In late spring of 2022, the combined BPI editorial and marketing teams sent out a “Best Places to Work in Biotech” survey to BPI readers. Similar surveys appear every year from a number of other organizations. Our focus was less data driven than many others, instead inviting commentary on factors that are becoming essential to job satisfaction and employee retention.
One strong conclusion to draw from our reader responses is that people in biopharmaceutical careers want to play a key role in determining the nature and design of their working environments. Available paths to career growth and flexible working conditions are important to today’s entrants into industry positions. Respondents also want their working lives to support core social and environmental values and to provide avenues for meaningful engagement in their communities.
The prompts that we provided might reveal something about what the BPI team values about our own company, Informa, which recently was certified as a “Most Loved Workplace” (https://mostlovedworkplace.com). And we thought that would be a good place to begin. The comments included herein reveal the factors that are most attractive to the current generation of scientists and technical personnel in the biopharmaceutical industry. Together, they should point to elements that encourage job retention and longevity.
About the Responses
We gathered responses from life-science professionals representing more than a hundred companies and organizations — a combination of drug developers, suppliers, academic groups, and government institutions. So our responses reflect a fairly balanced cross-section of biopharmaceutical businesses and functions. We asked people to rank their employers from 1 (lowest) to 5 (highest) regarding several factors. The top-ranking companies are shown in the “Top Employers” box.
In the following sections, the original survey statement is followed by discussion of reader comments. We asked respondents, “On a scale of 1 (strongly disagree) to 5 (strongly agree), how much do you identify with the following descriptions?
My company incorporates economically and environmentally sustainable practices. It obtains production, manufacturing, and operational materials from sustainable sources, and it reuses and/or recycles such materials in responsible ways. We not only comply with, but also exceed local and state requirements regarding disposal/recycling of biological and potentially toxic materials. And such practices are nicely aligned with efforts to reduce operating costs and, in turn, the prices of our marketed products.
Some respondents indicate that their companies have yet to implement genuinely sustainable practices, although one person pointed out, “I think ours is not the ‘perfect’ company in sustainability, but we all are trying to do [our] best.” By contrast, another respondent noted that a company “completely discontinued all recycling and indiscriminately generates mountains of waste.” Negative reviews may have come in response to the ways in which organizations have managed transitions, corporate growth, and hiring during the past two turbulent years. One respondent’s company “had gone through sizeable growth that was not managed well. There was huge turnover and very little on-board training. Dollar growth was prioritized over responsible growth, so many mistakes have been made affecting customers and employees.”
Overall, many companies appear to be prioritizing sustainability initiatives. One such company, a reader reported, “is working toward increasing access to healthcare and carbon-negative initiatives.” Among corporate milestones are compliance with national and local programs and responsible management of company growth. One respondent noted that “our new offices are LEED certified” (referring to certification in Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design), and another company was praised for “programs from global down to a local level addressing climate change, environmental impact, packaging innovations, and things as simple as recycling.” Speaking for single-use suppliers, one respondent wrote, “There is a moral imperative to focus on providing circular postuse options.” That person did mention, however, that such an imperative does not appear to be universally prioritized.
Of interest is how many companies are helping their employees develop personal sustainability practices. “We recycle inside the company, and also we bring our recycling from home to dispose in the recycling bins,” one respondent told us. Other respondents made similar observations, highlighting that their companies “provide additional recycling and composting services for employees to bring in whatever they generate in their own households. We also subsidize additional composting equipment and provide courses for usage, as well as subsidize heat pumps to encourage employees to switch to cleaner electricity-generated heat than using wood for home heating (really prevalent in our area).” Another company offers electric vehicle (EV) charging stations to employees at its headquarters.
Here are some more examples from the survey commentary:
- At our manufacturing site in New Zealand, we managed to reduce 65% waste in three years through waste management.
- The Ambition Zero Carbon strategy significantly accelerated a plan developed in 2015 to reduce our greenhouse gas footprint, including setting targets to achieve zero carbon by 2025 in its operations and to become carbon negative across our value chain by 2030.
- We turn plastic-contaminated medical waste into plastic lumber.
The company I work for is striving to use enzymes to produce molecules typically chemically synthesized. This helps avoid the use of harsh organic solvents and toxic compounds and prevents toxic by-product production.
- We plan to achieve 70% CO2 intensity reduction by 2030.
My company prioritizes my physical, emotional, and intellectual well-being. It offers competitive benefits that foster happy employees and a thriving workplace. It not only offers, but also encourages me to use provisions for childcare, parental leave, and medical leave. The same is true for continuing education, professional development, and networking. My company carves out time for me to participate in volunteer activities.
National/regional differences in benefits are unavoidable. Several respondents note inequitable vacation, sick leave, and salaries based on position and status within a company. But overall, the responses are positive. One person expressed appreciation of “choice in our work-from-home time so that everyone can have the work/life balance that works best for them.” Respondents enjoy “employee resource groups for diversity and inclusion (D&I) engagement, colleague support groups, women-in-leadership projects, and many more to allow for networking and support throughout the globe.”
