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How to Boost Morale During a Crisis 

April 23, 2020

As pharmacies face down the coronavirus epidemic, employees are dealing with unprecedented stress and uncertainty.

The anxiety that comes along with crisis — whether that be a pandemic, financial meltdown, or natural disaster — will cause your pharmacy staff’s morale to take a hit. Low morale in your store means productivity goes down and employees are more likely to be absent or quit.

Even in hard times, these outcomes don’t have to be inevitable. Strive to be an empathetic leader and use these tips to maintain employee morale even when things seem desperate.

Promote mental health resources

Your workers are likely stressed out because they aren’t sure what the future holds. As an employer, you can help by making sure they have access to mental health resources that help to reduce stress while they are on and off the clock.

If staff members have access to an Employee Assistance Program through their benefits package, make sure they know they can call to get advice on mental health issues. If you don’t have an EAP, educate staff members on the signs of stress and other mental health issues so they learn to recognize it in themselves.

Visit the CDC’s page on managing mental health in the workplace for more ideas on how to help employees stay well.

Don’t ignore milestones

If you normally celebrate occasions like birthdays or work anniversaries, don’t let those milestones pass by unacknowledged during stressful times.

You may not be able to celebrate the same way you normally do, but you can take a few moments to sing happy birthday or acknowledge what an employee has contributed to the pharmacy during their years on staff.

By acknowledging that happy things are still happening, your staff will get to experience a moment of normalcy during an otherwise chaotic time.

Relax the rules

Obviously, you can’t relax safety regulations, but there are some practices you can let up on so employees have more mental energy to dispense medications accurately and treat patients with respect.

If you normally have a dress code of khakis and a button-up shirt, relax it a little so staff members can wear jeans and a polo shirt instead.

Instead of having employees take 15 minute breaks, expand them to 25 minutes as long as you have enough coverage. People will need more time to recover from the stress of work during a crisis, so give leeway wherever you can as long as it doesn’t cause the quality of work to suffer.

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Watch out for people who are struggling

Every one of your employees will be affected somehow by a crisis, but some might take it harder than others.

Pay close attention to suss out if one employee seems to be struggling more — maybe the crisis means that their partner has lost their job or a family member has been injured or sick. In these cases, Harvard Business Review recommends you do what you can to help them emotionally while still making sure they can still do their work.

It’s not your job to be a therapist, but check in with struggling employees from time to time and see if you need to make accommodations. While you want to be flexible, be sure that if you are offering adjustments, you treat requests from employees in similar situations the same way. Inconsistencies will be noticed.

Be realistic 

The crisis is dispiriting, but relentless optimism won’t work to stave off low morale. Temper your optimism with a dose of realism, because staff members will notice if your look-on-the-bright-side approach doesn’t align with what’s actually going on in the pharmacy.

Be frank about job security, especially. If you know you’ll be able to keep making payroll, say so, but also be honest if layoffs are a possibility. In that case, at-risk employees will have time to make other arrangements, and you can do what you can to help them find another suitable job.

While delivering bad news may not seem like a good way to raise morale, keeping problems secret will only lead to distrust and gossip among your staff. And when one of their coworkers get an unexpected layoff, morale will plummet among the remaining staff.

Communicate about safety procedures

When the outside world is full of uncertainty, make sure your employees feel safe inside the pharmacy.

Be clear about the steps you’re taking to keep them safe, whether that’s providing extra personal protective equipment during a pandemic or shoring up defenses for a potential weather event.

Prominently post about security and emergency procedures so they can easily reference them when they are on the job.

Encourage time off

Especially in an emergency situation, your employees might feel that if they take any time away from the pharmacy, things will fall apart. Do your best to discourage that line of thinking.

If staff members take a mental health day or a day of PTO, they aren’t abandoning the pharmacy in a time of need — they’re taking care of themselves so they can better care for patients when they return.

Now more than ever, employees need time to recharge with their family or just relax by themselves. Even if the pharmacy is swamped, do what you can to help employees take a well-deserved rest.

Recognize people doing great work

In busy and stressful crisis situations, don’t forget to acknowledge the employees that are continuing to do great work. Praising your staff members makes their jobs more rewarding for them and keeps them motivated during the harder moments.

The saying goes, “Praise should be public, criticism should be private.” Hearing kind words about one employee will let others know that you’re paying attention to the work they’re all doing.

Regular praise also decreases employee turnover, which in turn keeps morale high. One employee leaving the company damages other staff members’ morale and productivity, but by recognizing good work you encourage people to stay even when things are hard.

Stay calm and organized

The best thing you can do to keep employee morale high during a crisis is to keep manning the ship in a calm, organized way.

Even though you may not be sure of what the future holds, try to keep operations running as normally as you can. When employees walk into the pharmacy every day, knowing what they can expect out of their job can be a relief from the ever-changing situation happening outside the pharmacy’s doors.

A crisis is not the time to push your team as hard as you can. Instead, remember to be empathetic and accommodating while still getting all the necessary work done.


An Independently Owned Organization Serving Independent Pharmacies 

PBA Health is dedicated to helping independent pharmacies reach their full potential on the buy side of their business. The company is a member-owned organization that serves independent pharmacies with group purchasing services, expert contract negotiations, proprietary purchasing tools, distribution services, and more.

PBA Health, an HDA member, operates its own VAWD-certified warehouse with more than 6,000 SKUs, including brands, generics, narcotics CII-CV, cold-storage products, and over-the-counter (OTC) products.

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