A Year of Uncertainty: Results of Our 2007 Job and Salary Survey

Feb. 5, 2007
Most pharmaceutical industry professionals are relatively happy with their careers, but many long for more challenge, training and growth opportunities, according to our survey.

This year started off with news that Pfizer would lay off 10% of its global workforce, including individuals in manufacturing, R&D and marketing. This type of headline is nothing new to the drug industry, but news of layoffs and rumors of future mergers (for example, between BMS and Sanofi Aventis) is always accompanied by shock waves.

However, 57% of the 425 respondents to our 2007 Job Satisfaction and Salary Survey say they aren’t worried about job security (Graph 1, below). “I’m not concerned about job security, but not because my job is secure,” writes one. “There is no job security, so being concerned about it doesn’t change that fact.”

Concerns about outsourcing and downsizing were a recurring theme in the survey results. “With the changes in the economy and pressures on the market, I see further reductions and outsourcing to India and China, which will become more pronounced if drug price controls are put in place by the U.S. government, and these controls will stifle R&D and production,” writes one pessimist.

Another respondent puts it bluntly: “We are all ‘at will’ employees and can be terminated at any time with minimal warning or notification, even for political reasons.” The new ground rules have had an impact on loyalty, both to the company and the employee. As one respondent observes, “People don’t feel that they will spend a long time at any one company, so they feel no loyalty and feel that the company has none for them.”

Respondents to our survey come from widely divergent backgrounds, but our typical respondent is between 37 and 45 years old; has a bachelor’s degree in chemistry, biology or chemical engineering; works in manufacturing and operations; and has been in the industry for 11 to 20 years.

He (77% of respondents were men) has been with his current employer for three to five years. He works in an operating unit with 100 to 500 employees and supervises between one and 10 people.

His performance reviews are generally of the traditional, annual, manager-led variety, although a number of respondents say that their organizations are experimenting with alternatives such as peer and 360-degree reviews. In addition to the usual annual and semiannual reviews, one respondent says that senior management at his organization conducts an additional talent review of key individuals. Another says that his site’s managers calibrate each individual’s performance against others at the facility. “It turns into a popularity contest, instead of strictly judging performance based on goals accomplished,” he writes.

Survey results suggest that at many pharmaceutical companies today, incentive pay is clearly linked to achieving goals relating to key performance indicators (KPIs). Only two of the respondents described their bonuses last year as “holiday” bonuses. The rest agree that incentives were, instead, based on concrete improvements in the company’s financial performance or merited by an individual’s, team’s or
group’s outstanding performance.

The typical survey respondent earns between $100,000 and $150,000 per year (Graph 2, above) and works between 40 and 44 hours a week (Graph 3, above). He received his last salary increase less than one year ago, which augmented his paycheck by an additional 1 to 6% (Graph 4A, below), as well as a bonus based on improved customer service or cost reduction (Graph 4B, below).

He receives three weeks of vacation (Graph 5A, below), although he may not have taken all of that time off last year (Graph 5B, below). “The level of vacation time I’ve accrued is actually a burden, forcing me to weigh the ‘use it or lose it’ philosophy against getting the job done,” says one respondent.

He also receives benefits — not only the standard medical, life and dental, but also disability, 401K, pension plan, education reimbursement, stock options, flex time and paid parental leave.

Respondents’ employers appear to be divided on “work/family” balance issues, but most respondents note that their companies offer some options to help ease the challenge. Flexible schedules and the ability to carve out time to care for children and elderly parents was a recurring theme.

However, taking advantage of these benefits can be problematic at some companies. As one respondent writes, “I took a five-month leave under the FMLA. When I returned, I found that my job responsibilities had been reduced, and that I was reporting to an interim supervisor who had very little knowledge of what we were doing.”

Joe Pharma

Our pharmaceutical manufacturing everyman is either somewhat or very happy with his position. While roughly 9% of respondents appear to be elated about their jobs, 41% describe themselves as very satisfied, and 42% are just “OK” (Graph 6, below). One professional sums up the feelings of several of his colleagues: “I love what I do, but have not been given the opportunity to have a real impact on improvement here.” Says another, “Pharma is, amazing as this sounds, more political than technical.”

But such ambivalence shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise, since drug manufacturing professionals across the board have had to weather a number of changes this year (Graph 7, below): 46% have found their workloads increased due to staff cuts, 38% have seen a new team structure introduced at their plants, and 37% have had to increase efficiency and agility in response to new product introductions.

