Six Unique Ways a Community Pharmacy Can Motivate Employees

By Paul Satterfield |

The community pharmacy world can be hectic. Phones ring off the hook. Patients need help now. Detailed data must be correctly entered into pharmacy systems while prescription orders and pick up requests are processed with perfect accuracy.

As employees become hyper-focused on the immediate task at hand — getting through the next prescription or the next patient in the queue — they can lose sight of the important, meaningful role they play in helping patients preserve or recover their health.

Here are six methods community pharmacists can use to keep employees engaged, motivated and inspired:

1. Recognize employees for a job well done
Gallup survey data indicates that many employees feel their best efforts at work are routinely ignored or overlooked.1 By recognizing employees for outstanding workplace performance, community pharmacy owners can motivate employees and make them feel valued, which ultimately increases productivity, loyalty and retention while enhancing the patient experience. And more, this type of praise sends a clear signal to other employees about the type of behavior and results that the pharmacy values.

Recognition doesn’t have to be expensive. It doesn’t even have to involve money at all. It could be as simple as a handwritten note thanking the employee for a job well done. Or a community pharmacy can use technology to amplify the impact of its message. For example, a pharmacy could post an update to its Facebook page with a picture of the recognized employee and some details about his/her background and praiseworthy actions. Here’s what that might look like:

Congratulations to Jennifer, our tech of the month. Jennifer has been working at Town Pharmacy for three years now. Last week, Jennifer sat down with a valued long-term customer to help with the need for home medical equipment for her father. Our customer was grateful for Jennifer’s help and expressed her appreciation. Thanks Jennifer for a job well done!

2. Remind employees of the role they play in patient health
For many of the people who work as clerks and technicians in pharmacies, helping people is their number one motivator. It’s easy for a community pharmacy’s employees to lose sight of the important role they play in the healthcare community when they get caught up in the daily grind.

Independent pharmacies should encourage and support employees with positive feedback when they take the time to get out from behind the counter and work one-on-one with patients. It is important to recognize the value of interactions such as a basic consultation on how to work a glucometer or how to use an inhaler. They should celebrate employees who take the time to recommend a certain flavored cough medicine for a pediatric patient or to suggest an elbow brace for a patient with a sports injury.

The best form of employee motivation will come from the patients themselves who will thank employees for making their lives less difficult, helping to ease their pain or reducing the symptoms of a cold.

Pharmacists and employees alike sometimes get too caught up in simply completing their day-to-day responsibilities, but they need to remember that they are an important part of the continuum of care.

3. Approach each employee as an individual 
Great sports coaches know the same motivational technique will not work for each player. Some players thrive on a challenge. Some may need affirmation. Some players want regular feedback and guidance. Others chafe under too much oversight and crave independence and freedom.

Community pharmacy owners and managers should take the same individualized approach to employee motivation. A community pharmacy should tailor its motivational efforts to each employee’s needs and preferences.

How does a community pharmacy know what their employees value? Ask them! The owner of several community pharmacies in Nebraska asks his employees during the annual review process what type of rewards they would find most valuable. The owner has found that time off and scheduling flexibility are more valuable than a cash bonus for many employees who are working mothers. Quality-of-life is a big motivator for these employees. They would rather have the ability to come in late on certain days to drop off their children at school or leave early to attend a child’s recital or sporting event.

4. Offer memorable experiential rewards 
Cash is fleeting. It’s exciting to receive a cash bonus, but as soon as the money is spent on bills or to make a purchase — then the joy of the cash reward disappears. By contrast, employees tend to remember and value experiential rewards long after the experience itself.

Research from Cornell University professor Thomas Gilovich backs up this idea that we ultimately remember and value experiences more than things.2 “[We] remember experiences long afterward, while we soon become used to our possessions,” says Gilovich. “At the same time, we also enjoy the anticipation of having an experience more than the anticipation of owning a possession.”

So what does an experiential reward look like? One community pharmacy owner in Oklahoma developed a program to motivate his technicians by rewarding the top monthly performers in companion sales.

