‘Are you OK?’
A question that is asked of customers at community pharmacies across Australia on a daily basis. More often than not, this seemingly innocuous question is accompanied by a bright smile and bubbly demeanour – although not always. Everyone has bad days and pharmacy staff are not immune to them, despite their best efforts to remain positive.
The emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic saw the health industry, in particular, face unparalleled challenges. Navigating mandates, new local and federal laws, extended trading hours, abusive customers and a panicked community, came with inevitable burnout. Pharmacists and pharmacy assistants alike were asked to work longer hours, to upskill at a lightning-fast pace and, in some instances, go home to a family that had been in isolation for some time. All of this, while placing the health of customers in front of the wellbeing of their own families. It was, and continues to be, a challenging existence in the community pharmacy space.
The healthcare industry, as a whole, is facing a severe skills shortage. Hospitals are at capacity with no more beds available and waiting rooms are full. Local general practitioners are doing their best to treat patients, but lengthy delays are inevitable. The pharmacy sector, in particular, is experiencing constant staffing and supply chain pressures that do not look like being alleviated for potentially years to come.
In a time where workforce demand continues to increase, we acknowledge that the amount of suitably skilled and experienced staff does not. This leads us back to the original question: ‘Are you OK?’. But this time, we are asking our staff members and ourselves, not the customer.
Over the past three years, there has been a notable deterioration in the mental health and wellbeing of many pharmacy staff, including my own. This concerning negative emotional trajectory has highlighted the need to prioritise the mental health of staff members. As business owners, we need to ensure that we abide by our duty of care, to them and their families.
The current lens through which we view mental health in the workplace needs to be adjusted. There is a desperate need to develop a framework that engages and utilises the expertise of our allied health partners, in order to provide continuous support in this space. If we can provide our staff with the tools they need to develop and nurture a healthy emotional state, through interprofessional collaboration with psychologists, dietitians and physical fitness coaches, then we can pave the way for a brighter future for our staff in the workplace.