Improving Employee Engagement in the Pharmacy

By Adrienne Miller, PharmD

June 11, 2021

Editor's note: we first published this post on 09/04/2020.  It was one of our most-read columns, and we thought you might enjoy it again.  

Employee engagement is defined as the emotional commitment the employee has to the organization and its goals. It is what separates those that are content and those that go above and beyond to see the organization succeed.

More and more organizations are shifting a large focus to employee engagement and hiring consultants to help improve their engagement. In the healthcare setting, research shows that engaged employees have a direct correlation to increased patient satisfaction, perform better on the job, and have lower turnover compared to their content colleagues.

In our organization, a tremendous emphasis has been placed on employee engagement in the last few years. We’ve invested in the effort by garnering input through surveys, hiring outside consultants, changing management reporting structures, created focus groups and other innovative ideas that boosted employee engagement.

It turns out the surveys are only as valuable as the data that’s shared. As a result, we’ve boosted ways to increase survey participation. One particularly successful method was to share the visible dashboards of the department’s completion status to inspire some friendly competition. Departments with the highest participation were treated to a lunch. Additionally, there was a table in the main lobby with freebies encouraging employees to complete the survey, and if they did, they were entered into a drawing for fabulous prizes. Who doesn’t love the opportunity to win a new TV, or a gift card to a local restaurant just by completing a survey?

There were Engagement Champions throughout the organization that served as cheerleaders for departments and promoted participation and assisted with any issues related to completing the survey. Employees are sometimes hesitant or fearful that their comments and results will be shared with their managers, but we made a conscious effort to stress that all results are anonymous and handled by a third-party vendor.

Year after year results are compiled and shared with each department, and then we as leaders are left scratching our heads trying to figure out what to do next. What do these numbers mean? How can we improve these scores next go around? How do we become a department bursting with highly loyal employees that truly believe this IS a great place to work?

Over the past few years, the pharmacy department has vastly improved its levels of engagement using a wide range of tactics. First, we focused on the leadership team. We made it mandatory that every manager meet with their direct reports at least once per month. This face-time was crucial and helped build rapport and relationships on a deeper level. It increased the respect for each other and provided the employees dedicated time to share their thoughts and concerns and really feel like they are being heard and their voices matter. We also were given the privilege of having six sessions with a management coach that helped us be more consistent and provided us great tools and resources to manage difficult situations.

Next, we looked at our Pharmacy Technicians who often feel neglected. We changed the reporting structure of our technicians so they all reported to the same manager. This ensured they were all hearing the same message every month and all treated the same. We spent months developing a career ladder that gave them the opportunity to take on more challenging work and be rewarded through compensation. We also created a position of a Lead Non-Sterile Operations Tech and a Lead Sterile Operations Tech to be a frontline supervisor and bridge the gap between the techs and managers.

For both pharmacists and technicians, we held Continuous Improvement Events in which they were directly involved to improve workflow to establish a better workload balance. We made more of an effort to recognize associate birthdays and milestones and included them in the weekly newsletter. We also implemented an Associate of the Month program and each month someone is recognized and spotlighted in our weekly newsletter. We held small focus groups to review our department results and get specific feedback on how we can work better together. In an effort to improve work-life balance, we offered five techs and five pharmacists the opportunity to switch to 0.8 FTE and work less yet still retain full-time benefits. This enabled us to then hire an additional 1.0 FTE for a pharmacist and tech. This was a huge win for these lucky ten associates.

Our organization also recently launched a new web-based tool where employees across the organization can recognize each other and give “Kudos” for a job well done. This was well-received and surpassed expectations from executive leaders. A podcast was created for associates to share personal stories - which turned out to be a great way to learn more about others you may not know.

In short, there is no magic bullet to flip your employees from disengaged to content to engaged overnight. It is a journey and it takes time, creativity, willingness to try many things (and fail at some). It takes time to truly get to know your staff better, and I appreciate working for an organization that places a high value on employee engagement.

These are some of the strategies that have worked for us, and I’m confident that engaged organizations and departments can use these strategies and others they devise on their own to create positive changes within their organizations.

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Photo credit: Dmitry Kalinovsky

Adrienne Miller, PharmD

Adrienne Miller, PharmD is currently a Continuous Improvement Specialist at Nemours Children’s Hospital, Delaware where she has worked for 17 years. She enjoys being directly involved with process improvement projects and associate engagement initiatives. Prior to this role, she was the Non-Sterile Operations Manager for the Pharmacy Department and was responsible for the scheduling of close to 100 associates. Adrienne is a graduate of Philadelphia College of Pharmacy at the University of the Sciences and resides in Delaware with her husband and two children.