Tackling Attrition in Life Sciences

You’ve attracted talented players; here’s how to keep them

“The great resignation of 2021,” the “turnover tsunami” – these are terms we’ve seen used to describe a growing trend:  people changing jobs just for the sake of change. In June 2021, 3.9 million American employees left their jobs,[1] while 95% of workers said they were thinking of quitting their jobs.[2]

This wave of attrition differs from what we’ve seen in the past. COVID-19 had a major impact on the workplace, leaving some people dissatisfied with the way their employers managed the situation. Others are making emotional decisions as fall-out from the pandemic, citing the need for something different in their work lives.

In life sciences, where top talent is always in demand, company leaders are doubly challenged. How do you keep people from leaving? By keeping them from wanting to even look elsewhere.

  • Get creative with engagement. The move to remote work has made it extremely challenging for employers to effectively engage with employees. Even with some percentage of workers returning to offices, we expect virtual engagement to remain a new normal. While there’s no easy fix, we generally advise clients to adopt an employee pulse process. This essentially entails regularly-scheduled, short surveys (3 questions maximum) that solicit employees’ current thoughts and feelings about their role, their team and the organization. Generally, pulse surveys are initiated following a larger engagement survey, allowing the organization to measure improvements or on-going effectiveness of their culture efforts.
  • Build (or reinvigorate) your culture. Employees will stay with a company for the culture and the people. These are the great unknowns when contemplating a job change. The prospective new role, responsibilities and salary may be attractive, but how will it “feel” to work there? This is even harder to predict in the era of COVID-19, with most interviews conducted virtually and therefore lacking a sense of the people and place. Young life science companies should think about how to take their culture outside of their walls by looking for opportunities to bring their workforce together in COVID-safe ways.
  • Consider generational differences. Who are the most likely workers to make a move? Gen Z and Millennials, or those younger than 40, accounted for more than half of the job hoppers in 2020 at 33% and 25% respectively.[3] Furthermore, only 29% of Gen Z respondents indicated that competitive salary and benefits were key to their engagement, compared to nearly half (49%) of those over 55.[4] Instead, this group tends to prioritize an organization’s mission, social responsibilities and opportunities for rapid and rewarding career growth. Understanding these differences is key to your retention strategy.
  • Listen, listen, listen. Silence is not golden. Find opportunities to solicit and incorporate input from your staff, and include a variety of voices in your decision making. This is perhaps even more important with remote workers who may be feeling disconnected. That said, even the best listening practices fall flat if you don’t act. When soliciting feedback ensure that you are in a position to either act on that feedback or provide a transparent and genuine response as to why a suggestion is not in the best interest of the business.
  • Don’t assume it’s too early for HR. Emerging life science companies understandably invest heavily in R&D and go lean when it comes to G&A functions. Yet senior-level HR advisory at the ground level can set you up for success by taking care of the people who are taking care of the science. Building a dedicated and resilient team sits squarely in HR’s purview and can spare you the cost of implementing “fixes” down the road. It’s best not to wait until the need for HR becomes urgent. In the COVID-19 era, when polled by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), 68% of HR professionals report that leaders have relied more on HR for success since the pandemic began[5].

This is where Danforth Advisors can help. Our Strategic and Operational HR consultants understand the fiercely competitive life science space and what it takes to guard against attrition. Click here to learn more about how we can help.

[1] U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, JOB OPENINGS AND LABOR TURNOVER.

[2] 95% of workers are thinking about quitting their jobs, according to a new survey — and burnout is the number one reason, Monster.com July 7, 2021.

[3] What employees expect in 2021, Engaging talent in the shadow of COVID, IBM.

[4] What employees expect in 2021, Engaging talent in the shadow of COVID, IBM.

[5] Navigating COVID-19: Returning to the Workplace, SHRM.