Pharmacy U

How do you run a multi-generational pharmacy?

0006_MacVicar_PB Nov 2014_Staffing

The 21st century pharmacy is unique. For the first time in history, it’s not uncommon for four generations to be working together in the same place at the same time. Those generations come from different backgrounds, and they bring with them a different work ethic and different values. Making sure everyone is pulling together can be difficult.


By donalee Moulton

Photography by David MacVicar


The key to running a successful multi-generational pharmacy is understanding everyone’s strengths and building a cohesive team on those strengths, says Donnie Morrison, owner of several Pharmasave stores in the Cape Breton Regional Municipality. “In the end, we all do the same job, but we bring different perspectives.”

Morrison’s advice comes from firsthand experience. His staff encompass at least three of the four generations making up the modern pharmacy. Many of his employees started as part-timers while in high school while others have been with the company for decades. Despite the generational disparity, the team makes a collective effort to work well together and understands the importance of a cohesive team. “We know everyone plays an important role in making the pharmacy a place where patients and customers want to come,” says Morrison. “Despite our differences, we have found common ground.”

Those differences divide broadly along age lines, notes Sharalyn Young, a human resources professional in Halifax. “Historically, older generations give more to their jobs. Younger generations are looking for a better work/life balance. They value their personal time, they value their family time, and they value their social time.”

The four generations helping patients in the modern pharmacy fall into these age groups: the Veterans, born before 1946; the Baby Boomers, born between 1946 and 1964; Generation X, born between 1965 and 1979; and Generation Y, also known as the Millennials, born between 1980 and 2000.

Distinct differences delineate each generation. “For example, the latest generation coming into the workforce is not concerned as much with pensions as our generation and expect to change their jobs several times, so the loyalty to the employer is not the same,” notes Glenn Saunders, executive director of the International Personnel Management Association – Canada in St. John’s, NL. “They look for instant gratification; they want all the ‘toys’ to enjoy life and the tools to do a good job sooner rather than later.”

That impatience and eagerness is in many ways a reflection of youth who grew up with technology. These are the whiz kids who are as comfortable with an iPad as they are with an automobile. They’ve never seen camera film and don’t know what a cassette tape looks like. But they have no fear of technology, which can be a plus for pharmacy staff.

“All generations can learn from one another,” says Young.

For example, recently trained pharmacy staff who arrive for work at one of his stores, says Morrison, come with a more current and often different set of skills that can assist others in the pharmacy. “Younger pharmacists already have many of the technical skills their older colleagues are trying to learn, such as giving injections and writing prescriptions. Older employees are embracing this knowledge.”

Working well across the generations requires a mutual respect and understanding. Owners and managers need to foster that workplace culture as Morrison and his managers have done. “There needs to be a shared level of trust,” says the pharmacy owner. “This will build over time. At our pharmacies, we’ve been working together a long time and have learned how to work well together.”

Young recommends pharmacies put in place an orientation program. “Spell out your expectations as the employer,” she says. “Be open to everyone’s ideas, especially those of the younger generation. There is a lot they have to learn, but they do bring wonderful ideas to the workplace.”

Morrison works to ensure there is openness among staff and a willingness to raise and address issues. This is essential, he says, especially as more demands are being placed on pharmacies and stress levels have escalated. Ultimately, the team need to understand they are in this together. When that understanding is shared, the result is a healthier pharmacy and more satisfied staff.

“In our pharmacies, the younger staff learn from the older staff and vice versa,” Morrison notes. “It’s a really exciting time to be a pharmacy owner.”



Top tips for intergenerational staffing


  • Hold regular staff meetings and orientation sessions to make sure all staff members are on the same page in terms of their responsibilities.
  • Build the team. Recognize the different strengths of your employees and hold team-building exercises to get the generations working together.
  • Offer mentoring opportunities. All age groups have something to learn from each other, from tech savvy to customer relations.






The modern mix of employees


Veterans: Strong work ethic, respectful of seniority, title and rank

Baby Boomers: Over-achievers who set – and achieved – long-term goals

Gen X: Independent, self-reliant, and entrepreneurial but want a good work/life balance

Gen Y: Value diversity and see themselves as citizens of the world