Walgreens’ HR chief urges leaders to be open and transparent at work.

Walgreens' HR chief urges leaders to be open and transparent at work.

Walgreens Store # Holly May: Opening Up and Building Trust for Better Leadership

Holly May, the global chief human resources officer at Walgreens Boots Alliance, believes that being open and honest about personal challenges can make you a better leader. May shares her own experience of having to navigate her son’s autism diagnosis while adjusting to a new job and city.

“I didn’t have a doctor. I didn’t know how to get into a network of specialists,” May explained. “I had to really open up and be honest about what I was going through for the first time. And it unlocked this very new element of my leadership where I realized by, you know, being honest and authentic about who I was, my team members did the same.”

May’s leadership style focuses not only on the well-being of Walgreens’ 240,000 employees but also on their families and the communities the company serves. As part of their efforts, Walgreens has expanded its partnership with Mental Health America to create a back-to-school toolkit focused on addressing mental health challenges faced by adolescents and youth, including social media addiction and cyberbullying.

The toolkit, which will be shared with more than 1,000 schools, aims to provide resources and support for parents, teachers, and students. May emphasized the importance of connecting all aspects of someone’s life, acknowledging that building trust and openness in a team is essential for enabling individuals to perform at their best.

May’s role as global chief human resources officer at Walgreens Boots Alliance encompasses various challenges in managing a large employee base. She highlighted the importance of keeping the team motivated across different sectors, such as office workers, retail staff, and pharmacists.

Walgreens has embraced a customized approach to meet the diverse needs of its employees. For instance, their mental health program, Be Well Connected, offers live and on-demand classes, Indieflix films, and free mental-health counseling sessions tailored to different schedules and interests. May emphasized that considering the whole experience of an employee, both inside and outside the office, is crucial for creating a supportive work environment.

Regarding the return-to-office policy, Walgreens has implemented a leader-led hybrid approach to accommodate business needs and prioritize moments that matter. Leaders have the authority and responsibility to determine which days employees should be in the office, whether for team meetings, social events, or alignment on strategic priorities.

As a working parent herself, May expressed her gratitude for the support she receives from Walgreens’ CEO, Rozalind Brewer. She also highlighted the importance of flexibility in the workplace for parents with young children, allowing them to balance their personal and professional lives. May has leveraged her own experiences as a parent to champion diversity, inclusion, and support for fellow working parents within the company.

Reflecting on the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, May acknowledged that the role of human resources (HR) has evolved significantly. While some companies recognized the power of HR before the pandemic, many leaders are now realizing its importance in supporting employees and driving organizational success. May commended Walgreens for prioritizing workplace flexibility, meeting the expectations of new generations such as Gen Z and millennials.

The younger workforce values corporate social responsibility and seeks employers who actively make a difference in society. May highlighted Walgreens’ involvement in environmental, social, and governance (ESG) initiatives as a crucial factor in attracting talent. She emphasized that compensation is no longer the primary consideration for candidates; instead, they prioritize working for companies that align with their values.

Within the various roles at Walgreens, May identified the need to focus on hiring and retaining pharmacists and pharmacy technicians. Due to declining enrollment and an increasing workload during the pandemic, the pharmacy profession faces challenges. Walgreens aims to empower pharmacists to operate at the top of their license by exploring new healthcare services and hybrid work options. They have also implemented a sign-on program to attract pharmacists while considering regional variations.

When asked about advice for Gen Zers entering the workforce, May stressed the importance of learning agility and exploring diverse passions. She encouraged young professionals to gain knowledge and experience in different areas, as these can prove valuable in unexpected moments throughout their careers.

May’s biggest worry for corporate America is that the lessons learned from the pandemic might be forgotten. She emphasized the need for employers to prioritize their employees’ needs and maintain the flexibility and support that were so crucial during challenging times. May acknowledged the dedication of employees and urged leaders to remember the importance of supporting their teams in the future.

In conclusion, Holly May’s leadership approach at Walgreens Boots Alliance emphasizes openness, trust, and support for employees’ well-being. By sharing personal challenges and being authentic, May believes that leaders can create an environment that enables individuals to perform at their best. Walgreens’ commitment to customized solutions, mental health support, and flexibility reflects their understanding of the diverse needs of their workforce. As Gen Z and millennials place greater value on purpose-driven organizations, Walgreens continues to evolve to attract talent and make a positive impact in society.