The life sciences talent market is a diverse one in that it contains a wide range of credentials and experience, from Ph.Ds. with highly specialized backgrounds to technicians who usually have some STEM skills or training. This can make offering generalizations about trends affecting the workforce dicey — but some macro-level developments have made retaining life sciences talent — regardless of type — more difficult than before.

At just above 20 percent, the life sciences industry is experiencing record high turnover. Alarmingly, 45% of that turnover is happening within the first year, creating not only a financial deficit, but a morale challenge as well. In a recent report, research firm Gartner predicts that employee turnover will increase by 20 percent this year. The costs of employee turnover are notoriously high, ranging between 100 and 300 percent of the employee’s salary. Reducing turnover by even a modest amount can result in significant cost savings.

why do workers leave?

We’ve found that the reasons people leave their jobs are consistent regardless of industry. Top reasons include:

  • higher compensation or better benefits
  • more interesting or challenging work
  • burnout
  • lack of professional development opportunities or career path
  • mismatch with company or industry culture and values
  • lack of innovation or up-to-date technologies

The graph below from a recent study echoes these same findings.. However, two additional points from this graph paint a cautionary tale for life sciences organizations looking to retain talent:

  1. Trust in leadership is vital. It is much more important to your employees than it is to those working in other industries.
  2. Offering challenging work is key to keeping your workers engaged so that they are less inclined to leave.

what are the three most significant factors that would cause you to look for new employment over the next 12 months?

what are the three most significant factors that would cause you to look for new employment over the next 12 months?
what are the three most significant factors that would cause you to look for new employment over the next 12 months?

steps life sciences employers can take to retain more of their workforce

The same study cited above offers the list of incentives life science workers identified as effective in keeping them in their current jobs:

the list of incentives life science workers identified as effective in keeping them in their current jobs
the list of incentives life science workers identified as effective in keeping them in their current jobs

Life science organizations should consider steps that address the factors that are most likely to drive their top performers away:

The absence of professional development opportunities or a clear career path is a source of frustration for all types of workers in STEM fields. There are many options organizations can employ to help their workers attain skills that interest them and enhance their opportunities for advancement. The best way to improve retention is to show employees that they matter, by offering personalized approaches including:

  • Clear career paths based on the employee’s goals as well as helping them understand the steps and skills required to move along their chosen path.
  • Traditional upskilling/reskilling programs that offer onsite or online courses focused on hard- and soft-skill development.
  • Tuition or student-loan reimbursement programs.
  • Mentorship/personalized coaching programs.

Not surprisingly, regardless of the industry, compensation is always one of the top motivators behind an employee’s decision to leave or stay. Having the most current information on compensation trends specific to life sciences is vital.

  • Have the latest salary information to stay up-to-date on the current market rate.
  • U.S. life sciences employers have more widely embraced retention bonuses. According to a 2013 study, 26 percent of life sciences firms awarded retention bonuses. In 2016, that number was 39 percent and by 2018, it was close to 50 percent of firms.
  • Life science workers place less emphasis on financial incentives and more emphasis on perks and professional development compared to workers in other sectors. Life science employers should consider rebalancing their total compensation packages to reflect this.
  • Burnout can be caused by several factors but of course one of the prominent causes is excessive workloads. Managers should take care to set realistic deadlines and regularly solicit feedback from their employees about their workloads. Too much stress on workers will result in lower productivity, higher absenteeism and, eventually, higher turnover. Offering more flexible working arrangements can give workers more control over making deadlines as well as opportunities for activities that can lower their levels of stress such as exercise.

Build a supportive culture based on trust, open communication and a shared sense of purpose. Attaining a reputation as a great place to work will help with both talent recruitment and retention — but it requires a serious and ongoing commitment.

  • The person with the most impact on an employee’s engagement is their manager. Devote resources to identify employees with the right aptitude, talent and desire — then train them to become outstanding managers.
  • Establish (or maintain) a collaborative workplace, and ensure you have the tools that enable and foster collaboration.
  • Regularly recognize and praise employees for their achievements and dedication.
  • Consider offering benefits that go beyond the standard fare — these can help differentiate you from the crowd.
  • Offer flexible work options: Remote work for some life sciences jobs might not be feasible, but for many types of positions, it will be. Consider all options, including hybrid working models as they can make a difference in both recruiting and retention.
  • Foster diversity: Not only does it promote social cohesion, it’s good for business, too:

The most diverse companies surpass their less diverse peers by 36 percent in profitability, and inclusive teams enjoy performance boosts of up to 30 percent. There is, however, much room for improvement in building diversity in life sciences: Although they make up about 13 percent of the U.S. population, Black employees accounted for just six percent of all jobs in life sciences. Hispanics make up around 18 percent of the U.S. population, but the proportion of Hispanic employees in the life sciences industry was only eight percent in 2019. If your DEI programs are not reaching their goals, it might be time to consider new activities and tactics.

retention will remain critical to success

Employment in life, physical and social science occupations is projected to grow eight percent from 2020 to 2030 (about 113,000 new jobs). Although the supply of qualified talent might keep pace with the growth in demand, competition to recruit, employ and retain talent capable of identifying and developing the next breakthrough drug or technology will remain intense. Don’t lose sight of those programs and tactics that can help you retain your highly skilled workforce.

randstad life sciences is here to help

We are well attuned to the changing market demands for life sciences talent and have the experience and resources to fill your organization’s needs. A wide range of life science clients leverage our insights to better understand nearly all facets of the talent marketplace. Whether you need staffing, recruiting or outsourcing solutions, Randstad Life Sciences can deliver. Partner with us on your next hiring need to find and attract the skilled clinical and scientific talent necessary to achieve your goals.