2010 Job and Salary Survey: Connecting with What Matters

Feb. 11, 2010
In an era of job instability and frayed nerves, pharmaceutical workers are reconnecting with what’s important to them, and turning to each other for support.

It’s official. Workers feel less satisfied than ever. In the U.S., according to an annual survey by the Conference Board, fewer feel safe in their jobs, fewer like their bosses, and fewer like the people they work with. The reasons are many, according to the report. The economy’s in the tank, real wages have dropped, workloads have increased, and many people it seems don’t find their jobs interesting any more.

Our guess is that many of you, whether inside or outside the U.S., are feeling similar frustrations. The numbers from this year’s annual job satisfaction and salary survey bear this out. More of you said you’re your job satisfaction was “poor” or “very poor” than in previous years. Roughly 41% of you said your job satisfaction was “high” or “very high,” down from approximately 45% last year and from previous years. More than ever before, Mick Jagger’s old “can’t get no satisfaction” refrain rings true.  

There are other unsettling stats:

  • Two-thirds of you were concerned about job security.
  • Nearly 58% of you said your company was giving fewer promotions and raises, and 46% witnessed layoffs where you work; 52% experienced hiring freezes; and 34% saw salary freezes.
  • 57% of you did not take all the vacation time you were allocated.

All of these figures above are greater than last year and the highest in the six years that we’ve done our reader survey. (For all data, see charts here.) To make matters worse, you seem to be undergoing more organizational shakeups than ever before, and having more internal conflicts with coworkers.

All of which leads to the conclusion that, if you haven’t been fired, you’re likely fried, frustrated, or a bit frazzled. “I’m simply tired of being disregarded,” says one process chemist, who asked not to be identified by name. He’s also had to put in more hours, and take less vacation time. “I believe in what the company is doing, but when you’re continually asked to do so much, it’s tough,” he says.

Is there a silver lining here somewhere? Maybe it is this: What many of you are telling us in this year’s survey is that you have changed the way you think about work and life. A good salary is important, but not the be all and end all. Challenging work has moved higher on your list, while salary and benefits have moved down. Many of you, it appears, are reconnecting with what is truly important.

And you’re connecting with each other. This year has been a breakout year for professional networking, and many of you are finding support in peers near and far, some of whom you’d lost touch with and some whom you’ve never met.

Turning the Corner?

Another potential source of optimism: If our 2010 survey can be viewed as a bellwether of the economy—albeit a modest one—things are trending positively. Last year, 40% of you said that external financial pressure on your company was the greatest threat to your job security. This year, just 30% of you felt this way; instead, internal cost-cutting measures (at 31%) were viewed as the slightly greater threat. Many of you indicated that your companies had begun to hire again.

Here are some of your direct responses in terms of how the economy has affected your companies:

  • “We cut back on a lot of development projects, even ones with very promising data.”
  • “Companywide pay cuts and controls on perks.”
  • “Travel and education cuts.”
  • “We’re locally hiring more!”
  • “Vendors won’t work for us as they’re [not paid in full].”
  • We’re running lean and mean!”
  • “Less willing to hire consultants.”
  • “Hiring more consultants.”

While the evidence is anecdotal, many experts believe that we are turning the economic corner, and that companies will loosen their purse strings, especially in terms of new hires. “We’re seeing many of our customers come back,” says Harvey Yau, Americas product manager for the scientific division of the staffing firm Kelly Scientific Resources.

Believe it or not, Yau says, it’s the core-level manufacturing and other positions that are being sought after. Companies aren’t yet ready to hire or rehire mid- and upper-level managerial positions until they can justify it within their budgets.

“Through the process of attrition, they’ve had one person doing the work of two or three people,” he says. “Now things are looking up a bit and they’re saying, ‘Let’s open up a new position.’ “

But Yau and other experts aren’t willing to go beyond cautious optimism in terms of the job outlook. Employers continue to increase productivity by cutting labor rather than increasing output, says Gregg Gordon, senior director of manufacturing industry marketing for workforce solutions provider Kronos, Inc. “The people who are left are doing more with less,” he says.

“When you do that without a methodology to improve the situation, that’s going to increase stress and reduce job satisfaction,” Gordon adds. “Manufacturers can’t just say work harder, work faster forever. They’ve got to get people back to a normal pace of work.”

Those still employed are grinding it out. “I’m not looking for the title, the rapid promotions, or the big salaries,” people are telling Rich Kneece, CEO of Massachusetts Technology Corp., which runs the hireRx.com and hireBio.com web sites. Instead they’re saying, “I’m happy to have a job.”

But for how much longer? “Many people I talk to are looking at their next move,” says Kneece. These workers have stayed with their current employers longer than they wanted, but are now more than ready to leave.

Barring a so-called jobless recovery, when jobs do start coming, those employees who weren’t treated well will be the first to leave. “The companies who valued their employees even when they knew no one would quit will do well,” says Kneece.

Reshuffled Priorities

Companies may also encounter employees who aren’t simply looking for the highest bidder for their services. “We’re bursting the salary bubble a bit,” says Megan Driscoll, presicent of PharmaLogics Recruiting (Braintree, Mass.). “That’s not necessarily a bad thing.” (And employers, for their part, have changed their mindset, thinking “it’s just as important to get the person at the right price as at the right skill set,” Driscoll says.)

