How Can Pharmacy Owners Weather The Labor Shortage?

How has the pandemic changed independent pharmacy? 

How can you attract the right people to build your pharmacy’s talent pool? 

How do you keep your employees motivated? 

To help answer these questions, Lisa Faast, CEO and pharmacy expert from DiversifyRx, held a roundtable discussion in the webinar, “How Can Pharmacy Owners Weather the Labor Shortage?” with 3 independent pharmacy owners. The guests included: 

  • Kyle McHugh of True Pharmacy in South Carolina 
  • Brad Harmon of Harmon’s Drugs in Illinois 
  • Vince Hartzell or Hartzell’s Pharmacy in Pennsylvania. 

Here are a few highlights from the discussion. 

How has the hiring process changed today versus three years ago pre-pandemic? 

Lisa Faast: Have you noticed a change in the hiring process you've needed to do whether hiring right now or maybe even hiring recently than you did three years ago pre-pandemic? Has there been a change in what you've done for your process? 

Brad Harmon: One thing I did notice in our last hire was we were looking for more skills in a technician than what we normally had had to look for in the past, specifically a vaccinating technician, which is a priority for us. We pharmacists are run ragged trying to do all the vaccinations, so that worked out well, finding someone who could do that. 

Watch the full webinar by clicking the video above.

Lisa Faast: Yeah, that's a really interesting point on how the scope of practice during the pandemic has really changed the practice of pharmacy, and when you talk about vaccinating technicians, that's a dramatic change. I would have never thought if you'd asked me two years ago if technicians will ever be able to vaccinate, I would have said, ‘No way! That's never gonna happen.’ And I'm probably sure the doctors said that about pharmacists, 15 years ago.”

Lisa Faast: Kyle, how have your hiring needs and the type of employees you're looking for changed with all of your locations and all of your geography; have you noticed that shift of looking for different skills?

Kyle McHugh: I think, right now, most of us are in a shrinking type hiring phase, as opposed to expanding. We had to cover tests in the vaccinations and all of those things happening last year (2021), and we have a lot of those people that are still around and we're not doing the testing, or the vaccines that we were doing.

“I would have never thought if you'd asked me two years ago if technicians will ever be able to vaccinate, I would have said, ‘No way! That's never gonna happen.’ And I'm probably sure the doctors said that about pharmacists 15 years ago.” 

So now we're kind of looking and just going to folks and saying, “Hey, do you really still want to work full time?” “How are you feeling about that?” It was really, really busy.  

 And we're having some people are saying, ”I think I might want to go to part-time” and that type of thing, so instead of just going out and saying, “I don't need you anymore,” we're evaluating the staff and seeing where people are, and seeing how many hours do they really want to work. So, we're able to flex down in that regard, and then we've kind of re-looked at where we are, and the fact about drive-through...we used to be maybe 40%. Now, we're probably pushing 60-70% drive-through and delivery, and so that means fewer people walking in the front, so you don't really need a front-end manager. You're not spending as much time straightening, dusting, all the stuff and ordering the front end. We’re reworking our front ends and not having as many gifts and things of that nature, because you don't have walk-in traffic. 

 Lisa Faast: Have you noticed what the pay schedule looks like, are you still able to get, maybe “a bargain” for those people, or have you noticed that you've had to increase the offerings in order to attract people like that, because when you're looking for people that basically have more skills, or at least able to multitask, and as you said, work laterally across your business? 

Are new hires asking for more in pay are you having to pay more, to be able to attract them? What has your experience been? 

Vincent Hartzell: Some have asked for some more pay. I think it depends on the position and what you're talking about. I mean, if someone's backing up as a compounding tech they're going to make more than a retail or LTC (Long Term Care) tech, depending on what they're doing. 

Kyle McHugh: We offer the PTO and the health benefits, and all of those things are in our package, and we just find ways to make that work. Now, obviously, our health insurance is a little more costly for the employee than it would be if they were with CVS, but it's there. 

And we want to make sure that they have access to the same benefits – dental, vision, whatever it is that they would have at the big chains. 

But one of the things that we've always done is have a set schedule. 

Vincent Hartzell: I'm a lot of the same, I mean we've always kind of done set schedules, however, they're a little harder lately than they've ever been. But the other thing that we've always told hires is that we try and work with them as best we can, making a customizable schedule. 

Vincent Hartzell: And what I've probably done over the last three years is what's called a total compensation worksheet. For when I'm hiring someone to show them what I'm paying for healthcare coverage, medical dental vision, what the contribution is. 

Vincent Hartzell: We have a simple IRA, not a 401K, not the same, but similar and kind of show them like what they could possibly get at bare minimum from us if, they're an employee. So, that job that’s being posted at $15, $16, $17 an hour is worth much more than $15, $16, $17 an hour.

How have your employees weathered the storm? You guys have been in business for years before the pandemic and you're still in business after.  

Lisa Faast: How do you think your employees are holding up? Is there anything special that you did to support them or give them? That extra ‘attaboy’ or anything else that you guys did to help them through, whether it's mental health or the angst and worry of working in a pharmacy through a pandemic and all the rest of these things happening, did you guys do anything to help your employees get through this process? 

 Vincent Hartzell: There are a couple of things that I did. One was regarding some of the policies that we had. When the pandemic hit probably in March of 2020 or April of 2020, I started putting some of our policies on hold one big one was our dress code. We used to allow employees to wear jeans only on Fridays, and only if they contributed to a donation fund that we would give to local charities. I put that on hold and said employees could wear jeans whenever and it sounds really dumb, but that was a pretty big morale boost. Every other week I'd buy lunch for the entire team. Our PTO policy, most people didn't want to take vacation well or they couldn't so our PTO policy was that you couldn't carry over more than 40 hours, so I put that on hold for two years. 

We allowed employees to bank up that vacation to use it when it became available for them, so there were a lot of little things that I tried to do to add things up to kind of make it worthwhile for them. 

Brad Harmon: If someone were in quarantine we went ahead and paid them, whether it was the government was or wasn't allowing it, we went ahead and did that. That's just what we've always done. If somebody's sick and out, not for an extended period of time, just for a short quarantine time. We went ahead and paid them their time away. They didn't have to use their PTO.

You didn’t know if you were going to have 30 people walk in for a COVID shot or test that day, or 100, or 200. And there were so many unknowns about what was happening.

Kyle McHugh: We kind of went into this and you didn’t have an idea of what was going to happen. You didn’t know if you were going to have 30 people walk in for a COVID shot or test that day, or 100, or 200, or whatever. And there were so many unknowns about what was happening. 

We kind of had an open phone policy. if you are getting ‘killed’ and overwhelmed you would call - and my wife does all the scheduling - they would call her and say, “We're dying, we just need some help.” She would pull from a store that maybe was a little slower and if not, then she would go count for them or I would go count for them, or whatever. 

And they see us come in to count or do whatever we needed to do. 

That was kind of a morale booster for them a little bit, but the main thing we did was we just called it, and we just said, “Okay, we're only going to do this many tests and this many shots in a day. We're going to do a scheduler on the website.”  

And yes, we could have said, “We're going to be money grabbers and we could do 100. We can do 200.” We understand that we only have this many people, we only have this much space. We're only going to do this, much and we throttled it down and we just said, “Okay, this is what we're going to do.” 

And I think that they appreciated that more than they appreciated anything else, that we put limits on would do. 

 Click here to watch the whole discussion.  


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