Competing for Talent: Make Your Biotech Workplace a Powerful Asset

View PDF

Talent is the lifeblood of pharmaceutical innovation. But there’s more to winning top talent than simply recognizing the value of our “human resources.” It also takes putting that value into action by giving people a workplace that inspires and even delights. Today, forward-looking industry leaders are seeing competitive advantage in rethinking workplace strategy and the role it plays in attracting and retaining talent, according to a 2018 report (1). Once considered to be merely a passive background for discovery, a life sciences facility can be designed to play a more meaningful role in employee collaboration, commitment, and engagement. Organizations that offer connected, sophisticated, and flexible laboratories in desirable locations — including highly attractive amenities — are feeding the human experience. And in turn, they’re attracting the brightest and best to join their ranks.

Three Ways to Keep Talent Happy
From high-tech laboratories and in-house incubators to parking-lot food trucks, Millennials crave different things at work than their predecessors did. As Baby Boomer scientists retire, it’s important to consider what will appeal to the changing workforce. Seventy percent of employees say happiness at work is key, according to a global JLL survey of >7,000 employees in multiple sectors. When they feel that a workplace caters to their needs, they feel productive and fulfilled. Such positive attitudes generate an atmosphere of engagement that will help attract bright new talent and inspire them to stay.

Below are three ways workplace strategy can support recruitment strategy directly — and, by extension, innovation strategy, too.

Meet Talent Where They Are: Investing in the right location can yield high returns in terms of talent. High-achieving scientists and data specialists want to live in bustling cities, where they can mingle with peers while enjoying the live–work–play environment. San Francisco, San Diego, and Boston all offer proximity to research institutions, universities, and hospitals. Access to those resources helps companies attract scientists now and into the future, creating a robust pipeline of new talent to address ever more aggressive R&D timelines. Real-estate developers have built specialized parks and innovation districts to help these areas keep up their momentum into the future.

Despite soaring rents, an alluring concentration of resources keeps laboratory vacancies under 10% in most top life-science markets. Companies such as Amgen, Merck, and Genentech/Roche invest in sought-after locales, relocating some teams and establishing new headquarters to tap into rich research and talent ecosystems.

The “laboratory of the future” can inspire more creative thinking — and doing. Today’s top scientists won’t be impressed with rigid layouts and low-tech data systems that slow down their work. They expect flexible and highly capable settings where they can move freely from meeting rooms to wet/dry laboratories to cafés. State-of-the-art equipment does more than help people do their jobs well; it also sends a message that those jobs are meaningful, increasing employee pride and satisfaction. A vibrant, attractive mix of spaces can inspire creative thinking and make it easy for people to move from one task to the next, whether checking results or sharing ideas with coworkers.

Rich amenities enrich the human experience — and the corporate bottom line — to yield a range of benefits in recruitment and retention. An abundance of natural light; access to reading nooks, meditation rooms, or gardens; and other human-oriented touches can help nurture a greater sense of well-being — and in turn, productivity.

Several high-profile developments exemplify this growing trend: Tenants at San Diego’s “The Alexandria at Torrey Pines” can enjoy an onsite restaurant with award-winning chef Brian Malarkey. At San Francisco’s “The Cove at Oyster Point,” scientists can find inspiration at the bowling alley or bocce ball court. And the “Gateway of Pacific” park includes fire pits, a lounge, cookout and picnic areas, food-truck docks, sports venues, and a Zen meditation garden.

Engaging Talent Today
Global demand for medicine is skyrocketing, as is the pressure to deliver more treatments more often. Engaging talent is one way to deliver on those priorities. With flexible, human-oriented workplace strategies, life-science leaders can achieve significant recruitment and retention wins despite pressing cost concerns. Gallup research shows that highly engaged workplaces see 41% drops in absenteeism, 17% increases in productivity, and 21% jumps in profitability compared with less engaged workplaces (2). Such productivity gains can speed up discovery and development, achieving breakthroughs in the laboratory and on the production floor — and in the competition for great talent, too.

Journey to the Next Gen Lab. JLL: Chicago, IL, 2018;

2 State of the American Workplace. Gallup: Washington, DC, 2017;

Roger Humphrey is executive managing director of the life sciences group at JLL, 200 East Randolph Drive, Chicago, IL 60601; 1-908-698-1379;