How to Handle a Bad Pharmacy Boss

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Your boss is bad. Maybe she only calls you to tell you that you are behind on your flu shots. Or maybe he yells every time he steps foot in the pharmacy. Or she constantly criticize your store’s performance. Or he gave you a bad review for no good reason. A bad pharmacy boss can suck the life out of your career. Brigette Hyacinth, author of “The Future of Leadership,” says “a bad boss can take a good staff and destroy it, causing the best employees to flee and the remainder to lose all motivation.”

Among the ranks of every large and small pharmacy chain, hospital, health systems, long-term care or managed care company you will find examples of fair and effective leadership. But every once in a while you have to suffer the unfortunate situation of being managed by someone who lacks the skills to inspire, lead, and support their team. Sometimes this may be the result of poor training. Other times a boss or leader did well as an individual performer but lacks the interpersonal skills to help develop others. Or it may simply be what has been called “the Peter principle” (as described in the 1969 book by that title) in which authors Lawrence Peter and Raymond Hull argue that individuals are usually promoted to their “level of incompetence.”

So how should you, as a pharmacist or pharmacy technician, respond to a situation where you are managed by a bad boss?

My first piece of advice is to not ignore the situation. In a more saturated job market you may be tempted to think there is nothing you can do about the situation at all. You can’t quit, or at least you shouldn’t, if you don’t have another job waiting for you. As a result you decide to just grin and bear it as long as you can. But a bad pharmacy boss can cripple your career for years to come. Their unfair reviews may hurt your opportunities for promotion within the company. And their negative attitude may impact your own performance and drag down your efforts to excel.

Another reason not to ignore the situation is the impact it may have on your own health. According to a Swedish study published about 10 years ago and referenced in a WebMD article “people who consider their bosses to be unfair, arbitrary, inconsiderate, and generally deficient in managerial skills are at greater risk for having a heart disease event such as a heart attack.” In other words, a bad boss could turn a pharmacist into a patient by their toxic attitude and actions.

Secondly, try to understand what really motivates your boss and proactively diffuse their behavior by excelling where they tend to focus. I’ve been in pharmacy management and leadership for over 20 years. I understand that different bosses will focus on different things. Some may be hyper-focused on staffing. Others may be all about policies. Some may only think about metrics. I find in pharmacy that these focus areas tend to go in cycles. Some bosses manage these swings in focus well, others become tyrants and take out their frustrations on their team.

Many bad bosses are simply insecure. Pharmacy school doesn’t provide much training in leadership. Most of us have had to learn it through experience, mistakes, mentors and great books. Your bad pharmacy boss may really just be very unsure of herself and unsure how to protect her own job and promote the success of her district. You may be able to help. According to a Forbes article on the topic “By doing what you can to help your boss succeed, you lay a solid foundation for great success yourself. It may not be an immediate reward, but in the long run, you can never lose by helping others do better than they otherwise would.”

Finally, I would remind my fellow professionals that they don’t have to endure a bad pharmacy boss forever. When you have made multiple attempts to try and improve the relationship, including talking with your boss and possibly with HR, you are free to look for other options for employment either within or outside your company. Just be careful to look before you leap so as not to end up out of the frying pan and into the fire.

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