Why Life Science Employee Engagement is Lower Than In Other Sectors (And What To Do About It)
May 17, 2016
Employee engagement is crucial to retaining high performers and attracting new talent. Employee engagement creates a virtuous circle- in any company and in any industry.
But how does that relate specifically to the life sciences field? Are employees in life sciences more or less engaged than in other industries? And how can those in leadership stimulate greater engagement in their team?
How engaged are life science professionals?
In a large-scale global study done by Deloitte, employees in the life sciences field were proven to be among the most disengaged of any cohort studied, with an overall satisfaction rating of 56% — significantly below the reported 70% of employee satisfaction in the other sectors studied.
The dissatisfaction noted in the study was highest in long-term employees— i.e. those with over five years in one company— a trend that dangerously undermines long term talent retention in the life sciences sector.
What’s driving the low engagement rate in life sciences?
The report offered some interesting insights into why life science employees were less engaged on average than other industries. Interestingly, many of these sources of discontent can be linked to current challenges the wider life sciences field is facing.
1. Lack of trust in leadership was pegged as significantly higher in the life sciences industry, coming in at 43% vs 55% in other sectors- with 33% of respondents rating this as their most likely trigger for leaving their company within 12 months. One contributing factor mentioned is that the disruptions caused by frequent mergers and acquisitions across the industry are perceived to have had a negative effect on trust in leadership.
2. Lack of challenge in the job was also a large factor, quoted by 30% of study participants. A sense of mastery and purpose is well-known to be a major driver in employee engagement, and many of the respondents felt their skills were not being well-utilised. A related point of discontent was a perceived lack of innovation within the company, as companies increasingly look to reduce risk and increase profits in the face of expiring patents, increased regulation, and declining R&D profitability.
3. Excessive workload was also reported as a bigger source of dissatisfaction in life sciences than in other fields, quoted by 25% compared to 20% in other sectors. A culture of cost-cutting across the sector may also be a factor in rising workloads.
4. Lack of career progress was rates as fractionally less of a concern in life sciences at 25% compared to other sectors at 27%, but this high figure is still deeply problematic.
5. Lack of job security was also perceived as lower in the life sciences field at 25% compared to 20% reported in other industries. Again, this can likely be linked to the recent culture of mergers, acquisitions and cost-cutting in the face of patent cliffs and declining profits.
These were the top factors driving employee dissatisfaction in the life sciences field, although there is a lot more data in the original report for those interested in a full breakdown.
So, what’s the good news?
While the lack of trust in leadership is a very concerning trend in life sciences, this is also where the great potential lies for clever managers wanting to stimulate engagement in their team.
In the midst of significant industry challenges, a great leader must do the following things:
1. Convey a sense of stability in order to promote trust.
2. Communicate a vision that everyone can share. Setting short-term goals that lead to regular success is a good strategy when building engagement and trust.
3. Utilise everyone’s skills wisely. Are your team members being put to their best possible use? Are they being challenged sufficiently?
4. Create a regular feedback loop to gauge employee satisfaction- particularly with your employees that are in what’s called ‘the red zone’ for turnover. In the life sciences, the ‘red zone’ often strikes at about five years with one company.
5. Discuss career objectives with each employee, utilising any possible training and development schemes.
The life sciences field is undergoing dramatic change, and its workforce needs to be fully engaged in order to surmount the challenges of today and the future. Leaders in this sector need to continue to work on developing trust with employees and team members to pave the way for improved employee engagement leading to retaining critical talent.