Are Pharma Employees Looking to Jump Ship?

Are you happy with your current employer? It seems that for many in the biotech and pharma industries the answer to that question would be no, according to a Randstad Pharma Engagement Study. More than half (51%) of the study’s respondents said they were likely to seek out a job at a different company or organization within the next six months. (The most recent wave of 142 responses came from an online survey conducted in April, which means that the six month time period should be just about ending.) Whether people were just blowing off steam in this survey, or serious about their job seeking intentions, one thing appears certain: These respondents are not satisfied with their current company.

There was no overwhelming reason why these respondents cited a willingness to leave, but inadequate pay (36%) was the most common response. The other top reasons:

  • Lack of opportunity for advancement (34%)
  • High stress levels (29%)
  • Difficult relationships with managers/co-workers (29%)

Meanwhile, the most attractive attributes employees look for in a new company: Fair pay (94%), a reputation among current employees as a good place to work (92%) and flexible/telecommuting work arrangements (88%).

However, not all of this completely jibes with another recent survey of 224 pharma company employees conducted by Salveson Stetson Group between February and March 2014. It focused on what pharma employees regarded as the top choices for a new place of employment. While flexibility (51.7%) and work environment (48.8%) still ranked highly in terms of what employees most value from potential employers, compensation was actually quite low on the list.

“If there was one surprise from our survey,” explains Nancy Kovach, who heads the Life Sciences Practice at Salveson Stetson Group, “it’s probably that compensation was not ranked as a top reason for valuing a current employer or for being attracted to another company.”

It’s Not About the Money

Compensation was named by only 18% of respondents, making it one of the least important attributes employees look for in a new company. Other attributes that ranked low include career path/career planning, operational excellence, how companies manage their competitors and their approach in the marketplace, according to Kovach. Meanwhile, the biggest turn-ons are innovation (62%), portfolio (45%), corporate image (42%), work environment (42%) and pipeline (42%).

“Employees in the pharma industry really want to make a difference by bringing innovative products that help patients to market,” explains Kovach. “They’re really drawn to companies that have that positive environment of innovation, strong company culture and flexibility.”

Those are exactly the reasons why J&J, Novartis and Amgen were considered to be the most attractive Big Pharma companies while Biogen Idec, Gilead and Novo Nordisk were named the top mid-sized pharma companies that employees would like to work for. However, Kovach believes these companies have something else working in their favor.

“The companies that rank the highest have all stayed out of the fray of the recent mergers and acquisitions, restructurings, major relocations, consolidations, etc.,” explains Kovach. “The perceived stability of an organization is something employees really look for.”

Kovach adds that the financial resources to be able to support solid R&D, strong leadership, a positive ethics reputation, alignment in vision and strategy as well as a global footprint are some of the other factors that employees consider when considering working for other companies.

Importance of the Work Environment

But despite this seeming willingness to seek out positions at new organizations, employees also cite a few reasons for why they would turn down a job offer. Not surprisingly, people are likely to say “Thanks, but no thanks,” to companies with a perceived poor work environment. Other top reasons for saying no include any type of regulatory challenges the company may be involved in or have a history with; a strategy in which vision and strategy might not be aligned; and lack of autonomy.

Another difference between the two studies: Respondents to Salveson Stetson Group’s survey say they are not swayed to take a new position simply because it offers more personal development opportunities. Kovach adds that positions with more people-management responsibilities were also unlikely to be a big draw. In the end, it really comes down to three factors.

“The war for top talent,” Kovach explained in a statement, “will be won by the employers who continue to drive innovation and who have a robust portfolio and pipeline that creates an environment where talented employees thrive.”


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