BioPharm International's 5th Annual Empolyment Survey

January 1, 2011
Chitra Sethi
Volume 24, Issue 1

How did biopharmaceutical professionals fare during a year of hiring freezes, high anxiety, and increased workload? Our survey finds out.

Rewind to five years ago: A start-up biotech on the block with an innovative drug in Phase 3 clinical trials is hiring. If a recruiter approached you for the job, you might have at least given it a shot, considering that even if the start-up fails, you would be able to find another job quickly. Fast forward to the present: A new biotech company in your town is hiring. Your company has had two rounds of layoffs, and even though your workload has doubled, you aren't interested in moving. "We are doing more with less but people are either taking no risk or taking longer to keep the risk the same," says a Boston-based biopharmaceutical manufacturing professional from a big biotech.

Chitra Sethi

These sentiments are reflected in the responses to BioPharm International's fifth annual salary survey, which shows that biopharmaceutical professionals are working harder than they did last year with fewer resources, which has resulted in increased workload and higher stress levels.

ECONOMY WOES STILL EXIST

The economic crisis had a big impact on the biopharmaceutical job market by tightening up the availability of capital, eliminating jobs, and eroding companies completely. More than 50,000 pharmaceutical jobs were lost in 2010. In addition to the economic forces that affected all industries, the pharmaceutical industry faced additional challenges from drug recalls, patent expirations, and dwindling pipelines, which have resulted in more mergers and acquisitions (M&As).

(DON BISHOP/GETTY IMAGES)

A California-based CMC professional says that M&As accentuate the reduced activity of research. "Lack of products reduces revenues and sales, and therefore, investment in R&D and that leads to reduction in resources," he says. He adds that the number of people per project has decreased in his company, there are hiring controls, and the company is replacing personnel selectively.

More than half (63%) of our respondents have been through a merger, acquisition, or downsizing within the last two years (Figure 1), although over half of them (61%) said it had no significant effect on them. The rest said their job responsibilities changed (30%) as a result of a merger or downsizing activity, while the remainder chose to leave their companies voluntarily (9%).

Figure 1. If your company merged, was acquired, or downsized, was it tied to the economic downturn?

There are fewer people to work on projects, agrees the biopharmaceutical professional from Boston. "Our revenue was lower than expected this year, therefore the company would not have hired enough people dedicated to certain projects." His company recently eliminated a couple layers of management, so there are now fewer people to manage more people. He has seen a similar trend in other companies. "Companies are trying to get rid of redundancies so managerial levels are being skipped. For example, earlier, a senior manager had 2–3 reports but now those middle managers have been removed, and the same person now has 7–8 reports," he adds.

Similarly, a QA professional at a big pharma company in New Jersey says that there has been an internal reorganization at her company. "Our San Diego facility has been closed, and we are in the process of consolidating a few others," she says. Her company also has cut a number of its internal programs.

"We have to do everything extremely lean—not only lean manufacturing but also lean development," says the biopharmaceutical professional from Boston. "Last year, we looked at how to work smarter and leverage new technology to do the same or more work with less people." This lean approach has become a new baseline because there are now additional cost pressures that lead to downsizing, he adds.

HIGH ANXIETY AND WORKLOAD

For those who survived the economic crisis and M&As, the resulting environment has created the challenges of increased workload and high stress levels, according to the survey. As shown in Figure 2, a majority of respondents (67%) said their workload has increased within the past year. "Business increase without staff increase," was the topmost possible cause for the increased workload, followed by "staffing cuts" and "merger and acquisition."

Figure 2. Within the past year, has your workload increased or decreased?

Similarly, more than half of our respondents (58%) said their stress level has increased in the last year (Figure 3). Some of the reasons cited for this include "business uncertainty," "management uncertainty," "inter-departmental conflicts," "negative workplace attitudes," "more stringent procedures," and "lack of training and continuing education."

Figure 3. Within the past year, has your stress level at work increased?

For small companies, this stress is added by diminished financial support. "Venture investors, often the umbilical cord of food/fuel for the industry, long provided the lifeblood for young biotechnology companies, but the model is more challenged today," writes Steven G. Burrill, the CEO of Burrill and Company, in his column, Biotech Writes its New Playbook, in this issue. "In addition, because biotech companies are competing in an investment-constrained environment, they often only have sufficient funds to complete one phase of a project successfully before building the capabilities required to move their project through the next phase," writes Burrill.

"We have always been asked to do more with the same number of resources," says Rob Gronke, a principal investigator at Biogen Idec. "In terms of stress, it depends on how you can handle change. Those who can't are stressed out more than others," he adds.

