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Recruiting and Retaining Talent Is the Biggest Challenge Facing the Pharmaceutical Industry


Recent increases in employee burnout and turnover must be addressed.

Sonia Fiorenza

Sonia Fiorenza

Pharmaceutical staffing is a significant concern for the industry, with the US Bureau of Labor Statistics stating that occupations across life, physical, and social sciences are expected to grow 7% by 2028. This is expected to be faster than the average for all other occupations. As technology and life sciences are converging, there has been an increased focus on recruiting professionals who have the expertise to deliver tech-enabled solutions.

Pharma recruitment in North America is indeed big business. More than 800,000 people work in US biopharmaceuticals and LinkedIn lists 61,000 job vacancies in US pharmaceutical companies—a back-of-the-envelope vacancy rate of 8%. In Canada, numbers for the pharma workforce are elusive, but LinkedIn lists almost 2,700 pharma job opportunities, for a country one-tenth the size of the US.

So, why is the vacancy rate in pharma relatively high? One reason could be that pharma recruitment is uniquely challenging. Pharma companies increasingly want science-type people that will thrive in corporate life yet have a feel for patient-centered medicine. When I worked at biotech giant Amgen, a day didn’t go by when we didn’t focus on our mission “to serve patients” and our No. 1 value to “be science-based.” This combination is certainly unique to the industry and very tough to find.

Beyond recruiting during a tough job market, retention is even more difficult with the increase in turnover and employee burnout.

The following tips offer guidance on recruiting and hiring employees, addressing issues of burnout, and how to retain top talent within your organization.

Challenge 1: Take the pulse of your workforce

Employees are on the front line of every process that maintains your pharmaceutical business’ day-to-day operations running efficiently. As a result, they have a better understanding of what can make their jobs more pleasant. They may know how to automate some typical processes and provide innovative strategies to boost morale, for example.

Employee input is critical for a variety of reasons. It shows your appreciation for their contribution by placing value on what they have to say. It also gives them the opportunity to voice any concerns they may have about their working environment so you can take action as needed to improve it.

Employee polls and questionnaires are an excellent strategy to measure the pulse of your entire corporation. Many employee engagement systems enable you to create polls, target specific employees, and send follow-ups in order to boost response rates, then analyze and evaluate your results, as well as use the data to generate improvements.

Challenge 2: Boost morale and employee satisfaction

Morale is a significant predictor of employee retention. This is because when your workers are happier, they are less likely to leave, are more inclined to suggest your firm to their acquaintances who may be looking for work, and are more willing to talk about their employment with family and friends. Take a look at the aforementioned questionnaire you completed to boost employee morale and job satisfaction.

Start with the most serious concerns, but keep in mind that even small improvements that aid in team productivity or administrative tasks may go a long way to demonstrate your attention to your staff.

The sharing and appreciation of your staff members is an issue that should not be overlooked. Don't be hesitant to utilize your employee engagement platform or social media sites to recognize your team. People want to know that what they're doing matters and that they’re having a positive influence, so don't be afraid to create content that emphasizes their great work. And where appropriate, don’t forget those inspiring patient stories, which is why many employees are inspired to work in this industry.

Celebrating each other serves to improve morale and can be a highly effective reflection of the company's overall spirit and genuine employee experience, not just for employees but for the community as a whole. It's like a reminder that when you work for your company, you have the chance to be a part of something greater than yourself.

Challenge 3: Address burnout and support wellness

Workers in the healthcare and pharmaceutical industries were suffering from tiredness and burnout long before the global pandemic. It may appear difficult, but there are steps that organizations and executives can take to assist workers' mental health during these trying times. It all comes down to listening, empathy, seeking to understand, and taking concrete action on what is required.

Frequent, transparent communication and authentic recognition, as mentioned earlier, also go a long way in helping staff feel valued, which can help protect them from anxiety and burnout.

The real action, however, should be to provide immediate access to mental healthcare services, designated rest periods, and social opportunities through support groups or team activities to reduce feelings of isolation. Even in a dispersed workforce, the use of comms platforms or shared spaces can be beneficial to sending out messages and allowing staff a place to collaborate or get the support they need.

Challenge 4: Build a culture and a community

A healthy workplace is one in which community-building is at its core. The ever-changing work world and culture at large are ready for a more human-centered way of life. When an organization puts people first, it supports the notion that the work done by each individual is valued and acknowledged. To build a better community, it takes focusing on a few key areas. First, establishing a positive, healthy workplace through acts of kindness, increased positive social interactions, and showing gratitude by celebrating work wins as well as life wins—from personal or company-wide emails recognizing individuals for their efforts to simple gifts as a sign of appreciation.

Having clear and consistent communication, showing empathy, being transparent, and setting boundaries are all key to a healthy working environment. Shared decision-making, collaboration, and buy-in are critical to a healthy, positive work environment.

Diversity and inclusion must also be given attention. Companies should make anyone feel welcome, regardless of their differences, with diversity and inclusion training as well as safe reporting options without fear of being punished.

