Monday, April 6, 2009

Celebrating Walgreens

In past issues of Chain Store Age, we have written about Walgreens’ inclusive hiring policies, which focus heavily on employing the disabled. But witnessing the chain’s commitment in person really drives its consequences home.

On Saturday, I visited my neighborhood Walgreens for a couple of sundry items and, during checkout, chatted with the elderly cashier who is usually there when I shop. With measurable snow predicted for the rest of the weekend, our amiable conversation inevitably wandered to the incoming weather, and soon “Norman” was offering me advice on how to protect my fledgling tulips and daffodils from six inches of wet snow.

Although I’ve been talking with him on and off for several years, I had no idea Norman was an accomplished gardener. And, in our five-minute conversation (there was no one else in line), I learned something else about him: He has Alzheimer's Disease.

With no prompting from me, Norman went on to say what Walgreens has done for him. When he was diagnosed about a year ago, he went straight to his manager and explained the situation. He said there was no hesitation on the part of Walgreens about his job security. He was to keep working and he would have their full support.

“I’ve made a lot of mistakes,” he told me. “Sometimes I have trouble remembering which keys to press on the cash register.” But, in times of difficulty, another associate will step in and assist, without making him feel badly about his confusion.

“I’ve actually gotten better because of Walgreens,” he said. “My doctor said it’s because I’m keeping busy and continuing to exercise my mind.”

We’re all better because of Walgreens. Despite an economic downturn that saw Walgreens announcing in January it would cut 1,000 jobs and slow store openings, the company has stayed the course in continuing an innovative hiring program that aims to have 3,000 disabled people on the payroll by 2015.

I’m not sure that Norman falls under the customary “disabled” classification, but he faces many of the same challenges that would make him unemployable by most organizations’ standards. That Walgreens has not tolerated, but rather embraced, his disability speaks volumes about the retailer.

-- Katherine Field

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