Getting Pharma Fit for Sustainable Growth

July 2, 2022

Talent acquisition specialist, Neil Kelly, of Vector Partners, shines a light on the role mental health can play on high vacancy and attrition rates in the pharmaceutical industry and the impact on sustainable growth.

The pharmaceutical industry is seeing ground-breaking advances, increased investment and more scientific start-ups than ever before. The next chapter in this success story will hinge on sustainable growth, driven in part by recruiting and retaining talent. However, it-s widely accepted that there is a talent shortage in science and pharma, and with it, high levels of attrition.Medical advances, treatment diversification, population growth and the pandemic are all driving increased demand for talent. But there-s an additional contributory factor that-s not making the headlines - mental health.

What mental health crisis?

In 2018, Pharma Times reported: -The industry employs in the region of 73,000 people in the UK and with 1 in 6 people suffering mental ill health at any given time in the UK, statistically over 12,000 pharmaceutical employees will be directly affected right now.-1 Add the exponential sector growth we-ve seen since, and a global pandemic and we-ve got a problem.

The Great Resignation

Mental health issues have played their part in the so-called -Great Resignation- that-s been happening across all industries, and pharma is by no means immune.Historically, pharma has always been a high-pressure working environment. The pandemic has amplified that pressure, with many working unrelentingly to research and manufacture vaccines and treatments. Pharma is, by its very nature, a behind-the-scenes miracle of the modern age, but since the pandemic began, it-s been brought sharply into the spotlight, adding to consumer expectations.But it-s not only the pandemic that-s piled on the pressure. In recent years, as the pharma industry has grown and diversified, it-s become rare to recruit a person who-s a 100% perfect fit. It-s now more common to recruit a person closer to a 60/70% fit, who can learn and grow -on the job-. But without adequate onboarding, training and support provision, plus added stress from understaffing and staff turnover, the cracks in mental health can start to appear.

Boom or boomerang?

High vacancy rates, absenteeism through ill health, lack of support and increased demand all feed into a vicious circle of stress and attrition for pharma professionals, as they constantly search for a position to relieve their situation. It-s tempting to jump ship. But in reality, the grass isn-t always greener in a sector that finds itself under pressure across the board. Many employees previously lured away, return within 12 months - the so-called -boomerang employees-. While their original employers may welcome them back with open arms, sustainable growth is hindered by high attrition levels and a lack of stability.

What do you need?

Pharma professionals spend a lot of time at the coalface, and their basic human needs cannot be ignored if they-re to stay happy and healthy in their work, and stay in their jobs. Whilst it-s hard to put an exact figure on the financial and performance benefits of a happy and healthy workforce, common sense dictates that if companies want to recruit and retain the right talent to secure sustainable growth, they need to think about mental health and wellbeing, as well as -pay and perks-.

Cultural evolution, bilateral revolution

As a service-led industry, pharma contract manufacturers have evolved around service delivery, and whilst being highly patient driven, the customer is still critical. However, a healthier future for those working in the sector could be achieved by switching to a more bilateral focus on both customer and employee, and on culture and structure.Health and wellbeing policies are only effective when embedded in a company culture where staff feel able to have open conversations about mental health, without judgement. Opening up about mental health can happen only when people feel secure and empowered to do so. Alongside an open company culture, if employers reposition, and value, their employees as the enablers of performance and delivery, placing their wellbeing at the heart of ways of working, with solid onboarding, training and ongoing support, the vicious cycle of understaffing, overload and attrition can be broken, and employers may no longer have to resign themselves to the Great Resignation.Pushing past the pandemic, when a tempting opportunity lands in their inbox, pharma employees may increasingly be paying attention to those companies that actively promote mental health and wellbeing, rather than those with a wellbeing policy silently gathering dust on the shelf. And as recruiters, we also have a duty beyond the hunt for the -perfect candidate profile-, to examine the bigger picture, and to make every move a meaningful and lasting one.

1.Employee mental health in the pharma industry - PharmaTimes

Posted by

Neil Kelly

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