JANUARY 2021 – Workplace supports emerged as the key determinant of how well pharmacy staff was able to continue to work—and personally cope—during the early weeks of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The importance of conscious employer decisions with respect to workplace organization and design, and the [resulting] influence on individual psychological resilience was a really important finding of this study,” said Dr. Zubin Austin, Professor at the Leslie Dan Faculty of Pharmacy, University of Toronto, and co-author of “COVID-19: How did community pharmacies get through the first wave?” During times of crisis or significant change, “we can’t simply leave it up to individuals in workplaces to be the shock absorber.”
Austin presented the study results during the Canadian Foundation for Pharmacy’s virtual Pharmacy Forum webinar in November 2020. Thirty-nine participants (pharmacists, pharmacy technicians and assistants) in 11 pharmacies participated in the qualitative research, conducted from March until May 2020. Data were coded based on what happened in the participant’s pharmacy, how pharmacy responded and what worked and what did not work to support pharmacy staff.
While personal characteristics came up during the interviews of participants (for example, a person’s ability to deal with high levels of stress), organizational factors came to the forefront—and point to changes that should remain in place even after the pandemic is over.
As summarized by one participant: “There are things I know I can do differently as a pharmacist, sure. But at the end of the day, what I learned was the most important thing is the way the whole operation manages….these changes in the way pharmacies run should just become routine because in the end [they] make the pharmacy run better [and we] actually have a greater impact for patients. And [they] make it a better, happier place to work for the staff.”
The findings challenge traditional thinking when it comes to personal coping mechanisms. “The resilience literature has almost always conceptualized resilience as a psychological characteristic: you are a resilient person or you are not, and if not, you should attend some kind of a resilience workshop. This real-world research during a time of extraordinary social crisis suggests that resilience is way more complicated than that,” said Austin. “We need to reframe our understanding of resilience to include the system, to include employers.”
The study determined that the six main workplace factors that predict personal resilience are:
- Previous use and comfort level with technologies;
- Easy, centralized access to corporate and professional guidance on evolving issues, for example to answer patients’ questions;
- A task-focussed approach to workflow, rather than the usual multi-tasking approach. “The workplaces that managed to rejig their workflow to support task-focussed work resulted in pharmacists who demonstrated greater resilience,” said Austin. For example, pharmacists were scheduled to do four hours of medication reviews without interruption.
- Scheduling practices that support work-life balance and teamwork. For example, capping shifts at eight hours, enforcing breaks and scheduling the same individuals to work consistently together.
- Dedicated, non-professional specialty staff to maintain security and safety measures or help answer non-health-related questions.
- Readily available personal protective equipment and supports aimed at the personal safety of staff.