Solving Bio/Pharma Employee Career Advancement Demands

Published on: 
Pharmaceutical Technology, Pharmaceutical Technology-01-02-2019, Volume 43, Issue 1
Pages: 24–28

Keeping valuable employees happy-and on the job-may test bio/pharma business decisions.

The bio/pharma industry has found itself under the microscope as executives search for answers to criticisms about high drug prices, shortages of vital therapies, and the industry’s role in the opioid epidemic. Meanwhile, a record number of new drug approvals and the emergence of innovative therapies demonstrate the potential of bio/pharma R&D efforts.

Bio/pharma development and manufacturing relies on skilled and knowledgeable workers. Hiring and retaining this expertise should be a top priority. With the unemployment rate at record lows, career opportunities for US-based bio/pharma employees should be promising. Insight provided by respondents to Pharmaceutical Technology’s annual employment survey (1) suggests that employee satisfaction is tied to the challenges presented by the work and the employer’s potential for success. (See the infographics for an overview of survey results.)

Salary ranked ninth on a list of 12 factors contributing to job satisfaction. Intellectual stimulation and challenging projects were the top “main reasons I come to work,” followed by supportive management, the company’s potential for success, a good work/life balance, relationships with colleagues, job security, and tolerance and opportunity for all employees. Employees based in Europe placed more emphasis on intellectual stimulation and challenging work, compared with all respondents. North America-based workers leaned more toward salary and benefits factors than the Europe-based peers.

Nearly 80% of all respondents, however, said that short timelines and insufficient budgets and resources to accomplish a task contributed to job dissatisfaction. Nearly 70% voiced “issues with management” as a source of dissatisfaction.

Respondent profile

More than 335 bio/pharma professionals from around the world responded to the survey, which was fielded in November and December 2018. Respondents primarily were full-time, permanent employees (87.3% of respondents) at innovator bio/pharmaceutical companies (29.5%), generic-drug manufacturing companies (17.9%), and contract research and manufacturing organizations (16.7%).

The represented companies develop or manufacture both small- and large-molecule drugs (48.1%), small-molecule drugs only (28.7%), biologic-based drugs only (5.2%), vaccines (3.1%), and cell therapy or gene therapies (2.1%).

 Respondents reported a range of job responsibilities including formulation, quality control/assurance, R&D, analytical studies, process development, validation, drug delivery, and manufacturing. More than 41% of respondents work for companies with more than 1000 employees; more than 49% work for companies with fewer than 500 employees.

Nearly 40% of the respondents held doctorate or higher degree; one-third held at least a Master’s degree. Compared with previous years, the respondents reported more experience working in the bio/pharma industry; 21.9% had fewer than 10 years of experience, 24% had 10–20 years, 42.4% had 20–35 years of experience, and 11.8% have worked in the industry for more than 35 years.

Salary, time, and benefits

Salary dissatisfaction increased slightly compared with the 2017 survey (2). More than 20% said they were paid below market value; 38% said their pay was at the low end of the salary range for their expertise and responsibility. Just over 41% said they were paid fairly or excessively, compared with 46% in 2017.

The most significant-and negative-survey response involved salary increases. In 2018, only 54.1% reported an increase, compared with nearly 63% in 2017. Nearly 9% reported a decrease in salary in 2018, compared with 4.7% in 2017.

Of all respondents, 23.1% reported that they used their full allotment of vacation, personal, and sick time. Nearly 30% said they used less than half of the available time off.

Bonuses, profit sharing, and retirement benefits were largely unchanged year over year. However, one-quarter reported an increase in the cost of health insurance.


Fewer respondents reported increased workloads in 2018 compared with previous years. Only 56.1% reported heavier workloads in 2018, compared with 60.9% reporting increases in 2017. More than one-third of the respondents (37.8%) say they worked more hours in 2018 than two years ago, similar to responses in previous years.



Employment opportunities

Globally, one-third of respondents said they stayed with the same employer, on average, for five or fewer years. Nearly 36% stayed for 11 or more years. US-based respondents were more mobile; more than 40% said they stayed with one employer, on average, for five or fewer years. The responses were consistent with the 2017 responses.

Salary was the third most cited single reason for job change, trailing professional advancement and intellectual challenge. Job security and scientific opportunities were other leading reasons noted.

Most respondents were confident they would be able to secure a job comparable to the one they currently hold; 27.4% said it would be straightforward to find a new position; 44.3% said the search would take a while.

Nearly 56% said they would like to leave their jobs, given the opportunity, up slightly from 2017 responses. Almost two-thirds said they do not expect to leave in the coming year; nearly 17% expect to leave. A similar number, 18%, said they would like to change careers and leave the bio/pharma industry, down from nearly 23% in 2017.


Respondents were divided almost evenly when assessing the pool of qualified candidates and available job openings; 30.3% said there are few qualified candidates for open scientific/technical positions, 34.2% said there were more qualified candidates than open positions, and 35.6% said there was moderate competition for open positions. Respondents were not impressed by the skill sets or knowledge of new hires for their job function; 75.2% said the new hires were adequately trained but not exceptional; 17.8% said they were poorly trained.

Respondents reported a slight increase in employer-provided training for basic skills compared with previous years; however, training for advanced functions declined slightly.

Geography influences job security and business outlook

Respondents were split on job security. Almost one-quarter of respondents said they felt more secure in their position compared with the previous year; only 19.1% felt more secure in 2017. However, 30.6% of all respondents said they were less secure, compared with 27.8% who said they felt less secure in 2017.

Geographic differences, and perhaps uncertainty created by the Brexit, resulted in a more negative outlook for business prospects by European-based respondents.

While 52.7% of all respondents expect business to improve, fewer than 40% of European-based respondents had a positive outlook. Nearly one-quarter (22.7%) of the Europe-based respondents expect business to decline; 37.9% expect no significant change. In comparison, 17.2% of all respondents project business will decline; 30.2% expect no significant change.

In the past two years, nearly one-third of the respondents reported that their companies had been through a downsizing or restructuring, and 18.1% experienced a merger or acquisition. Nearly 40% reported a change in responsibilities due to the changes in company structure. Only 10% said they left the company due to an acquisition, downsizing, or restructuring.

One-quarter of the respondents said they voluntarily changed jobs in the past two years; among the reasons cited-with multiple choices allowed-were to pursue a better career opportunity (48.7%), find more challenging work (31.1%), or to seek a better work-life balance (20.3%).


1. 2018 Pharmaceutical Technology/Pharmaceutical Technology Europe Employment Survey, Pharmaceutical Technology, 2018.
2. 2017 Pharmaceutical Technology/Pharmaceutical Technology Europe Employment Survey, Pharmaceutical Technology, 2017.

Article Details

Pharmaceutical Technology
Vol. 43, No. 1
January 2019
Pages: 24–28


When referring to this article, please cite it as: R. Peters, “Solving Bio/Pharma Employee Career Advancement Demands, “Pharmaceutical Technology 43 (12) 2019.