Tales from the Pharma Front: Fighting through Low Morale and Lousy Bosses

I spoke by phone this morning with "Mike," a long-time pharma professional who's at a crossroads in his career. Like many in the industry, Mike sees the overall economy improving and his company, a growing biopharma, doing the right things to move ahead. And yet, for the most part, he's stuck.

When the economic crisis hit a few years ago, Mike was asked by his company to move from his manufacturing operations job into a new role—they valued him, and he valued staying employed though the new position did not necessarily play to his core skills. A few years later, the company has embarked on an all-out leaning of its operations, including major cost-cutting. The circumstances find Mike fearing for his job.

The company is doing the right thing, Mike admits. It has to stay competitive. “I’m just not sure how long my job is going to be here,” he says.

To be safe, Mike is keeping in touch with his vast network of acquaintances and former colleagues. He’s working LinkedIn, and has gotten a lot of attention from recruiters there, but not for positions in his sweet spot. “All of the inquiries I get from recruiters are related to my current work. If I’m going to make a change, it’s going to be back in operations management.”

“It’s been great for the recruiters,” Mike jokes. “I’ve been giving them a lot of leads for other people!” He adds: “It’s okay. The help and cooperation I’ve been giving to [recruiters] will eventually pay dividends for me.”

Bad Bosses

While Mike understands his company’s rationale for leaning itself, he laments the fact that management at his facility is short-sighted. They’ve laid off personnel in key areas, increasing workload without offering perks or accommodations for those expected to pick up the slack. “Morale overall here is middle to low,” he says.

Is site management aware of the problem? “I don’t think they see it,” Mike says. “We have a leadership team that is not open to hearing different ideas from what they believe. As a result, there is a level of fear to say what we think. That’s not something I’m used to. I have been vocal because that’s what I was used to at other companies. But I’ve been basically told by my boss to keep my mouth shut. So that’s what I do now.”

Mike continues: “As a manager, I believe that people will step up and accomplish great things if given the opportunity. That’s the one thing I see lacking at this organization. Everyone always talks about good ideas coming from the floor level and filtering up, but that’s not happening.”

Clearly for Mike, something’s got to give soon for the good of his career and well-being. But like many people, Mike is not willing to relocate. “I put my family first,” he says. “I’d just like to get my kids through school.”

That said, he’s optimistic about the improving state of the industry and the U.S. economy. “I’m seeing a lot more opportunities out there if I was willing to relocate. I feel I would have no problem finding a position.”

We'll have more stories from the Mikes of the industry in the cover story to Pharmaceutical Manufacturing's March issue, in conjunction with our annual job satisfaction and salary survey.

--Paul Thomas