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Bio/pharma employee dissatisfaction with pay and progress may direct some to new career pathways.
The bio/pharma industry has rebounded from the economic recession, and in some sectors, is enjoying a resurgence in funding, drug approvals, and growth. For many workers with hands-on responsibility for developing and manufacturing new therapies, however, increases in job and salary satisfaction have lagged the market improvement, despite a US unemployment rate of 5% in October 2015, the lowest in nearly eight years (1).
The bio/pharma employees surveyed in the 2015 Pharmaceutical Technology/Pharmaceutical Technology Europe annual employment survey (2) reported similar opinions about the employment market as the 2014 survey (3), and also expressed more desire to seek better pay and career opportunities.
Challenging projects, intellectual stimulation, a good work/life balance, and the company’s potential for success were the most frequently cited as “the main reason I come to work.” Professional advancement, work/life balance, intellectual challenge, and salary were the most frequently cited reasons “I would change jobs for this alone.” Low pay, however, was the single greatest factor identified for quitting a job.
More than 500 bio/pharma professionals from around the globe responded to the 2015 survey, which was fielded in September and October 2015. Nearly one-third (31.8%) of the respondents were from innovator bio/pharmaceutical companies; 24.1% were from generic-drug manufacturing companies. Representatives of contract research and manufacturing organizations (14.4%), consulting firms (7.7%), academic institutions (6.9%), equipment and raw materials suppliers (4.7%), and government/regulatory organizations (3.2%) also were represented.
The companies that employ the respondents develop or manufacture both small- and large-molecule drugs (38%), small-molecule drugs only (33.7%), or large-molecule drugs only (11.5%); 3.65% are involved in cell therapy or regenerative medicine. The respondents are employed at a mix of privately held companies (48.7%), publicly traded companies (34.1%), and non-profit/academic/government groups (12.2%).
Nearly 20 job functions were represented; quality control/assurance and validation (19.2%) and research/ development/formulation (18.2%) were the top selections, followed by corporate management (8.3%), production/ manufacturing/operations (6.5%), regulatory affairs (6.3%), and technical services/analytical development (6.1%). Other functions included process development, engineering, and tech transfer.
Geographically, 47.4% of the respondents were from the United States; 27.1% were from Europe, 12.5% from Asia, 6.3% from Central and South America, and 2.8% from the Middle East. Nearly two-thirds of the respondents were over age 40, and 70% were male. Almost 30% held doctorate degrees; 38.5% held Master’s degrees. The respondents were split between managers of people (52.3%) and individual contributors (47.7%).
The respondents had a range of experience in the bio/pharma industry; 25.5% had less than 10 years of experience, 33% had 10–20 years, 33% had 20–35 years of experience, and 8.5% have worked in the industry for more than 35 years. More than half of the respondents (53.4%) worked in other industries besides bio/pharma for less five years.
More work, more hours
While reported workloads remain stable or decreased slightly compared to 2014, most respondents are working more hours than they are contractually obligated. In 2015, 60.7% of the respondents reported an increased workload, down slightly from the reported 62.5% in 2014 and 63.4% in 2013. More than one-third of the respondents (36.4%) say they worked more hours in 2015 than two years ago, similar to responses in 2014. Business increases without staff increases (61.9%), increased regulatory pressure (41.4%), and exploring new technologies (32.5%) were the leading reasons for increased workloads.
While more than 56% of the respondents reported they are contracted to work approximately 40 hours per week, only 22.4% report working 40 hours. Approximately one-third (34%) are contracted for more than 40 hours per week; more than 70% of the respondents say they work 40 or more hours per week.
The price of job performance
In 2015, compensation discontent continued to increase with almost 62% reporting dissatisfaction with their salaries; more than 41% of the respondents said they were paid at the low end of the salary range for their job function for their expertise and responsibility; nearly 21% said they were paid below market value. In 2014, 57.2% said they were paid at the low end or below market value; 54.6% reported similar dissatisfaction in 2013.
I am paid excessively for my level of expertise and responsibility.
I am paid fairly for my level of expertise and responsibility.
I am paid within market value for my job function, but at the low end of the range, considering my level of expertise and responsibility.
I am paid below market value, considering my level of expertise and responsibility.