Nearly 20% have been involved in Lean and Six Sigma projects. Several have had to contend with product recalls, and quite a few have been part of major ERP software implementations.

Their organizations have been affected by major economic changes (Graph 8, below). For a lucky 36%, these changes resulted in promotions and raises. For an unlucky 32%, the results were layoffs, and 42% report that their companies have frozen hiring for the time being.

Although 26% of respondents find that they have sufficient opportunities for career growth within their organizations, 36% say these opportunities only present themselves “sometimes,” while 37% say they don’t really exist.

Some complain about the people they work with, with 25% of respondents aiming their criticism upward, squarely at senior management, and another 10% deflecting criticism downward to those whom they supervise. Countering them were the 20% who had praise for their teams. “I’m privileged to work with excellent people every day,” writes one.

Silos Still Alive and Well

There appear to be divisions, some subtle and others not so subtle, between different groups in many pharma workplaces. One female respondent complained about the lack of job and salary parity with her male peers. “Males earn more across the board, from salary to bonuses to stock options. The management team is all male and there are very few women in any leadership roles anywhere in the company,” she writes.

Engineers lamented the foibles of non-engineers. “Engineers are no longer considered professionals, and PEs are not valued,” writes one respondent. “It’s just another job, not a career, and it’s without overtime pay.” Only 2% of respondents have or plan to get a P.E. license. And maintenance staff is undervalued, another respondent writes.

But several non-engineers gripe about the engineers at their companies. Writes one, “Most of the new engineers on staff have done very little real engineering. They were project engineers who had the contractors do all the engineering and work. They have very limited hands-on experience. There are a few — but very expensive — mechanics on the market, but most of them are just glorified parts changers.”

Quick, Hide the Engineers!

Recent engineering school grads are singled out for criticism. “Recent graduates, especially in engineering, have difficulty communicating technical issues, and cannot assist in the preparation of documents that will withstand FDA scrutiny,” writes one. “We generally hide our engineers during audits and inspections, and they are also left out of solving product quality issues.”

Given the economic environment, we asked this year about corporate hiring policies toward those over 40 (Graph 9, below). About 60% of respondents say that older workers are valued and actively recruited, although 20% have witnessed some level of discrimination against Baby Boomers, while respondents approaching age 50 agree that many of the available opportunities are not all that challenging or stimulating.

Don’t Trust Anyone Under 30?

The generation gap appears to be flourishing as well. When asked about the quality of new recruits, 33% of those surveyed say the quality of new hires and job applicants is improving, although 32% say the new recruits are missing some skill sets across the board (Graph 10, below).

In some cases, those skill sets can be surprisingly basic. “We have analysts who can’t convert grams to milligrams without a calculator and who don’t know how to use a volumetric flask,” writes one respondent.

Another offers a more humorous perspective: “How a middle-aged woman like me got to be the most technically competent person here is frightening.” she writes. “I know the limits of my skills and would expand them if offered the chance, but really, I thought the Generation Y-ers were the computer and technology whizzes. Instead, I’m the computer queen.”

Other critics complain about soft skills, written communication and general attitude. Several made almost identical comments: “They think they can be CEO in a year or two.” One respondent says pointedly, “I won’t even hire recent grads because I don’t have the time to teach them a work ethic.”

Another thread of criticism connecting older respondents’ comments on Generation Y-ers was an inability to connect the dots. “Many young scientists do not possess the skills needed to read the literature, connect disparate pieces of information and reason through a problem. They are used to being told what to do in stepwise fashion and don’t know how to think, analyze data or look beyond the obvious.”

However, others had high praise for their youngest colleagues. “They’re highly qualified and motivated,” writes one. “They’re better suited to the work, more intelligent and energetic,” another says.

Some respondents blame the growing use of HR contractors for some of the issues with new recruits. “Contractors are screening and recruiting applicants, and these contractors typically last only three to six months before another one is brought in. This makes continuity very difficult. Within a six-month period of time, when I was hiring for one person, I had to work with three different contractors. I went over the same stuff three times!”

However, most respondents would encourage young people to enter the profession. “It’s a great field, but don’t be afraid of the amount of work,” writes one. “Learn politics,” advises another, “and stay away from R&D unless you have a Ph.D.” One respondent suggests, “Do internships in different areas in manufacturing to decide what you like and don’t close your mind to new opportunities and change.” Another concludes, “It’s a great career, so go for it!”

About the Author

Agnes Shanley | Editor in Chief