“People are following their passion more than they have,” she continues. This is especially true of those unemployed.

Consider the case of Alan Bergold. Bergold was VP of Operations for a small contract manufacturer, and when the economy began to drop off, so did business. Bergold and his peers in management knew layoffs had to be part of a financial restructuring of the company, and Bergold realized he himself might have to be one of the ones to go. “I knew what was coming,” he says. “I didn’t volunteer to go, but I was pretty sure it was going to have to happen.”

Six months later, Bergold is still looking for another position. Like many people out of work, Bergold’s outlook on life took a hit. “My mindset at the end of the year was poor, because I had a goal by then to find a job,” he says.

Starting the new year, Bergold recommitted himself to his search. He spruced up his resume, updated and expanded his profile on LinkedIn.com, and reconnected with all his professional contacts. He also decided to broaden his horizons. If something doesn’t come along by spring, Bergold has decided that he will likely relocate from his Alabama home to somewhere with more jobs in the industry. He’s also preparing for an exam to become a certified Manager of Quality and Organizational Excellence, and is considering jobs in different industries. “In this employment environment, you don’t dismiss anything,” he says.

“Four or five months ago, I might have said, ‘No, I’m not going to take a salary cut.’” says Bergold. “Now, I’m more concerned about where a job is going to take me.”

Indeed, many of you indicated you were less tied down to the job parameters you held in the past. “I’ll do what I have to do,” one of you said. If that means leaving pharma, so be it.

Getting Connected

Alex McClung is one of those employed but concerned. McClung is happy in his position as senior director of QA at contract manufacturer Pharmaceutics International, but he also has kids heading to college, a mortgage, and myriad other responsibilities. Nothing these days is certain, he says.

McClung has made it a point to network as much as possible. “People want to build insurance as much as they can, and with the rise of social media tools, it’s a lot easier in the past,” he says. “It’s important to create a brand for yourself out on the market.”

What does his company think of his self promotion? It encourages it. “If we’re doing the right things as individuals—such as developing ourselves as thought leaders outside the company—it will drive business for us,” he says.

As a supervisor, McClung mentors employees to establish themselves as leaders and network as much as possible. He admits that he has lost a few good people who took his advice, but knows that it’s all part of today’s pharmaceutical industry. “We’re not in our father’s job market,” he says.

Personal branding is in. “It’s not just a subtle shift,” says Driscoll of PharmaLogics. “People are putting more of the onus on themselves.” Which is a good thing. “In the end it’s all about who you know and how you market yourself.”

The networking boom is good for employers, too, says Kronos’ Gordon. “It increases the flexibility of the workforce on a grander scale,” he says, which leads to better utilization of workers’ skills and thus better performance. Everyone wins.

In terms of marketing savvy, however, most pharma and biopharma professionals still have room for improvement, Driscoll says. One piece of advice she offers is not to spread yourself too thin. Choose one key networking tool that you like and exploit it.

Ironically, in regards to professional networking, it’s the twenty-somethings who just don’t get it, she says. “These people are using Facebook and have turned it into a professional networking site, which is a bad idea,” she says. On Facebook, you have very little control over what appears on your home page, she notes. It’s easy to see how this could tarnish one’s professional persona.

The LinkedIn Effect

Many social/professional networking websites have cropped up to help workers get connected. Of them all (Spoke, MyLife, Plaxo, etc.), LinkedIn seems to have achieved a critical mass and “may be the last one standing,” says Driscoll.

It is especially popular with the Life Sciences crowd. “It’s almost gotten to the point that if you’re not on it, people will start to wonder,” says Kneece.

The beauty of LinkedIn and sites like it, Kneece says, is that it allows a person to post their resume and promote themselves, “but it doesn’t look like you’re job hunting.”

Alan Bergold has used LinkedIn to reconnect with former colleagues from his 13 years in the industry, as well as to connect with people from companies to which he has applied, as a means of getting his foot in the door.

Bergold has noticed a dramatic increase in LinkedIn activity in just the past six months—the number of people wanting to connect with him has surged, and recruiters have networked with him because they share membership in the same groups. He also dabbled with a Twitter account, but did not see any benefit for his job search.

If you’re on LinkedIn, or another networking site, learn its nuances now, Yau says. “”The mistake many people make is they don’t use the tool effectively until they’re laid off, and then they start posting SOS messages,” he says.

Finally, even with LinkedIn and the wonderful networking tools of the digital era, there’s still no substitute for old-fashioned face-to-face networking and membership in local chapters of industry organizations, Yau says. Employers like to think in terms of geographical markets, he says, and make it a point to know who’s who within their key regions.

Into the Big Unknown

“2010 is a big unknown,” Kneece says. There may be jobs, or there may not. What should your strategy be?

The people who didn’t get laid off this past year were usually those who had varied skills and could wear many hats, says Kneece—the “mile-wide-inch-deep” people. These qualities are always desirable, he says. And with all the M&A activity going on, people with experience in building and maintaining strong partnerships are valued, he says.

If you’re a specialist, let people know, Kneece says. Not everyone has to be a jack-of-all-trades, but do everything you can not to get “stovepiped” into a single position, he says.

“Be aware of what’s out there,” says the process chemist who asked to remain anonymous. “Invest a little time now and the dividends down the line will be significant.”

About the Author

Paul Thomas | Senior Editor