Strategies for Retaining and Motivating Your Employees

Meghan Hosely
October 30th, 2019

It’s no secret that clinical research is a fast-moving industry. The to-do list for many research staff members is long, and between balancing multiple participants and making sure each respective trial is running smoothly, it may seem never-ending.

While the to-do list is substantial, retention rates in the clinical research industry are not. For seven of the last 10 years, turnover levels at contract research organizations (CROs) have hovered around 20% — meaning one in five staff members leave each year. While turnover rates have remained high, raises in compensation, on average, have remained around 2.1%.

However, compensation is not the sole reason for the turnover rates in the industry. Other intentions for staff members leaving their positions includes burnout due to too much traveling and a “steep learning trajectory.” Regardless of the reasoning, turnover creates a loss of cohesion between staff members, leading to delayed trial timelines. The longer a trial is delayed, the later it makes its way to the market.

The research industry isn’t slowing down, either. Between 2005 and 2017, the number of registered trials increased from 24,921 to 256,544 globally. From October 2016 to October 2017 alone, registered trials increased by 11%. If organizations don’t have the manpower to do everything in-house due to turnover, they will have no choice but to outsource future clinical trials.

In order to mitigate this, academic medical centers (AMCs) and cancer centers (CCs) must take the time to learn what motivates their employees and what makes them stay with the organization.

Ways to Enhance Employee Motivation

It’s important to remember that in general, motivation looks different for everyone, and changes frequently. There are two types of motivation: extrinsic and intrinsic. Extrinsic motivation is driven by external rewards, such as one’s salary or bonus they receive at the end of the year. Intrinsic motivation is driven by one’s internal feelings, such as feeling a sense of joy after completing a task.

In addition to knowing what people are motivated by, it’s important to know how motivation drives them. In his book, “Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us,” Daniel Pink said there are three “major drivers” in motivation:

  • Autonomy: when they do it, how they do it, whom they do it with and what they do
  • Mastery: becoming better at something that matters to them
  • Purpose: understanding the overall vision to the organization and how their specific role contributes to that vision

Knowing what influences employees to come in and complete their tasks can make all the difference in motivating them going forward. It’s important for a manager to play a role because they have a better idea of what their staff members’ day-to-day tasks are, and are familiar with their overall workload. By working closely with their staff, managers have the unique ability to recognize motivators, and can help push them forward.

In 2016, HR+Survey Solutions published the study “Turnover at Clinical Research Organizations Remains High”. Judy Canavan, Global Employer Services Managing Director, said focusing on salaries won’t address the “core problem” for turnover – and CROs should look to other industries to see how turnover is managed.

Canavan said high turnover can affect the relationship between the site and sponsor, causing a site to lose bids. Changing jobs not only helps maximize compensation, but helps employees round out their resumes. By creating internal opportunities at an organization, staff members stay within the organization, which is beneficial in keeping up with continuity and building a relationship with a site’s sponsor.

Personality also plays a key part in any team setting. Canavan advised to place importance on personality during the hiring process, as it is often the reason people stay with or leave an organization. Canavan suggested introducing candidates to as many people as possible to gauge them on an emotional intelligence level.

Even though the clinical research industry is producing more and more trials each year, none will be successful if there isn’t staff to run them. Fostering a culture may take more work up front, but if the end results in less turnover and more cohesion on staff, it’s well worth the work.

Reduce employee turnover and boost your clinical research staff retention with our Stay Interview Template for Clinical Research Staff worksheet. Use this template of recommended stay interview questions to facilitate productive conversations and ensure you and your staff member are prepared for the interview.