What Really Makes A Great Place To Work
January 30, 2017
With the race for talent accelerating as the skills shortage bites across the life sciences sector, there’s a lot of talk in leadership circles about creating ‘a great place to work’ in order to attract and retain quality candidates.
Yet what exactly does a ‘great place to work’ really mean? Isn’t it all a bit subjective? Perceptions of what makes a workplace exceptional differ between individuals: where one person will love the idea of a highly collaborative workplace with breakout rooms and lunchtime yoga classes, another might cringe at that high-octane group atmosphere and seek a quiet, minimalist workplace where they can work autonomously and with interruption-free productivity.
So how do life science employers navigate different workplace culture preferences to create a place where everyone wants to work, while taking into account that the scientists developing a drug often have different needs and wants from a workplace than the salesperson selling the end product?
The truth is that creating a great workplace that suits everyone is not really about having bean bags in a chill-out room where staff can go for afternoon naps. (Although that sounds rather nice.) What makes a life sciences company great to work for is not primarily about perks, but about giving employees the resources and support they need to thrive.
What employees really want from their workplace
1. Work-life balance.
Life sciences roles tend to be demanding, with long hours and high pressure often par for the course. Whatever your company can do to ameliorate work-life balance will make a significant difference in employees’ personal lives- and that’s the kind of thing that builds loyalty. Even if it’s a matter of arriving home half an hour earlier to have dinner with the kids because flexibility in work hours allows them to start early, finish early, and miss peak hour traffic.
This simple, tiny step (which doesn’t lose man hours) is the kind of thing that leads to employees saying at a bbq with ex-colleagues and commenting to others, “ ‘My job’s great. I’m home for dinner and I don’t sit in traffic.”
Working from home options or offering RDO’s (rostered days off) in exchange for overtime are also great reputation-building strategies for companies looking to attract top candidates.
2. Opportunities for career progression.
When someone’s doing a stellar job, it can be tempting to keep them in that same role, knowing it’s in safe hands. Yet keeping talented employees in a role they have already mastered is a dangerous tactic, as it can lead to employee boredom, disengagement, and dissatisfaction surprisingly quickly.
Wherever possible, develop and promote your employees from within, and give them varied tasks. You should be making career progression a topic for discussion right from the first interview, and incorporating career path planning into each yearly performance review.
3. Training, training, training.
Offer as much training as you can. Stagnation is the enemy of employee retention. Many life science professionals have inquisitive minds, and those minds need to be challenged with new things in order to keep motivated and engaged over the course of their career with you.
It’s important that the training is something that’s of interest to the employee or it just becomes a chore, so it helps discuss which areas the employee would like to receive further development in and tailor their training package to meet their core interests where you are able.
Don’t forget to train those who don’t want to become managers as well, as this cohort is often ignored in training schemes.
Dead simple. You won’t be able to draw and keep top candidates if you don’t compensate employees at (or preferably above) industry salary benchmarks.
5. Leadership styles that adapt to the individual employee.
Many life-science employees crave autonomy to get on with the job without unnecessary interference, where others like careful guidance and regular feedback. Rather than creating a company-wide ethos of one or the other, communicate to candidates and employees that your managers are able to adapt their leadership style to what the candidate responds well to. (If your managers can’t do that, it’s time for some more of that training we mentioned!)
This avoids that horrible scenario where a new employee quits, telling everyone who’ll listen that ‘There’s no support in that company, I was just left to figure it out on my own’, or conversely ‘It’s a micromanaging culture, I wasn’t allowed to do anything on my own!’
Most people want to do a job that matters, and this figure rises dramatically with Millennial-age employees, with 50% saying they’ll take a pay cut in exchange for a job which matches their values. Inspired employees are up to three times more productive, so it’s very important to couch all opportunities in a wider framework that shows how the work they’re doing matters. Have a think about how you can include employees in a vision larger than their own. This doesn’t necessarily have to be about improving health outcomes; it could be a business goal such as wanting your employees to help you take the company international.
7. A sense of worth.
Employees need to know that their contribution is valued, and not just through a pay check. Positive feedback and praise are imperative to building loyalty and trust.
8. Be cognisant to different work-styles.
If you are creating a dynamic, collaborative workspace with open plan offices and a ‘Google-like’ ethos, then be sure to cater to your more introverted employees, with plenty of quiet working rooms and an absence of pressure to participate in any group work that’s not strictly necessary. If your workplace is more formal already, then work to create some informality and activities to bond your more sociable employees. (You might want to try those bean bags after all.)
A positive company reputation travels fast on the grapevine, so you can make a rapid difference with a few key changes and see the impact it has on your candidate pool.