrations between employees and with the company itself.
Pharmacy school itself typically offers little training in the area of management, especially people management. Much of what we learn in this area we learn as we go, sometimes blundering along and figuring it out from our mistakes and failures. Experience is a good teacher, but we shouldn't always have to learn the hard way.
The following is a little bit of advice about managing personnel issues from someone who has been doing this for a while. I don't claim to know it all, and there are others who do it much better than me.
My 5 suggestions
Set the standard: Realize that many personnel issues can be prevented by setting the tone and atmosphere in the pharmacy by your own actions and practices. Follow the policies yourself. Don't talk about your employees behind their back. When complaints and concerns are presented, try to steer the discussion toward solutions for the future rather than moaning about the past. Manage your own personality first. Be approachable, honest and calm. Personnel management starts by managing the person in the mirror.
Get to know your employees: I wish I had learned this lesson earlier in my management career. Managing people is easier when you care about them in practical ways. What are their kids' names? Their dogs' names? Do they have family nearby? What are their hobbies?
Read books about management: It was far too long into my management career before I realized all the great books out there on management methods and advice. Just do an online search for "best books for managers," and you will get a decent list to begin.
Have a sounding board: Find a pharmacist who has done this for a while and ask if he/she would be willing to allow you to talk shop from time to time. Personnel issues can be tricky. Getting an outside perspective from someone not in the midst of the problem can often be helpful. I had someone like that. He was great. But be careful whom you pick — and when you find someone you can trust and who is willing to give honest feedback, take him/her up on it whenever you can.
Use HR as a real resource: Get a good contact within your HR department who can coach and mentor you on company policy and procedure. Human resource issues are often complex. In the beginning, I advise you to resist making commitments and promises about things like schedules or benefits until you know the ropes. It's empowering to say, "Sure, you can do that." But realizing afterward that you allowed something that isn't appropriate or consistent with policy leads to regrets.
And what about dealing with workplace drama? If you have worked in pharmacy for any length of time you know what I mean. Listen: Get with HR about the correct steps to take, then nip it in the bud. Childish and disruptive behavior and attitudes ruin work for everyone else. You do not want the reputation as the boss who notices nothing and does nothing.
Many employees are great. Personally, I think I've worked with some of the best. But you may also discover some employees try to work the system to their advantage, at the expense of other co-workers or the business.
You'll need to learn to be firm, but fair. For some, this may come naturally. Others will have to come to realize that it really is OK to be the boss.
And one last bit of advice: Stand behind your team and recognize their success openly and frequently. Community pharmacy is tough. You will go a long way in creating a great working environment and proactively dealing with people problems by being your employees' biggest fan.
These tips hardly scratch the surface of all the personnel issues you may encounter. Some days may still feel like the worst of times. But hopefully if you commit to learning, growing and not giving up, you will experience some "best of times" as well.
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