What You Should Be Doing (But Aren’t) to Attract & Retain Talent

From our vantage point, many biotech and biopharma firms struggling with talent attraction and retention have three commonalities. Discover what they are—but more importantly—what you can do.

| June 29, 2022

Written by: Chiara Brega

Across Europe and the US, our clients have noticed a new development in the global competition for biotech talent. Hiring models that worked well even one or two years ago suddenly seem outdated, with preferred candidates easily deterred by lengthy or indecisive onboarding. The cause is no mystery: the war for talent is fiercer than ever, with key indicators of wage pressure, employee choice, and labor supply making it difficult to fill key positions. Unfortunately, many Directors and Board members have not fully realized how proactive and aggressive they need to be to succeed in this competitive environment. 

In our view, most biotech and biopharma firms struggling with hiring face three overlapping challenges. The first is the intensity of the competition, which we’ll get to momentarily. The second is the failure to augment direct compensation and equity with the benefits that a choosier workforce is seeking, most notably in workplace culture, hybrid work, and employee experience. The final factor—and the least recognized—is the need for companies to make the hiring process quick, easy, and indicative of what employees can expect once onboarded. It is also important to realize that the loss of existing employees is directly connected, stemming from the same set of pressures. Employees are less willing to tolerate uncomfortable or unrewarding jobs; meeting their expectations requires smart branding, streamlined hiring, and unprecedented transparency. A skilled search firm can help with all three, of course, but companies also need to take steps independently. 

Hard-to-Fill Positions

From a big-picture perspective, high turnover and hard-to-fill positions make perfect sense. Unemployment is as low as it’s been in decades, at 3.8% in the UK and 3.6% in the US. Hires have exceeded separations (which includes quitting, firing, changing careers, and so on) for months now, and the trend has only slowed down very slightly. Britain’s leading industry group for HR, the CIPD, reports that employment confidence remains extremely high and above pre-pandemic levels, with far more firms expecting to expand staff than to shrink their workforces. And across industries—but especially in healthcare and adjacent fields—vacancies are becoming hard to fill. CIPD numbers indicate that almost half of British firms struggle to fill at least some key roles. 

While those numbers are unlikely to surprise our readers, their secondary effects are more interesting. Employer responses, in particular, are important. While raising pay has been a primary means of attracting talent, given the increase in competition, many companies are reaching the limits of their ability to do so. Only 27% of UK employers intend to increase compensation for recruitment in the near future. Instead, many are turning to learning and development (L&D) programs, changes to equity structure, more comprehensive benefits, and increased work flexibility.  

The current hiring environment has also caused widespread changes in how employees approach the job search—traditional job values like stability and company prestige matter less than ever. Job seekers are less tolerant of delays and more willing to abandon average offers. Many people who left the workforce during the pandemic have chosen not to return. And those who remain have almost universally become choosier and more specific in their expectations. 

What You Can Do

While some companies can partially address these challenges with financial outlays, many cannot—especially early-stage startups. And in the face of steep inflation, even substantial raises don’t guarantee that workers will feel the added benefit.

A more effective option, in many cases, is to creatively and thoroughly rethink how the company relates to employees. Start with hiring. Develop an attractively branded, swift, valuable, and respectful recruitment process. Make it easy for top talent to want to work for you.  

Second, strengthen policies that appeal to workers’ evolving preferences. For example, offer generous long-term incentives, thorough and relevant L&D plans, allow work from home and hybrid work options, and ensure that employees with families feel their needs are being met through paid leave, childcare support, and similar policies.

These kinds of changes are not just for frontline employees. Most of the candidates we speak to for executive positions ask us about advancement, support for families, and CSR or sustainability initiatives. To succeed in biotech in 2022, companies must offer more than just worthwhile jobs. They need to enable employees to have enjoyable lives. 

To discuss this topic further, we invite you to contact Chiara Brega.

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