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Happy Staff, Happy Life

Happy staff | Image of Sandy Faheim posing in front of the counter at one of her pharmacies - Canadian Foundation for Pharmacy

Happy Staff, Happy Life

Ask Sandy Faheim about the key to her success as the pharmacist/owner of four thriving independent pharmacies in southwestern Ontario and she’ll tell you it’s simple: “Happy employees.”

A 2012 graduate of the University of Waterloo, Faheim believes it’s incumbent upon pharmacy owners and managers to recognize the pressures experienced by staff and do what they can to ease the stress of heavy workloads.

In her four medical clinic-based pharmacies (Miltowne Pharmacy in Milton, Vodden MD Pharmacy in Brampton, Mattawa Pharmacy in Mattawa and the newly opened Ironoak Pharmacy in Oakville), this means regularly checking in with staff and offering personal support when needed. New technology, standard operating procedures (SOPs), outsourcing, mentoring and leading by example are among the tools in her toolbox to promote work-life balance.

“A lot of employers don’t realize the extent of mental health issues on their employees—it’s very, very real,” she says. “People have a life outside the pharmacy. I don’t just care about their work life but also about their personal life because they blend into each other. When people need time off or help in some way it’s encouraged. As an owner it’s important that they know that I care about work-life balance.”

She recounts the experience of an employee who needed to take weeks off of work because she was struggling with personal burnout. “I didn’t know her date of return. I was patient, told her we would wait for her, provided some financial support and we hired more part-time help. She needed the break and she came back. The impact this had on her, knowing we would wait for her, was immense,” says Faheim. “Knowing your employer supports you in personal matters and that you can take a break when you need to can make all the difference in how employees feel about their jobs.”

Providing professional services is the cornerstone of her practice. “It’s how we connect to patients to make a lasting impact on their health outcomes and quality of life.” She offers financial incentives for professional services to her staff pharmacists as a way to build job satisfaction and to demonstrate their work is valued. Pharmacists receive a specific dollar amount depending on the service provided (i.e., MedsCheck, annual diabetes review, follow-ups or assessment for a minor ailment. “Professional services are the future of pharmacy and I want to put a focus on this in all my stores. For my employees to want to fit this into their workflow, incentives go a long way,” she says.

Outsource and standardize

To streamline workflow and prevent overtime, Faheim invested in a new cloud-based platform (Box Labs) that integrates the point-of sale system with all pharmacy terminals. It flags when a patient is eligible for a service and directly bills the Ontario Drug Benefit program and other third-party payers. An e-ecommerce module allows patients to order OTC products, refill their prescriptions, arrange for delivery, book appointments and fill out documentation forms in advance. “It creates an incredible amount of efficiencies,” says Faheim. “You can’t do everything so outsourcing is key. If you can get tech support, do it. If you can get social media marketing experts to help, do it. Our scope is expanding, and our focus needs to be on patient care.”

Faheim’s SOPs, which provide step-by-step instructions on everything from what to say when someone complains about a dispensing fee to how to handle a fax from a physician, have also been a time-saving, stress-reducing tool. “Employees always know what to do if the owner isn’t there and patients are getting those high levels of service whether or not I’m there.”

Putting people first

Faheim also eases workloads by hiring third-year students from the University of Waterloo’s pharmacy co-op program, who assist with the usual dispensary operations as well as vaccinations, MedsCheck reviews and smoking cessation consults. “I love having the students. To be completely honest, they are the ones who teach me most of the time and some will become my future employees and partners.”

Mentoring all staff for career development is also important. For example, after encouraging a staff member to become a certified compressions stocking fitter, that employee now runs a compression stockings program and takes home a portion of any sales she earns.

A reality of running a pharmacy practice is that the work is never done—faxes and phone calls come in after hours and the prescriptions never end. “Staff members can feel overwhelmed because they are never done clearing the baskets or finishing their to-do lists. When the pharmacy closes, I tell them, ‘You did your best for today and that’s it.’ We do what we can and resume the next day.”

Nurturing teamwork also helps. Faheim hosts quarterly staff dinners at restaurants, regularly orders lunch in and ensures everyone gets a cake on their birthday. These are small gestures that make employees feel appreciated, she says.

And vacations are a priority. “Time off is valued. In our meetings we work together to talk over vacation times and days off. We discuss all of this openly, so we feel like a team.” Vacations are also a priority for Faheim, who is 39, married and the mother of a nine- and seven- year-old. “We go somewhere warm or tropical every four to six months, so I always have something to look forward to.”

She eases her responsibilities on the homefront by asking for help from family when needed for afterschool pickups and using cleaning/meal prep services. She also credits her partner who, even with a demanding career of his own, is very much a hands-on dad and full participant in the household. “Getting your partner to understand what’s on your plate and coming together as a team to think of an action plan for the family is essential,” she says. “Without a supportive partner it’s hard for any entrepreneur, let alone a female one, to succeed.”

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