Talent retention in small biotechnology – a stretch among generations

28th January 2016 (Last Updated July 18th, 2018 09:30)

Judy Lee, senior clinical trial manager, Galena Biopharma, provides some tips on how biotech companies can retain its talent

Talent retention in small biotechnology – a stretch among generations

Companies are focusing more on retaining workers, largely because replacing them is costly. The median cost of turnover for most jobs is about 21% of an employee's annual salary, according to the Center for American Progress, a liberal-leaning think tank. And it can cost, on average, $3,341 to hire a new employee, according to the Society for Human Resource Management. For small biotechnology companies, this is even more perilous, given the already sparse resources. How does a manager of a corporation ensure the continuity of knowledge, in the midst of developing life-saving medicines across therapeutic areas, especially when the life cycle of such a process is lengthy in a highly regulated environment? Moreover, managers are increasingly grappling with generational differences in their work forces. Problems can arise from differing mindsets and communication styles of workers born in different eras. The frictions may be aggravated by new technology and work patterns that mix workers of different ages in ever-changing teams.Hiring employees is just a start to creating a strong work force. The following tactics may be a start to retain your employees.

  1. Offer a competitive benefits package that fits your employees' needs. Providing health insurance, life insurance and a retirement-savings plan is essential in retaining employees. But other perks, such as flextime and the option of telecommuting, go a long way to show employees you are willing to accommodate their outside lives.
  2. Provide some small perks. Free bagels on Wednesdays, happy hour Fridays, and dry-cleaning pickup and delivery may seem insignificant, but if they help employees better manage their lives, they'll appreciate it and may be more likely to stick around.
  3. Use contests and incentives to help keep workers motivated and feeling rewarded. Done right, these kinds of programs can keep employees focused and excited about their jobs.
  4. Conduct "stay" interviews. In addition to performing exit interviews to learn why employees are leaving, consider asking longer-tenured employees why they stay. Ask questions such as: Why did you come to work here? Why have you stayed? What would make you leave? And what are your nonnegotiable issues? What about your managers? What would you change or improve? Then use that information to strengthen your employee-retention strategies.
  5. Promote from within whenever possible. And give employees a clear path of advancement. Employees will become frustrated and may stop trying if they see no clear future for themselves at your company.
  6. Foster employee development. This could be training to learn a new job skill or tuition reimbursement to help further your employee's education.
  7. Create open communication between employees and management. Hold regular meetings in which employees can offer ideas and ask questions. Have an open-door policy that encourages employees to speak frankly with their managers without fear of repercussion.
  8. Communicate your business's mission. Feeling connected to the organization's goals is one way to keep employees mentally and emotionally tied to your company.
  9. Offer financial rewards. Consider offering stock options or other financial awards for employees who meet performance goals and stay for a predetermined time period, say, three or five years. Also, provide meaningful annual raises. Nothing dashes employee enthusiasm more than a paltry raise. If you can afford it, give more to your top performers. Or, if you don't want to be stuck with large permanent increases, create a bonus structure where employees can earn an annual bonus if they meet pre-specified performance goals.
  10. Make sure employees know what you expect of them. It may seem basic, but often in small companies, employees have a wide breadth of responsibilities. If they don't know exactly what their jobs entail and what you need from them, they can't perform up to standard, and morale can begin to dip.

Despite the above efforts, this is simply not enough. Managers must recognize generational differences and adapt. It's important that managers change rather than trying to change the staff. Offer different working options like telecommuting and working offsite. Focus on the results employees produce rather than on how they get it done. This will give employees some flexibility on how they want to work and put everybody, regardless of where they spent most of their time working, on the same scale to measure success. Importantly, give all employees a voice. Regardless of age and tenure, give all employees a forum in which to present ideas, concerns and complaints. Department heads should facilitate open communication throughout the office and set aside time to provide honest feedback. Lastly, accommodate personal employee needs. Different generations of employees will be in different stages of life and may require that employers offer some scheduling flexibility to manage their personal time. But maintain parity so other employees don't feel alienated. Boomers who are thinking of retirement, for example, may want to cut the number of hours they work in exchange for reduced pay. Gen Xers who need to leave work early to attend a parent/teacher function can agree to make up lost time at another date. Support Millennials who may want to pursue another degree part-time and extend the same educational opportunities to other employees.Don't confuse character issues like immaturity, laziness or intractability with generational traits. Whereas Boomers may see a 60-hour work week as a prerequisite to achieving success, many hard-working Millennials may prefer a more balanced life that includes reasonable working hours-with occasional bouts of overtime-and weekends off. The latter may also voluntarily choose to make up the time in unstructured settings like working at a Starbucks on weekends.

With the above ten routine tactics, formula of hiring the right employees, and an eye towards differences in generational work-forces, it would appear your corporation/manager would be well equipped to be successful, given all the other variables impacting our industry - regulatory hurdles, development strategy, clinical assets safety and effectiveness.