Pharma Stays on Track

Feb. 28, 2017
Respondents to our 13th annual Career and Salary Survey find stability and satisfaction despite increased workloads and changing market conditions.

Each year since the magazine launched in 2002, Pharmaceutical Manufacturing readers have graciously taken the time to lend their voices to the career and salary conversation through our annual survey. We query readership to gain a sense of how their pharma careers are treating them — both financially and emotionally — as well as to get an idea of how their attitude reflects current and future trends. This year’s study yielded 269 total responses.


Job satisfaction in pharma is good — more than 89 percent reported their satisfaction levels within the range of “very high” to “okay,” which is only ever so slightly down from last year’s 92 percent. While job satisfaction has remained stable throughout our past five years of surveys, it is interesting to note that this year’s 12.8 percent of respondents who rated their job satisfaction as very high was the highest percentage we’ve seen in five years of surveys. Considering job satisfaction in United States hasn’t gone above 50 percent in the last decade, the pharmaceutical industry is beating the odds.

So what is contributing to pharma’s high satisfaction rate? A variety of factors, among them challenging work, salary and benefits, opportunity for advancement, job security and work/life balance. When asked about the most important factors contributing to job satisfaction, it appears that those employed in pharma appreciate a challenge, but also appreciate being rewarded for a job well done. Just over 30 percent of respondents ranked challenging work as number one, followed by almost 20 percent citing salary and benefits. This ranking has stayed consistent throughout our past five years of reader surveys.

Speaking of salary and benefits, compensation appears to be healthy and reflects the seniority and experience of Pharmaceutical Manufacturing’s readers. For example, 29.5 percent have salaries between $100 and $150K, with the next largest group (16.5 percent) making $80 to $100K annually. In third place were those making between $150 and $200K (14.8 percent). Some 10 percent of respondents indicated their salary was above $200K. Adding to the good news, close to 70 percent of respondents reported getting raises last year, with most (70.5 percent) seeing an increase of 3-5 percent. With the average wage growth in the U.S. at 2.7 percent, the 12.6 percent of those who reported earning raises more than 10 percent reveal the pharmaceutical industry’s healthy compensation and retention environment.


The most dramatic drop seen in the survey responses came with the question of job security. When asked if they were more or less concerned about job security than last year, only 29 percent noted increased concern. These percentages are way down from previous years (52.5 percent in 2016 and 48 percent in 2015).

While the sudden surge in job confidence might seem misplaced during time where scrutiny of drug pricing has become commonplace amongst policymakers, there are several viable theories explaining a decline in job security fears. It is possible that much of it is tied to the demographics of survey respondents. At a recent That’s Nice OSD Symposium, several industry panels predicted that the industry will see a declining emphasis on manufacturing, countered by an increased focus on outsourcing and R&D. It might follow that those working in those departments would find greater job security. In our survey, 17 percent of respondents indicated R&D job titles and 10.5 percent worked for contract manufacturers.

According to Randstad’s annual “hot jobs 2017” prediction study, the highest in-demand positions for life sciences are related to regulatory, clinical research and drug safety. More than 42 of respondents fell into one of these three categories.

A feeling of competency is also contributing to readers’ increasing confidence levels. When asked how they would rate the suitability of their skills to manage current responsibilities, 67 percent felt their skills and background were well suited. Conversely, just 6.4 percent indicated that the diminishing relevance of their skills due to changing technologies and industry focuses are the biggest threat to their job security.

Of those who are wary of job security, the majority (53.8 percent) were most concerned with internal cost-cutting measures. This concern was followed by 25.6 percent noting external financial pressure on their companies, such as expiring patents, failed product development or failure to obtain regulatory approval. Interestingly enough, our surveys have revealed a shift from concerns about external financial pressure to internal cost cutting, starting in 2012. This shift is possibly a reflection of an industry that is becoming less reliant on the success of blockbusters and is altering its business model accordingly.

While our new president’s specific plans for the pharmaceutical industry have not been clearly laid out yet, there is little doubt that pharma is moving in some new and interesting directions. Major business unit or operations restructuring continue to lead in terms of what market and competitive forces respondents felt have affected their company, with 46 percent noting this as applicable.