SHARP RISE IN SALARIES

Despite the economic turmoil, our survey shows that the salaries of biopharmaceutical professionals increased in 2010. "Bonuses and benefits might have been cut based on revenues, but salaries haven't changed," says the QA professional from New Jersey. "The salaries for top talent remain competitive," she says.

As shown in Figure 4, the mean industry salary this year was $121,243 in the United States, significantly higher than the $96,742 figure for 2009. Interestingly, the mean income in Europe has gone down. In 2010, the average salary in Europe was €63,022, compared with €68,711 in 2009.

Figure 4. Mean income by gender

Like last year, our US and European responses reflect a salary gap between men and women. Earning a mean salary of $93,788 (€45,624 in Europe), women lag behind their male counterparts, who earn on average $133,855 (€69,103 in Europe).

This year's survey showed that the US biotech jobs with the highest salaries included corporate management, consulting, and process development (Figure 5).

Figure 5. Mean income by job function

Although pharmaceutical companies have been fairly conservative in hiring, the CMC professional from California, who is going to begin a new job in 2011, says finding a job was easier than he thought because he has a unique skill set. "Companies are still downsizing. It is easier for an associate level scientist to find a job than at a VP level."

According to ZRG Partners' 2010 Global Life Science Hiring Index, regulatory and quality roles were the most in demand globally for the second quarter of 2010. ZRG's index, which was launched in January 2010, uses confidential hiring numbers from selected benchmark companies in medical devices, pharmaceutical, and outsourcing/contract services.

JOB SECURITY AND SATISFACTION

One would imagine that the frustration stemming from work conditions would result in low job satisfaction, but our survey showed by and large, most biopharmaceutical professionals are satisfied in their jobs. The sense of security hasn't changed much compared with last year. In 2010, 70% of respondents said they feel "secure," "very secure," or "extremely secure" in their current jobs (Figure 6), a tad higher than last year's figure of 68%.

Our survey shows that a lot of people are sitting tight. The majority of respondents (62%) said they are not likely to leave their jobs in the next 12 months, compared with 60% last year. For those who expect to change jobs, the reasons are split: About a third (27%) cited involuntary departure, but 28% said they would make a move for a better salary or more satisfying work (16%).

Figure 6. How secure do you feel in your current job?

The job satisfaction levels of biopharmaceutical professionals are similar to those of last year. The vast majority of our respondents (88%) are extremely satisfied, very satisfied, or satisfied with their jobs; only 11% are not satisfied, as shown in Figure 7.

Figure 7. Please rate your overall job satisfaction

Job satisfaction seems to be relative and depends on the extent to which the individual is enjoying his/her work. "I have been in my job for 20 years and I have been part of an important program in the company so I haven't considered changing jobs whether the market was hot or cold," says Gronke.

WHAT'S IN STORE NEXT YEAR?

Clearly the economy has taken a toll, and the year 2010 has been tough for the biopharmaceutical industry. Still, people voice cautious optimism. "The economy is coming back slowly, and I think a majority of the people who were laid off will be hired," says the CMC professional from California. The majority of our survey respondents (68%) also think employment opportunities will rise in the next 12 months (Figure 8).

Figure 8. Do you think employment opportunities will rise in the next 12 months?

"It is hard to say how it will pan out, as with biosimilars coming into the market, competition will increase, but the outlook for biopharmaceutical industry looks promising in both the short- and long-term," says the CMC professional from California. "There will be shake out and consolidation but it will drive innovation in the industry," he adds.

The QA professional from New Jersey agrees, "In general my view for the long-term is that we will have more competition in biologics, less blockbusters." According to her, there is potential to increase overall revenue, "The size of the cake is not going to increase but the slices will increase. The fields like upstream and downstream might be saturated but the drug substance market will still benefit from having qualified professionals in regulatory and analytical."

The biopharmaceutical professional from Boston has an interesting view, "We might not see great increase in salaries or bonuses, but the economic crisis might strengthen employees' loyalty to companies, and we will see fewer employees changing jobs. Biopharmaceutical companies will concentrate development on innovative products and focus on optimizing workflow," he adds.

Methodology and Demographics

Overall, BioPharm Inter-national's fifth annual international salary survey shows that despite increased workload and stress levels, biopharmaceutical professionals are satisfied and feel secure in their current jobs. Perhaps Burrill summed it up best: "Going forward we will see a much stronger industry evolve as companies implement their business strategies in response to the new economic realities."

Some biopharmaceutical professionals we interviewed for this story spoke on condition of anonymity.

Chitra Sethi is the managing editor of BioPharm International, 732.346.3059, csethi@advanstar.com