Why pharmacy leaders at RWJBarnabas Health eat lunch together each day

Workplace culture is critical to the success of any hospital and health system. It not only affects the business of an organization, but also has the potential to affect clinical quality and employee satisfaction.

While the entire organization should be involved in developing and maintaining a positive workplace culture, sometimes an individual department can make significant strides on their own.

Such is the case with West Orange, N.J.-based RWJBarnabas Health's pharmacy enterprise.

The 1,100-staff enterprise, consisting of RWJBarnabas Health's 23 pharmacy divisions, is led by Indu Lew, PharmD, senior vice president and chief pharmacy officer.

Dr. Lew has only been in the chief role since July, but she has been working toimprove the system's pharmacy enterprise for 18 years in various roles, including vice president of corporate pharmacy at RWJBarnabas Health.

In addition to addressing the challenges specific to hospital pharmacy in her chief role, Dr. Lew also began working to improve workplace culture in her enterprise with two specific programs: a daily lunch for leaders where work-related talk is not allowed, and a team-building exercise of choosing a single word that the pharmacy department will exemplify in the year ahead.

Word for the year

Beginning in March or April, pharmacy team members work together to begin brainstorming the pharmacy enterprises' vision for the next year. This vision then gets distilled into a single word that the entire pharmacy team knows and embodies, Dr. Lew said.

Ratification and adoption of the word is later approved by the health system's Pharmacy Executive Council. 

"Effective leadership is predicated on communication that is simple and clear," explained Dr. Lew. "The pharmacy enterprise leadership has taken this fundamental tenant and distilled it to one word, [chosen annually]. By asking a diverse group of pharmacy stakeholders to remember one word, in order to focus their annual priorities."

The pharmacy enterprise's word for 2020 is "foundation," and it is focused on harmonized workflows, policies and procedures and competencies in anticipation to the migration of the health system's universal EHR, said Dr. Lew.

She said the word was an appropriate choice because essential structure is critical to success during the implementation journey. Dr. Lew said the strategy has improved workplace culture because it "has accelerated unity and execution of goals and tactics."


The corporate pharmacy leadership team also has made resiliency a priority. Dr. Lew said one of the most successful and simple tactics used is connecting over lunch every day. To ensure that lunch provides resiliency, one simple rule is in effect: No one can talk about work. Instead conversations typically are centered around family, pets, vacations, hobbies and passions.

"This process has moved everyone from being co-workers to family members. I think when you learn a lot about your teammates and about their families, you become vested in them," said Dr. Lew.

Also, "when you don't talk about work, it does give your mind a fresh perspective," she added. "We work really hard all day long, and you need to let your mind decompress a little bit, so you come back fully charged."

Still, Dr. Lew acknowledged that it's not easy for people to commit to lunch, and corporate pharmacy leaders must intentionally set aside and guard that time. Sometimes people do have to miss lunch due to important meetings or other circumstances. But about 10 corporate pharmacy leaders end up making it most of the time.

"We laugh a lot, and there's something scientific to laughing and releasing endorphins. It works well," Dr. Lew said.

She said the lunches overall are about the concept of building resiliency among pharmacy enterprise leaders. She realizes that doing lunches daily isn't feasible for all parts of the hospital environment, especially with teammates involved in direct patient care. But she recommended that hospitals and health systems build some type of resiliency process into the workflow of employees, even if it's a 15-minute break a couple times a week to discuss nonwork-related topics. 


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