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Pharmacies need employee-centric cultures to thrive

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Jeff Hewitt

Today’s workers value different things. They want flexibility, demand a work culture that recognizes their worth, and are willing to change jobs to find what they want now. This shift has been particularly challenging in retail pharmacy as many workers are less tolerant of the often hectic and demanding environment. As a result, an increased number of pharmacy workers are opting to change direction or take positions within health care facilities.

New employee expectations and a continuing labor shortage arrive during a time when retail pharmacies are also changing how they serve patients. Given this challenging situation, retail pharmacies face an important question: How are you attracting, retaining and enabling your frontline employees to deliver on your near- and long-term strategies?

The retail pharmacies that will be successful will be those that differentiate through their workers. To do so, you will need an effective strategy that clarifies future workforce needs and attracts, retains and develops employees ready to thrive in this next era.

The new retail pharmacy

Dominique Harris

Creating a workforce strategy for the future begins with understanding the trends driving change. The expanded role of the pharmacy in delivering frontline health care has introduced customers to new ways of interacting with pharmacies. Today’s customers demand increased convenience and access, including digital and omnichannel access to pharmacy services. Options such as express lines, buy online pick up in-store (BOPIS), automated kiosks and home delivery are just the beginning of the next wave of experiences.

Consider that stores like Amazon Go enable customers to check out without seeing a cashier. Walmart Pharmacy will allow you to get your prescription in your curbside pickup order, and Walmart Health’s app helps customers shop for food that fits their dietary constraints. Everyone from startups to established health care resources like the Mayo Clinic offers virtual care and remote diagnostics so customers can access services without ever leaving home.

Retail pharmacies have been investing to meet these new customer expectations and stay competitive. With recent industry entrants, including digital-first pharmacies and expanded health and wellness offerings by big-box stores, sustaining these changes and expanding pharmacies’ role further will become paramount.

New work, new challenges

Kate Maheu

The industry’s transformation will change how pharmacy workers operate in their jobs and the skills and capabilities they need to succeed. Companies will also require different types of talent altogether, and many of those employees, such as patient care specialists and digital experts, take more effort to find the right fit.

However, as companies need more from their workers, employees expect more from their employers. For example, 95% of knowledge workers report wanting more flexibility with their schedule, and 78% want additional flexibility with where they work. In addition, 58% of frontline workers expect their stress to worsen in the coming year, putting them at risk of leaving their current position.

The difficulties of the past few years have workers reconsidering their jobs. A record 47.4 million workers quit in 2021, and the resignations have continued into 2022. With retail pharmacies, employers report that employees are also absent more frequently. Today many pharmacies are working on reduced hours due to a lack of pharmacists and a shortage of front-of-store workers.

For example, one Kearney client said that they have seen turnover rates double in places, with staffing shortages impacting their ability to maintain operating hours across their footprint. Even as the pandemic wanes, these labor market constraints will make it tough to continue providing — and expanding — access to care.

Building the workforce you need

Historically, pharmacies have been able to design offerings for customers, build out the supporting operating models and then fill in the employees to execute them. This approach puts the employee last.

It is no longer reasonable to assume that you can simply fill the jobs. Instead, companies should evaluate whether jobs are attractive to the workforce when developing customer offerings and building the associated operating model design. If all of the required jobs don’t have attractive employee value propositions (EVPs), it’s unlikely that a pharmacy will be successful with the new offering. The two go hand in hand.

So how do you win in this new era? You need a holistic and long-term approach to building and retaining your workforce. Here are the three things that must go right, along with questions organizations should consider:

  • Plan for workforce needs — Identify the capabilities and roles your organization needs to execute on its new operating models. Work on developing a near-term tactical plan that addresses acute staffing needs, including identifying partners that can help fill gaps. Also, establish a longer-term road map that describes the roles and capabilities needed in your future workforce. This planning should account for macro trends in the industry, model potential impacts on attrition and hiring, and include multiple recruiting streams, so you staff up as needed.


  • How do key trends and strategy impact your near-term and long-term workforce needs?
  • What digital capabilities are required to sustain your operating model?
  • What job families face workforce gaps that will require action plans?
  • What are the risks of maintaining the status quo on employee attrition and hiring?
  • Identify, attract and retain the talent you need — Next, you want to develop an EVP that resonates with the type of employees you want to attract. The value proposition should address factors such as company culture, work/life integration, development opportunities, purpose/meaningfulness of work, and compensation and benefits. A compelling EVP considers these dimensions holistically and for different employee needs and profiles. A deeply ingrained diversity, equity and inclusion strategy and deliberate recruiting and onboarding processes are also essential. Focus groups, surveys and leadership interviews can help you understand what differentiates your company as an ­employer and where you may fall short. Most importantly, they’ll also help you understand the needs and preferences of your specific workforce.


  • How well do you understand how your workforce views the EVP you offer?
  • What do your competitors offer the workforce, and how does your EVP compare?
  • How do your mission and values resonate with your workforce and potential hires?
  • How can you reimagine work to better enable and engage your workforce within your organization and across your network?
  • Develop your workforce — You want to cultivate a workforce that thrives with your organization. Initiatives should apply across your workforce, from the frontline retail staff to techs to pharmacists. For example, you might create programs that help frontline leaders develop their skills and further their careers. Many organizations use development programs to weed out low performers and squeeze more out of high performers. A better approach explores how you can empower the middle — or the majority — of your workforce to improve their skills and overall performance.


  • How can you create more personalized learning journeys for your employees?
  • What is the right learning partner ecosystem (e.g., content partners and technology platforms) to upskill your workforce?
  • How can you create a learning strategy that fuels a self-learning culture?
  • What performance metrics help ensure your employees benefit from programs and support?

Employee-centric companies will have an advantage

Pharmacy employees are on the front lines every day. They play a meaningful role in helping communities across America access key health services and manage their wide-ranging health needs. The employees building customer connections and delivering care to millions of Americans are critical to this evolving role.

Yet most companies don’t put sufficient emphasis on addressing the needs of their employees (this was especially true during the pandemic). We expect most retail pharmacy leaders that read this article will reflexively think that their company is different and that they emphasize and prioritize the needs of their workers. But stop and think about that. Are you sure? Do you have low attrition rates, and are you attracting top talent from your competitors right now? Do you feel like you have been getting ahead of your employees’ new requirements and helping them embrace change?

If not, you have an opportunity to address a problem. By identifying your workforce’s needs and implementing a plan to address them, you’re helping to create an employee-centric culture. The benefits yield dividends for your employees, your customers and your business. Employee-centric cultures are typically more productive, have lower turnover and can better anticipate customer/patient needs. Building an intentional employee-centric culture will drive improved performance and create an organization that overcomes current hurdles and sets the groundwork to win and elevate health care talent when it matters most.

The authors would like to thank Todd Huseby, Rodey Wing, Kimberly Fulton and Laura Bowen for their valuable contributions to this article.

Jeff Hewitt and Dominique Harris are partners in the Leadership, Change and Organization Practice at Kearney, a global strategy and management consulting firm. They can be reached at [email protected] and [email protected]. Kate Maheu is a principal in Kearney’s Health Practice. She can be reached at [email protected].


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