The Eighth Annual International Employment Survey

Published on: 
Pharmaceutical Technology, Pharmaceutical Technology-12-02-2005, Volume 29, Issue 12

From politics to paychecks and downsizings to deadlines-what it's like to work for one of the world's largest industries.

For some people, the statistics say it all: a growing salary, good benefits, daily intellectual challenges, and job security. Others gain a better perspective by looking closely at more subjective issues such as job environment, communication, and support from management.

Pharmaceutical Technology's 2005 employment report presents both sides. Thanks to the more than 2100 survey participants (our highest response yet), we highlight the issues directly affecting workers in the pharmaceutical industry, including demographic information, education and work experience, salary and benefits, and attitudes toward current employment. New this year, the survey portrays the effects on industry jobs of several federal guidelines and initiatives, and employees had an opportunity to sound off about the greatest satisfactions and frustrations of their work.

Most results are representative of all responses, regardless of participants' locations. Some salary results are presented for US employees only. When reviewing salary and benefits information, readers should take into account a region's cost of living and economy as well as the wide range of experience, job functions, and educational certification represented. No single statistic should be used for comparison without taking these factors into account.

Table I: Results overview-profile of a typical industry employee.

Methodology and statistics

The September 2005 questionnaire, posted on, received 2178 responses. Of these, 79% were received from industry workers in the United States, including Puerto Rico. Some overall results are summarized in Table I, with details provided in this article.


Sex and age. Of the total number of responses, 70% overall were from men (see Figure 1). The average respondent age is 43 years.

Figure 1: Survey participants by sex.

Work location. As noted, 79% of respondents work in the United States. Of these, approximately 10% each work in California and New Jersey; 7% in Pennsylvania; 5% each in New York, North Carolina, and Massachusetts; 4% each in Illinois and Indiana; and ~2.5% each in Michigan and Puerto Rico. All other states each accounted for less than 2% of the total US responses.

Workers also responded from the United Kingdom (4%), Canada (3.4%), and Ireland (1.4%) as well as Germany, India, Italy, Belgium, The Netherlands, and Switzerland (~1% each). Other regions represented less than 1% each of the total number of responses.

Readers should take into account the number of responses received from each region when noting the results of this survey, especially salary results according to US region.

Education and professional work experience. Fifty-two percent of employees had a degree beyond a bachelor's degree (see Figure 2). The most common fields of study were analytical chemistry and biology (or biology-related) (14.5% each). A significant number of respondents (12%) also said they earned their degree in pharmaceutics or pharmacy. Surprisingly, 9% said they had studied in a field unrelated to pharmaceutical science or industry.

Figure 2: Highest level of education.

Success on the job may be attributed more to experience than education, however. Sixty-four percent of respondents said their experience had prepared them "very well" for their current job function, compared with only 27% who said the same for their education. Pharmaceutical employees reported an average of 17.4 years of professional work experience, including postdoctoral study.


Type of employer. A preponderance of respondents are employed in private industry (89%), with more than one-third working at companies employing more than 10,000 people total. Those employed in academia represented 3.4% of respondents. The remaining participants were employed in either local or national government. Thus, the information provided in this article, including salary and attitudes toward current employment clearly best represents those working in the private sector.


Job description. About one in five respondents work in quality assurance and quality control (22%), followed by pharmaceutical development (11%), pharmaceutical analytical development (9%), validation (8%), and engineering or engineering management (6%) (see Table II).

Table II: Top five job functions.

Ninety-five percent of respondents are employed full-time. On average, employees are contracted to work 39 h per week, but actually work more than 46 h per week, with 89% reporting that they do not receive financial reimbursement for extra hours worked.

On average, employees have worked for their current employer for 7.6 years. As a confirmation of the activity of the pharma industry, 58% of respondents say they have been through company downsizing, restructuring, or a merger or acquisition in the past two years. Nearly an equal percentage of respondents indicated these activities have changed their job responsibilities (23%) as those who reported no significant change (28%).

Salary and benefits

Overall results. The mean base annual salary was $87,646 overall, and $92,412 for US respondents only (an increase of 5% over last year's average). Overall, employees reported an average of $11,309 in additional income from their principal employer, including bonuses, summer work, and grants, and an average $1576 in additional income from other professional work.

Figure 3: Annual salaries of men and women.

Salary according to gender only. On average, women working full time earn 82% of the average salary reported by men working full time (see Figure 3). The gap between men's and women's salaries is slightly less than it was last year, but still close to the 80% reported in the third quarter 2005 report by the US Department of Labor (1).

Salary according to job function. The five highest paying jobs were in consulting, production management, computer information services and technology, drug delivery, and biopharmaceutics (see Figure 4). Most fields showed an increase in their mean base annual salaries compared with values reported in last year's survey.

Figure 4: Salary according to job function.

Salary according to location. On average, employees in Northeastern and Western states earned the highest salaries (see Figure 5). Salaries in these regions were nearly 45% higher than those in Puerto Rico, which reported in the lowest values.