Challenge 5: Hire for the best fit

It might appear obvious, but hiring the correct individuals in the first place is an important step toward keeping your best personnel. Although it's difficult, excellent recruiting will result in lower turnover in the future.

A key trend is tapping into the enthusiasm that workers have for their employers. Healthcare companies are realizing that enabling employees to become more effective ambassadors—with their authentic voices—can improve brand equity and build trust.

Job seekers pay close attention to what employees are saying on social media, at a time when businesses are engaged in a pitched fight for talent. Many job applicants regard corporate reputation as vital when selecting where to apply. Employees may also help with recruiting by spreading job advertisements via social media. Pharmaceutical organizations are also beginning to look to the future. Becoming a presence at high schools, universities, and training centers can help recruit graduates.

Challenge 6: Grow and bolster the leadership group

At the top, leaders who are engaged and committed to their work create a positive workplace culture. Those that have direct contact with staff may have an impact on all elements of employee satisfaction. It's crucial for executives to get on board and comfortable with evolving communication practices and employee-focused health initiatives so they can incorporate them into their daily routine. An organization should work to equip managers to be sounding boards, whether that is through increased leadership training or simply providing them the time to be there for employees when they need to talk. Managers should be ready to provide support and know-how to refer staff to employee assistance programs or support groups, when appropriate.

Challenge 7: Create communication that matters

In any work setting, it's important to ensure that every employee is connected, whether they sit behind a desk, in a lab, or on the front lines. Our study found a disturbing disconnect between how companies believe they’re connecting with workers and what actually is happening. Among the findings:

  • 85% of employees said they lose at least one to two hours of productivity a week searching for information
  • 80% of employees said they feel stressed because of ineffective company communication
  • 78% of employees said communication should be a higher priority for their company
  • 36% of employees said they don’t know where to find the information they need to do their work
  • 36% of employees said they have been in an unsafe situation because of poor communication

Having one platform or app—where employees can access vital information and help connect them with other employees—can help build a bridge. It also can allow for targeted messaging to the channels that need it most, whether that’s by specific region or location, so leaders can speak to their staff more directly.

Challenge 8: Leverage your greatest assets (your people)

Use your current team to their full potential. Request input on decisions, process improvements, and how they'd like the workplace to be improved. When businesses invite staff to share their views, they send the potent signal: "I value your opinion and want to hear what you have to say."

They also might provide insights into methods that others don't. When it comes to communication, don't overlook the importance of user-generated content in engaging and connecting coworkers and boosting morale. We've discussed ways businesses may recognize staff, but using employee-generated content is a simple and effective method to not only let individuals shine but create a more genuine environment.

Photos and short videos generated from your own employees are often the most liked and shared among staff and help connect teams even when they can’t be together. Themed celebrations, team-building events, or holiday parties (virtual or in-person) are great opportunities to capture human moments and alleviate day-to-day monotony. Shared philanthropy for a local or personal cause is also a great way to not only bring teams together but make a difference in the local community.

Challenge 9: Focus on professional development

You don’t need to wait any longer after you've acquired the appropriate culture, the proper staff, the right leadership, and effective communications. To keep employees from becoming complacent and losing interest, they should be given professional development opportunities.

There are two key moments to have the greatest impact on professional growth. One is during the initial onboarding process—whether for a new employee or when a role or department changes. A good onboarding procedure may boost or break an employee's desire to stay with the company, according to industry experts.

The other is professional training that leads to individuals being able to take on higher levels of responsibility, or receiving training or accreditation in areas outside their core job duties. Cross-training employees can be particularly beneficial in helping address healthcare staffing challenges. Oftentimes, staff members are in specialized positions, but that does not mean they can’t receive additional training to fill shifts when needed. Having people who are capable of filling a role when someone is out sick can be a true lifesaver.

Online onboarding and training technology automates actions, reminders, and deadlines to guarantee consistent, role-based training and education that prepares employees for success. To add a sense of belonging, the process might include a mentor or buddy system.

Challenge 10: Invest in technology

Investing in technology that's focused on employee communication and the interconnection of information and processes can greatly impact employee engagement and retention.

Streamlining recruitment, for example, will make finding and recruiting suitable people easier. Reducing the number of programs that employees must understand or master allows them to get the most out of their workday. Technology may also help cut expenses associated with onboarding and training by providing automated education modules and virtual training sessions.

Employee communication apps are becoming the answer for many businesses. An employee app keeps employees connected, informed, and able to do their tasks more effectively on their own terms. It's also time to stop simply talking to workers; assist them in gaining access to listen and have a genuine discussion with the company.

The path forward

Many individuals who work in the pharmaceutical business get into it because they are passionate about assisting others. You must assist staff, and comprehend their position with respect to the company's overall success and how their efforts impact attainment in order to recruit and keep employees.

Organizations that are able to communicate their purpose effectively through continuing employee interactions are less likely to suffer from burnout and attrition. They are able to help their employees when and where it is most needed by sharing their common culture, developing sympathetic leaders, and striving to create a community.

Sonia Fiorenza, vice president, engagement strategies and expert services, Firstup

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