The owner and his wife will take that month’s top-performing technician and his or her spouse out for a fancy dinner at one of the nicest restaurants in Oklahoma City, then treat them to an evening’s entertainment such as seats to an NBA Thunder basketball game. Throughout the evening, the owner will praise the technician, talking about his or her importance and value to the pharmacy.

Since implementing the program, the owner says that employee morale has increased and front-end sales have risen substantially. Employee requests for time off have even dropped as technicians realize they need to be in the store working to have a chance of achieving the most companion sales.

Could the owner simply hand the winning employee a $300 check? Sure, but the memory of that payment would fade. Ten years later, no one is going to look back fondly on a cash payment, but they are more likely to remember a fun evening, an amazing steak and an exciting buzzer-beating three-point shot.  

5. Give employees opportunities to pay it forward 
Most people have an inherent need to do good and derive pleasure from helping others altruistically. This is the reason why people in a coffee shop will sometimes start buying coffee for the next person in line, hoping to start a self-perpetuating chain of goodwill. The feeling people get from receiving a free cup of coffee is good, but they get much more pleasure from gifting a coffee to the next person in line.

This altruistic motive also explains why crowdfunding websites like GoFundMe have become so popular — they give people a chance to help out other people in need.
Instead of giving an employee a $25 gift card for superior customer service, community pharmacists should consider building an altruistic component into their rewards program and empowering their employees by giving them instructions to pay a reward forward to a coworker of his or her choosing.

In this way, a community pharmacy will be multiplying and maximizing the impact of its original reward. Not only will the patient who ultimately receives the reward feel happy, but the employee who gets the pleasure of giving the reward will receive even more satisfaction. (There’s plenty of scientific evidence to support the notion that we really do get more pleasure from giving than receiving.3)

Of course, there’s no reason a pharmacy can’t have the best of both worlds in its employee rewards program. Community pharmacists could consider gifting high-performing employees with two rewards cards — one for themselves and one to pay it forward. They can use one card to satisfy their own needs (e.g., defray some of the cost of the new computer their child needs for school) and the other card to get the emotional joy that comes from practicing altruism.

6. Instill a sense of ownership 
Community pharmacists should look for ways to make employees feel personally invested in the success of the pharmacy. There are different ways to accomplish this goal. For example, community pharmacies could build a compensation structure based on profit-sharing, so employees know they will receive a larger bonus if the pharmacy has a particularly good year or quarter.

An independent pharmacist in Texas came up with the clever idea of giving his staff members personalized business cards and encouraged them to act as sales executives as they went about their daily lives – at church, the gym or the PTA meeting. During these interactions, staff members could hand over their business cards to potential new patients. If those patients actually visited the pharmacy to fill a prescription and handed in a staff member’s card, the employee named on that card would receive a $50 bonus.

Staff members embraced this program. They would promote the benefits of using their pharmacy so enthusiastically that more than one potential patient inquired as to whether they actually owned the store! One driver became so adept at advertising the pharmacy that he managed to bring in over 100 new patients just by having conversations and handing out business cards as he drove his usual route.  

As the examples above show, a community pharmacy doesn’t have to throw a bundle of money at an employee rewards program to have a positive impact. Instead, effectiveness comes from investing the time and effort to understand what matters most to employees, then crafting a reward program that fits their needs and ultimately provides the recognition, inspiration and satisfaction they desire.

Remember — when motivating employees to do a great job, a pharmacy is also likely to increase patient satisfaction, which can play a big role in making sure a pharmacy continues to thrive and successfully serve the healthcare needs of its community.

1 Mann, Annamarie and Nate Dvorak, “Employee Recognition: Low Cost, High Impact,” Gallup, June 28, 2016, accessed May 31, 2017,
2 Swift, Jackie, “Intriguing Human Behavior,” Cornell Research, accessed May 31, 2017,
3 Konnikova, Maria, “The Psychology Behind Gift-Giving and Generosity,” Scientific American, January 4, 2012, accessed May 31, 2017,

About the Author

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Paul Satterfield

Business Coach
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