On the Brink of Burnout

Our annual survey results say you’ve just about had enough. Will 2011 be the year things turn in your favor?

By Paul Thomas, Senior Editor

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For a PDF of this year's survey data and the figures referred to in the article, click here.

Neil Young sang that it’s better to burn out than fade away. Makes for a good rock n’ roll mantra, but hardly a viable career strategy. And even Young, still plucking at 65, would have to agree that staying power trumps youthful sparks and sizzle.

Given that it’s been a pretty rough couple of years on the pharma front, we took the opportunity of this year’s Pharmaceutical Manufacturing Job Satisfaction and Salary Survey to probe you, our readers, about burnout (see Figures 11-15). Are you feeling it? Are you dealing with it?

According to the numbers, one-fifth of you feel stressed or burned out most of the time, and another 54% some of the time. The reasons are varied, but relate to the amount of work you’re being asked to do, the lack of appreciation and support you’re given, and the challenge of managing your lives outside of work as well.

As in past years, more than half of you suggested that your workload continues to increase, while half of you do not take the vacation time that is coming to you. What’s more, the spectre of layoffs looms ever large: almost 7 out of 10 of you say that you are concerned about job security, continuing an upward trend from recent years.

Not even an Iron Chef could concoct such a recipe for burnout. Do your employers care? They should, if your advice is taken to heart. Half of you say that burnout at your workplace is hurting productivity, while three-quarters of you say that your company either doesn’t care, or doesn’t know how to address the issue.

“Management is very much aware of the situation,” a QA/QC professional from the Midwest wrote. “They offer an obligatory ‘thank you for your hard work,’ but that's about it. They expect those of us who are left—who didn't lose our jobs in the layoffs—to do what needs to be done in order to keep the business afloat.”

 “Some of us who have had no work/life balance for many months are finally starting to rebel, and just refuse to take any more work home,” she adds. “If it doesn't get done during the workday, then it just doesn't get done.”

It’s not just the lab and shop-floor workers who are suffering. “Our facility is small,” one plant manager wrote in confidence, “with 75 employees, many of whom are high-school educated and don't have the scientific background to perform or assist with upper management or technical requirements. Since I am part of the upper management, there is no one to really pass the workload to.”

This same manager says that there’ll be no more hiring until new products are approved by FDA. The problem is, he says, that past drug submissions were executed hastily and were, in the Agency’s eyes, inadequate. “The management outside of our facility expects us to maintain the same cycle while continuing to address the new deficiencies rolling in from FDA review,” he says.

The Pendulum Swings?
If the economy were better, if companies were hiring, this exploitation of the pharma workforce would not be happening to the degree it is. Is 2011 the year when the pendulum swings back in workers’ favor?

“I think the pendulum has to swing back,” says Megan Driscoll, president of PharmaLogics Recruiting (Braintree, Mass.). In the past few years, she says, jobs were taken away but not replaced. “People were therefore working two or sometimes three different roles with no increase in pay . . . they can do that for six months, for a year, but they can not do that continuously. As the market gets better and companies start to rehire, you’ll see those positions start to be filled, and you’ll see that responsibility start to shift back. If it doesn’t happen, you’ll see those companies start to lose good employees.”

“We’re at a turning point here,” she adds. “Up until now, companies didn’t ultimately care where employees were going to go because there weren’t any jobs.”

Most of the new jobs that Driscoll is seeing are in biopharma, especially in downstream manufacturing. Traditional pharma will lag biotech, Driscoll says, but the hiring should begin in earnest towards the end of the year. (Hear more from Driscoll on the current job market in this downloadable podcast interview.)

Others aren’t as optimistic: “I’d love to say that companies are going to hire in 2011, but I can’t,” says Amanda DeSalvatore, project manager with Avant Executive Solutions (Vancouver, Wash.). “We just don’t have that data yet.” DeSalvatore specializes in recruiting personnel in drug safety/pharmacovigilance, regulatory affairs, and quality, particularly in biopharma. (Here's our full interview with her regarding the 2011 job market.)

Hiring in 2011 will be company-specific, she says. “With small and mid-sized companies, everything is riding on their clinical trials. If they’re doing well, they’re definitely hiring. As far as bigger companies go, hiring and firing is dependent on mergers and acquisitions, as well as successful products.” Abbott, for example, recently hired 50 regulatory affairs professionals because it is undergoing a restructuring related to its merger with Solvay. (This news is tempered, of course, by reports of major layoffs at Solvay’s Marietta, Georgia site.)

Michael Steiner, head of RegentAtlantic Capital’s life sciences recruiting, also sees “anecdotal” reasons for optimism. Firms that develop and manufacture diabetes, oncology, and neurological drugs are generally hiring, he says, and venture capital companies that support small biotech companies have built up significant cash reserves and will begin to open their wallets. Also, QA/QC and regulatory professionals are in demand—recent high-profile recalls mean that manufacturers are placing a premium on professionals who specialize in ensuring product quality and safety.

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