Merger and acquisition remains a constant within the pharmaceutical industry. The pharma industry spent $98.7 billion on acquisitions in 2016. Yet, 2016 featured only one mega-merger — Shire’s acquisition of Baxter’s Baxalta. Historically, the mega merger has been a popular means of growing presence globally; but the last few years have seen a concentration on smaller acquisitions, mostly aimed at building R&D pipelines. Accordingly, close to 40 percent of respondents indicated that their company had been recently affected by M&A activity. This is surprisingly on target with numbers from years past, despite 2016’s M&A totals having dropped substantially from 2014 and 2015.

Saving lives isn’t easy, and with that responsibility comes hard work and long hours. According to the survey, more than 58 percent of readers feel overly stressed some of the time at work, while 19 percent feel overly stressed most of the time. More than half of respondents failed to take all of their allotted vacation time last year, which is not unusual for American workers, who chronically under-vacation. Most national surveys report that about 55 percent of workers across all industries leave vacation time unused.

While the survey results overall were very positive, when put on the spot to describe what made them least satisfied about their current position, readers responded with honestly. Management and senior leadership bore the brunt of the criticism with readers noting lacking and poor communication, lack of direction and lack of support from above. In fact, almost 43 percent of respondents said they do not receive meaningful feedback on job performance on a yearly basis.
Understandably, many readers were also frustrated with corporate bureaucracy and internal politics, which many said have resulted in delays and inefficiencies. Others mentioned a disconnect due to their company’s global nature, which included post-merger cultural struggles and well as cultural clashes between U.S. workers and colleagues abroad.

Examining demographic profiles revealed by Pharmaceutical Manufacturing’s respondents, participants were predominately North American-based (71 percent), with the remainder of respondents dispersed in Europe (7 percent), Asia (7 percent), India (6 percent), the Middle East, Africa and Latin America. More than 80 percent of survey respondents were male, despite data compiled by the National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics reporting that percentages of women employed in the biological and life sciences are on the rise, reaching 48.3 percent in 2015.

The majority of respondents (74 percent) were 40 and older, with most possessing a bachelor’s or master’s degree in either chemistry, chemical engineering or pharmaceutics, and the remainder with engineering degrees or specialties like biochemistry. Most fill operational roles (60 percent of 238 responses) across manufacturing, quality assessment, plant engineering and R&D categories. Industry longevity reigned supreme, with close to 86 percent of responding readers having 7 or more years of industry experience — with an impressive 41.6 percent of total respondents boasting more than 20 years of experience.

Responding readers represented the panoply that is the pharma industry, with 20 percent from Big Pharma, 16 percent from small and mid-sized specialty manufacturers, 15 percent from generic pharma and 10.5 percent from contract pharma. Biopharma manufacturers followed with 10 percent. The remainder, including consultancies, vendor/solution providers and all others, accounted for about 28 percent of the total pie.

Weber, Lauren. (2016). Job Satisfaction Hits a 10-Year High. The Wall Street Journal.
Moran, Gwen. (2016). Employees Will Get the Biggest Salary Increase in Years in 2016. Fast Company.
Randstad. (2017). 2017 Hot Jobs.
Seeking Alpha. (2017). Mergers & Acquisitions in 2016.
National Science Foundation. (2016). Employed women 16 years and older, by detailed occupation.

About the Author

Karen P. Langhauser | Chief Content Director, Pharma Manufacturing

Karen currently serves as Pharma Manufacturing's chief content director.

Now having dedicated her entire career to b2b journalism, Karen got her start writing for Food Manufacturing magazine. She made the decision to trade food for drugs in 2013, when she joined Putman Media as the digital content manager for Pharma Manufacturing, later taking the helm on the brand in 2016.

As an award-winning journalist with 20+ years experience writing in the manufacturing space, Karen passionately believes that b2b content does not have to suck. As the content director, her ongoing mission has been to keep Pharma Manufacturing's editorial look, tone and content fresh and accessible.

Karen graduated with honors from Bucknell University, where she majored in English and played Division 1 softball for the Bison. Happily living in NJ's famed Asbury Park, Karen is a retired Garden State Rollergirl, known to the roller derby community as the 'Predator-in-Chief.'