One emerging change for the better may have arisen both from working during the pandemic and from the influence of some countries’ family-leave policies. Respondents mentioned benefiting from “generous maternal- and paternal-leave policies and volunteer opportunities.” They praise their companies’ “provision of/support for childcare, compassionate caregiving, flexible working times, learning/training opportunities.” One person noted that her company provides a nutritious lunch every day.
I believe that my company has a clear and important mission and that it is set up for sustainable growth and long-term success. Its goals and business strategies are well defined and realistic. Those objectives and plans are reassessed frequently and carefully to enable future growth, and the company’s direction gives me confidence that it can live out its mission statement in day-to-day practice.
Responses to this statement indicate that even the best companies can do much better at communicating their broader corporate missions and long-term goals to their employees, especially to those outside of management positions. Although many readers responded with “great” and similarly terse statements of agreement with the prompt, this section drew more negative comments than did other sections in our survey. One reader said that their company’s only mission “seems to be making money through growth.” Another added that “indefinite growth is not sustainable. Capitalism is not sustainable. Stop trying to greenwash capitalism.” Toward offering a bit of good advice, one person emphasized the importance of putting “the necessary team members into place to have a fully trained staff prior to implementing an aggressive revenue goal” at the risk otherwise of suffering “unnecessary turnover and study delays.”
Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DE&I)
My company fosters a diverse workforce. That goal is reflected in its hiring practices and broader corporate structure. My company not only attracts a diverse talent pool, but also fosters conversations about how diversity manifests, how equity can be increased across colleagues and teams, and how inclusive environments can be created. My company’s operations are laid out in ways that are accessible to my colleagues — for instance, by providing different and multiple access points for employees who use wheelchairs and/or other equipment, enabling them to work comfortably and competitively with their colleagues. I believe that my company’s managers and officers truly live out the DE&I values expressed in our mission statement.
Our results show that companies are holding regular workshops/discussion groups on how to promote DE&I. Many companies can take pride in their progress toward fostering a diverse and inclusive workforce. One major biopharmaceutical company “has made diversity, inclusion, and belonging a cornerstone of its corporate goals,” a respondent noted.
Although no respondents feel that their companies have done all they can, most note movement in the right direction. One person mentioned that the workplace is diverse, supportive, and authentic, but that such diversity is less prevalent at the executive levels. A number of respondents praised current efforts toward improving accessibility. Facilities may be improving wheelchair access and bringing pay scales up to levels that attract good talent in the first place.
Two respondents highlighted the importance of DE&I toward reinforcing satisfaction and retention: “The diverse background of everyone working here has allowed me to grow as a scientist and individual,” and “I finally learned that my identity and being authentic are the most important things to be owned, encouraged, and shared.”
My company values, supports, and cares for me and my colleagues. It operates in ways that foster my creativity and productivity — for instance, by providing IT capabilities for those who would benefit from working remotely. My company enables me to maintain a healthy work/life balance. I also know that I can focus on health and family during difficult times. My managers and corporate resources help me to negotiate accommodations for work hours and tasks in ways that support my needs while maintaining my team’s initiatives and timelines.
The realities of unrelenting deadlines appear to have made a negative impact on perception of overall company culture. One person commented that, because the company does not provide laptops to employees, people cannot take advantage of remote-work options. Another noted a total absence of any sort of corporate “culture.” To be praised, however, are companies in which managers foster communication, flexibility, and family commitments while actively supporting employees’ emotional health and well-being.
I feel that my colleagues and I can work with management to blaze our own paths in line with the company’s broader mission. I am empowered to make full use of my talents and training, and I have abundant opportunities for growth within the company. I am impressed by the number and quality of resources that are available to me, and I plan to grow with my company.
Responses to this section might indicate that management needs to pay more than lip service toward supporting the career trajectories of employees. But several people note that they are able to make “full use of their talents and experience.”
Companies appear to be embracing the trend of creating programs for continuing education and skills development. Our results also show that employees value opportunities for personal interaction and travel to industry events. Employees praise environments that encourage creativity and personal initiative as well as managerial openness to new ideas. Common criticisms were that opportunities for professional growth can be limited for staff scientists and that senior management is overburdened with managing employee turnover and thus unable to devote attention to developing training/retention tools.
My company serves as a strong industry leader. It develops novel therapies, technologies, and/or scientific services. I am convinced that, with such offerings, my company can leave meaningful impacts on patients seeking treatment — and on the world more generally. My colleagues and I are encouraged not only to do our assignments, but also to think “outside the box” to innovate in ways that benefit science and medicine. My managers and officers are eager to consider and implement new ideas and initiatives based on feedback from me and my colleagues.
