Sam Lowe fondly remembers taking her son, Tobias, to the opening of a new indoor playground a few months ago. “We got there bright and early so we could have the entire place to ourselves before it got busy. It was such a blast!” she recalls.
Not an unusual memory, perhaps, except for the fact that it was a Thursday, normally a workday for most people with full-time jobs. “Before the changes to scheduling at our store this would never have been possible,” says Lowe, Frontstore Manager at Primrose I.D.A., in Edmonton, Alta. “My new four-day work week gives me the flexibility to make these choices and not lose out on precious moments with my son.”
Reduced work weeks and flexible scheduling (facilitated with a scheduling app) were among the first changes Dimitri Kachenyuk made when he became Store Operator and Pharmacy Manager of the pharmacy, part of the Neighbourly Pharmacy network, in 2021. He’s thrilled when he hears that staff can spend more time with their children, or attend special events, thanks to a flexible work schedule. “Having that freedom of scheduling is honestly, in my opinion, the number-one priority for work-life balance. That way it doesn’t feel like you always have to schedule your life around work. Instead, work gives you the ability to schedule your life more freely,” says Kachenyuk.
He adds that “as long as the needs of the operation are met, staff can choose however they see fit to make their schedules work. They do not need to run that by me.” Employees are happier, more focused at work and more supportive of each other. “You’re not frustrated or sad that you’re missing something,” says Lowe. “It takes a lot of pressure off because you don’t have to juggle work and life so much.”
Kachenyuk’s schedule is four 10-hour workdays, one day off, another four 10-hour workdays and then five days off. “The extra two hours a day are relatively easy to work in. The trade-off is an extra 52 days off per year. It’s a lot easier to do housekeeping things and my wife and I can easily go on mini vacations,” he says. Lowe’s schedule is four eight-hour days plus a couple of hours in weekly coverage to maintain her full-time status. She’s not at work on Thursdays, typically a quieter workday, and weekends. “This wasn’t in place when I had my baby and I had just two hours a day with him plus weekends. It was not enough. Now the whole extra day with him is great. I’m very happy with my worklife balance,” she says.
Kachenyuk is the only full-time pharmacist. His colleague covers for him when he’s off and the two of them coordinate any changes to their schedules directly, including occasional overlaps—for example, for immunization clinics. Recognizing that his five-day absences may be an adjustment for patients, particularly the large number of Ukrainian refugees in the area with whom Kachenyuk speaks Ukrainian or Russian, the pharmacy clearly communicates his availability.
“What we’ve done is set two days, every Wednesday and Thursday, when I’m there no matter what,” says Kachenyuk. He adds that “setting that clear boundary with patients was important. They got used to it fairly quickly, actually. They’ll say, ‘I understand, I’ll come back Wednesday.’ And they do!”
Radio silence after hours
Another important boundary has to do with all staff: no contact about work after work hours. “In the past it was extremely difficult for me to delineate between work and home time because problems and questions were constantly coming out on my phone,” says Kachenyuk. “What I’ve done is separate that as much as possible. Unless it’s absolutely necessary, I’m not going to reach out to staff when they’re at home. I leave them a note for the next time they come into work.”
The policy has made a huge difference, agrees Lowe, who’s worked at Primrose I.D.A for 12 years, starting as a cashier during high school. “You don’t feel pressured to keep in touch and there’s a real sense of respect for your space when you’re at home.
No more overtime
Technology has also enabled work to stay at work, especially for pharmacy staff. “One of the biggest problems in pharmacies, especially if you’re off erring more clinical services, is the documentation. Pharmacists stay behind or come in early to keep up, or even come in on unpaid personal time,” notes Kachenyuk.
New software was the solution at Primrose I.D.A. For example, Medi-scribe automates documentation for prescribing. “Today I rarely stay behind for anything whatsoever. Not to mention things have become a lot more efficient, which allows us to expand our business.”
Making time for fun
Last but certainly not least, Kachenyuk is committed to comradery. “I focus a lot on just having fun. We’re constantly joking around, telling stories. And we’ll help each other solve repair problems at home, things like that.”
For many staff members this was a “big culture shift,” he recalls, since they were used to a head-down kind of environment without a lot of personal chatter. “Many have told me they’re a lot happier now. They may even have had a stressful day, but they’re much more relaxed about it. Work feels less like work.”
“We have a happy, easy-going environment,” says Lowe. “We respect and appreciate that. It’s changed our outlook about work, that it shouldn’t be a stressful thing. I think it’s improved how we are with our customers too.”
For more articles like this, click here to download CFP’s Fall 2023 Changing Face of Pharmacy magazine.