Benefits. The most common benefits include general health insurance, dental or supplemental health insurance, life insurance, and employer-provided 401k match contributions (see Table III). Other benefits that were reported but not listed in the questionnaire include flexible spending accounts, vision care, and health-club memberships.

On average, employees are granted 10 paid public holidays and 18.7 paid vacation days, though most took only 15 days of vacation and admitted to doing some work (e.g., checking e-mail, returning calls) for at least 4 of these days.

Figure 5: Mean annual base salary

Attitudes toward current employment

Survey participants indicated how strongly they agreed or disagreed with the following statements:

  • I believe my work is fully valued by my employer.

  • I believe my present job is secure.

  • In my present job, I use my skills and training to the fullest extent.

  • Given the opportunity, I would leave my present job.

Table III: Percent age of respondents receiving the following employer-provided benefits.

Most respondents continue to feel secure in their jobs, agree that their employer values their work, and believe that they use their skills to the fullest extent in their present jobs (see Table IV). US-only results show that 52% of workers either agreed or strongly agreed that they would leave their present job if given the opportunity, a 6% increase from last year.

Income, geographic location, and the opportunity for professional advancement were the three most important factors that would be taken into consideration for making this change. About 30% of respondents considered job security, intellectual challenge, and job environment to be top-level decision factors in considering a job change. The least important factors for making a job change were scientific opportunities, vacation entitlement, and health and safety.

Table IV: Opinions toward current employment.

Survey participants were asked to describe what they enjoy best and least about their jobs. Perhaps not surprising, issues related to job environment topped the list of greatest annoyances. Workers expressed frustration over company politics and office culture, a lack of support from management, too much paperwork, and pressures of having to do more with fewer resources. Intellectual challenge, problem solving, a sense of purpose in the objective of their jobs (developing effective therapeutic products), and good coworkers were often cited as the best satisfactions of the job. To some degree, responses depended on the type of work. For example, one independent consultant in the UK valued independence and flexibility saying "My job environment is as I wish it to be. Being independent gives me total control in this regard." Nonetheless, he also listed "stability, income, governmental inertia or interference, and regulatory policies" as major concerns in his field.

Preferred employer. A job change in the next 12 months seems to be on the minds of more people this year. Although most (57%) workers said it was unlikely or very unlikely that they will change employment within the next year, this value is lower than the 61% result from last year's survey. About one-third said the possibility of a job change was likely or very likely. Even if a job change were made, nearly 70% of respondents would prefer to work in private industry over any other sector, including nonprofit agencies, academic institutions, or government.

Essential skills and knowledge. Participants weighed in on the importance of various skills (see Table V). Managers often emphasize these skills regardless of the type of job function. For example, in a follow-up conversation, Hayes Powell, a principal scientist who oversees a staff of laboratory scientists at AMO, a company that has undergone several changes since parting with parent company Allergan, said "Restructuring often opens up other opportunities, and companies tend to rehire [personnel] to fill these positions during restructuring." Powell, who has worked in the industry for 32 years, also says he has seen improvement over the past 10–15 years in the skill set of newly hired personnel, especially in written communication and entry-level preparedness.

Table V: Importance of various skills in performing daily tasks.

Impact of regulations and legislations. For the first time, our questionnaire asked employees to indicate their awareness of various regulatory initiatives and gauge the effect of these initiatives on the manner in which they perform their jobs. The Food and Drug Administration's rule on electronic records and signatures (21 CFR Part 11) has made the biggest impact so far. Only 6% said they are not aware of the rule (see Table VI).

Table VI: Influence of regulatory guidelines.

In a follow-up discussion, one (anonymous) pharma manufacturing manager pointed out that many companies are certainly aware of these initiatives, especially FDA's process analytical technologies guidelines, but are choosing to monitor the experiences of Big Pharma before beginning major changes.

These initiatives are not the only government decisions affecting pharma workers. "The biggest change in how we do business is [the] Sarbanes-Oxley [Act]," says Allen Bokser, director of analytical R&D at Hollis-Eden Pharmaceuticals (San Diego, CA,, a virtual biotech company that relies entirely on contract testing and manufacturing services. In many cases, that legislation has resulted in extra documentation and extra time needed to complete routine tasks such as obtaining contracts and making purchase orders, especially when conducting business with international service providers.

Figure 6: A steady, and almost predictable, increase in annual compensation continues to contribute to overall employment stability and security.


The pharmaceutical industry continues to provide a stable job market. Overall, US respondents have continued to see a steady increase in their annual salaries (see Figure 6), including a 5% increase over 2004. Women in aggregate continue to earn about 20% less than their male colleagues. Although there is a 6% increase in those who foresee a job change within the next 12 months, nearly 70% of all employees agree or strongly agree their jobs are secure.


1. US Department of Labor and the US Bureau of Labor Statistics "Highlights of Women's Earnings in 2004," report 987, Sept. 2005,

Photos courtesy of Sartorius Corporation.