President Bill Clinton famously harped, “It’s the economy, stupid!” With global markets swooning and entire industries in peril, it’s easy to assume that pharma’s recent spate of layoffs and restructurings are to be blamed on, yes, the stupid economy.
Shrewd observers of the pharma and biopharma job market, however, sing a different tune: It’s just pharma being pharma, they say. Old ways, and old companies, are crumbling. In their place are a combination of merger-borne behemoths (e.g., the new Pfizer-Wyeth) and smaller niche operations.
“While the economy certainly has an impact on the pharmaceutical industry, the layoffs that are occurring now are nothing new,” says Michael Steiner, head of the pharmaceutical group at RegentAtlantic Capital (Morristown, N.J.).
From 2003 to 2006, says Steiner, some 86,000 pharmaceutical jobs were lost in the U.S. “What we’re experiencing now is more of the continuation, if not acceleration, of a trend that the industry is facing,” he says.
“I don’t believe more companies are laying off now than a few years ago,” agrees Megan Driscoll, President of PharmaLogics Recruiting (Braintree, Mass.), a firm that specializes in R&D and manufacturing employment in pharma and biopharma.
Instead, what we’re seeing now is extreme caution on the part of employers.
“Hiring freezes are much more prevalent these days,” Driscoll notes. “Everyone is taking a wait-and-see attitude” to see just how dire the economic situation is, and what the continued fallout will be from blockbuster drug patent expirations, dwindling product pipelines, and the ongoing frenzy of mergers and acquisitions.
The numbers from Pharmaceutical Manufacturing’s 2009 Salary and Job Satisfaction Survey bear this out: Half of all respondents to this year’s survey said that their company had enacted recent hiring freezes (Figure 5).
This is up approximately 5% over one year ago, and 10% over 2007.
Economy or not, today’s job market for the worker is still a case of picking your poison.
As the survey shows, your concerns range from economic instability to corporate cost-cutting and downsizing to outsourcing to plant closings.
“Everyone knows someone who has lost their job,” says Carl Martin, a senior recruiter with Shire Genetic Therapies (Cambridge, Mass.).
“Everyone should feel fortunate that they have a job in this climate—regardless of level or title.”
Rising Tide of Insecurity
You get a good sense of a creeping unease when looking at year over year numbers in our survey.
Of the 371 of you who took the survey this year, 64% said that you were concerned about job security.
This compares with 55.8% a year ago, and 42.7% in 2007, the first year we asked you this question directly.
As a way of compensating for the uncertainty, you’re taking on more work. Our numbers show that, while you’re more than willing to take on added responsibility (a whopping 80%!—see Figure 8), your companies are more than willing to give it.
Nearly half of you (47.5%) said that you’ve had to take on an increased workload due to staff cuts (Figure 12). This is also up about 5% over a year before, and 10% from two years ago.
“Employees really have no choice but to pick up the work!” says Martin. The continued pressure takes its toll, you told us. A sampling of your comments:
- “With fewer opportunities comes insecurity and undermining by peers and coworkers.”
- “The elimination of headcount is putting more burden on the employees we have left.”
- “We’re doing more with less time with overloaded workers. This cannot give good results; “safe” and “hurry” don’t go together.”
Despite all the bad news, you are still relishing your work and enjoying your time in the pharmaceutical industry.
Many of you took the time to comment on how much you appreciate the challenge of what you do.
You still love your jobs, and love working in the drug industry. A few of the things that turn you on (verbatim):
- Improving patients’ lives
- The work—the ability to do good science
- Exceptional coworkers and management
- Making improvements to our processes
- Managing projects on my own
- Getting things done
- Every day is different and I learn something new
- The fact that workers are always appreciated
- Leading a team under economic crisis
- Having my position eliminated and successfully bidding for a new position
What turns you off?