Responses to this section run hot and cold, with nothing much in between. Some respondents praise their organization’s focus on strong leadership, talented people, and opportunities to learn to lead projects and teams. But an equal proportion of readers highlighted corporate self-promotion and overwhelming workloads that stifle development of personal initiative. This result points overall to the need for better communication about how each group or department contributes to the whole of a company’s culture.
My company serves as an ethical model for the rest of the industry. Its corporate culture matches the image presented in its outward-facing materials (e.g., press releases, scientific presentations, promotions, and website resources). I trust my company to make sound business decisions based on careful consideration of important ethical, scientific, and economic factors. My company works fairly, transparently, and responsibly with employees, business partners, clinical associates, competitors, and patients. My company takes the initiative to address problems with meaningful solutions.
This is another area that drew extremes of responses. Sample positive comments include “I’ve been proud of the public stances on social issues my company has taken these past few years” and “integrity and transparency are core values of our culture.” Negative comments mention employee perception of a company as a “money-making machine” and cases of misleading hype in publications.
Perhaps the most useful comment — and another indication that the talent drain is compromising the public face of a company — is this: “All data provided and product manufactured are done with integrity at the forefront of all decisions. However, proper investigations are unable to occur because those tasked with determining root causes are overwhelmed with responsibilities outside their job descriptions.”
My company promotes collaboration among my peers and across functional groups. My site has spaces that are designed for interaction and informal meetings (rather than “cube-farm” designs). I feel encouraged to meet and exchange ideas with my peers. My company sponsors social events, including picnics, holiday get-togethers, brainstorming sessions, and health initiatives. Such offers and opportunities feel productive rather than distracting, and they foster my work.
The importance of team building and interaction with peers is at the forefront of job satisfaction for most of the respondents. One person praised “smart lab spaces and open-office settings.” A couple of respondents noted that their companies maintained a careful balance during the pandemic of restrictions and “activities for team making.” Employee input is encouraged during regular meeting of “several committees to improve employee communication, brainstorming, and walking meetings.” One person singled out a transitions program as “unparalleled” and “the major reason I easily incorporated into a new area where I knew nobody.” One commenter said that “the best moments for team building are in our all-hands events with the entire company, the after-offices, internal sport championships, and celebration of our successes and learnings.” In some cases, “weekly meetings in relaxed forums with food and drinks have allowed scientists across departments to present research and progress in an environment that allows everyone to enjoy themselves.”
A number of respondents praise ways in which their companies encourage volunteering in local organizations and participation in “social-cause events such as those related to breast cancer awareness, Darkness into Light [suicide prevention], and TidyTowns [community building and local renewal].”
Some comments reveal that companies are rebuilding teams and activities following COVID-19 restrictions or that “[although] there is considerable collegiality, it frequently feels that it is due to surviving the stresses of the company together.” Encouragement to work together as a team across functions “is tempered by being overworked and things not getting done on time.” One respondent appears to damn with faint praise by saying, “Collaboration is a necessary requirement for any position at my company because each department will require support from another to fulfill the missing labor from the continuous mass exodus.”
My company leads the industry in “giving back” to the communities it serves and to the world more broadly. My company makes meaningful philanthropic contributions — for instance, by making its products available to patients who otherwise could not afford or access them. My company participates — and often founds or takes the lead — in initiatives that substantially improve public health, especially in remote and economically developing parts of the world.
The survey closed by asking how companies are giving back to their communities. The general direction in all of our survey categories is that employees want to balance their work and private lives in meaningful ways through “volunteering and social responsibility initiatives.”
One company “collaborates with local nongovernmental organization (NGO) entities for their economical support or participating as volunteers,” and another company gives “one paid volunteer day a year to its employees.” A couple of people mention their companies’ participation in Give Back initiatives: “We give 2% of our turnover to our give-back programs, in which our company encourages us to use work hours to support a wide variety of projects which we propose ourselves.” Rewarding volunteerism may be an increasing trend, as reflected by this comment: “My company provides some community outreach through several employee-supported drives, such as food, toy, and blood drives. A recent implementation of community service time-off was implemented.”
Outside of local communities, a number of respondents praise their companies’ global initiatives. “One of the main focuses of the company is to produce simple production processes for complex biotherapeutics that can be employed in developing companies.” And as a final comment, “Our company provided many products and services at no or low cost during the pandemic to ensure quick development of vaccines and treatments against COVID-19.”
Forward to Survey 2.0
In many ways, this survey was our way of testing the waters of evaluating job satisfaction in the biopharmaceutical industry. We’re looking forward to putting lessons that we learned during the survey’s execution into action as we move on to the next phase. In 2023, watch for a new (and improved) BPI “Best Places to Work in Biotech” program that will be tied to our annual event in Boston this coming fall.
|The following organizations received the highest overall markings in our survey.
S. Anne Montgomery is cofounder and editor in chief of BioProcess International, part of Informa Connect Life Sciences; email@example.com.