Fewer pay increases may contribute to the dissatisfaction. In 2015, 53.5% reported a salary increase; a drop from the 61.4% of respondents reporting increases in 2014 and 63.4% in 2013. Nearly two-thirds reported receiving a cash bonus in 2015, however, up from about 50% of those responding in 2014.
Despite the unhappiness with compensation, a strong majority of respondents said their work is fully valued by their employer (34.4% strongly agree; 49.1% agree). Nearly three-quarters (73.6%) agreed or strongly agreed that their job was secure.
The bio/pharma industry demands specialized knowledge and skills, but respondents were mixed in evaluating the types of training offered by employers. Nearly 80% agreed or strongly agreed that their company provided adequate training for basic job skills.
Nearly 43%, however, felt their companies did not provide advanced training for employee professional growth. A similar number (42.1%) do not feel there is room for career advancement in their present companies; nearly 40% do not feel there are opportunities for professional development. Still, 82.5% agreed or strongly agreed that they were using their skills and training to the fullest extent.
More respondents in 2015 (55.8%) agreed somewhat or strongly that they would “like to leave their job, given the opportunity,” up from 49.2% in the previous year. A majority of respondents (62.4%) plan to stay with their positions next year, compared with 64.9% in 2014.
More than 21% of the respondents, however, agreed or strongly agreed that they would like to change careers and leave the bio/pharma industry.
Confidence levels of those seeking new positions within the industry in 2015 were similar to the 2014 responses; 18.5% said it would be straightforward to find a comparable new job; nearly half said it may take a while, but they would be able to find a comparable position. Of the less optimistic responses, 16.1% said it would be straightforward to find a job, but it probably would not be as good as the current position; and almost 19% anticipated a difficult search and they would have take the position that was available.
It would be straightforward to find a job comparable to the one I have now.
It would take a while, but I would be able to find a job comparable to the one I have now.
It would be straightforward to find a job, but it probably wouldn't be as good as the one I have now.
I would have to search hard and be prepared to take what I could get.
Greener pastures in biologics?
The survey results revealed many similarities between the small-molecule and large-molecule market segments, such as confidence in job security; however, some differences stood out.
Respondents from the large-molecule segment reported longer work experience in the bio/pharma industry; 83.3% reported more than 10 years of experience compared with 72% for small-molecule segment workers.
While the majority of workers in both segments are contracted to work 40 hours per week, a greater percentage of workers in the large molecule segment report working more than 40 hours per week (83.3% vs. 70% for small molecule segment). More biologics- segment workers (22.6%) did report, however, that they worked fewer hours in 2015 than they did two years ago, compared with the small-molecule segment (11.4%).
On compensation, the small-molecule segment respondents were more satisfied than their counterparts in the biologics segment. Nearly 40% of the small-molecule workers said they were paid fairly, compared with 31.5% in the large-molecule segment. Nearly 28% of the biologics segment respondents-compared with 16.5% of the small-molecule segment-said they were paid below market value, considering their level of expertise and responsibility.
In general, workers in both segments agreed that their work is valued by their employers, they feel secure in their positions, they do not face discrimination at work, and have opportunities for advancement. The biologics segment workers, however, were slightly less positive in responses about using their skills and training to the fullest extent and saw fewer opportunities to engage in professional development.
Despite these slightly negative opinions, biologics-segment workers were more positive than the small-molecule counterparts about remaining in their present positions; only 16.7% said they would like to leave their job, if given the opportunity; 37.8% said they do not expect to leave their job in the coming year.
1. US Bureau of Labor Statistics, Labor Force Statistics from the Current Population Survey, http://data.bls.gov/timeseries/LNS14000000, accessed Nov. 16, 2015.
2. 2015 Pharmaceutical Technology/Pharmaceutical Technology Europe Employment Survey.
3. 2014 Pharmaceutical Technology/Pharmaceutical Technology Europe Employment Survey.
Due to rounding, some percentages may not add up to 100%. Some questions allowed multiple answers.
Results based on 2015 Pharmaceutical Technology/Pharmaceutical Technology Europe Employment Survey.
Article DetailsPharmaceutical Technology
Vol. 39, No. 12
When referring to this article, please cite it as R. Peters, “Mapping a Career Path Forward in Bio/Pharma,” Pharmaceutical Technology 39 (12) 2015.