Throughout these past couple of years, we have witnessed a watershed moment for talent—for work in general. How, when, where, and why work gets done has been completely upended as we grapple with how to manage hybrid and remote workforces, how to keep good employees from jumping ship, and how to win the war for top talent without overspending on headcount.
These challenges, combined with the difficult economic situation the life sciences industry is in, are undoubtedly going to lead to some short-term pain in 2023. Companies will need to do more with less to succeed.
But we believe that each of these challenges is solvable, provided we remain steadfast in our commitment to patients, our passion for win-win solutions, and our focus on delivering good and meaningful work.
To help, the Mix team is sharing our predictions for the top talent trends in the life sciences industry in 2023. We hope they provide some inspiration as you begin the year and start to tackle the unique problems—and opportunities—your organization is facing.
Thanks for reading!
— Mix Talent
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DEIB will continue to be a hot topic
It’s well-understood that diverse teams can positively impact overall business performance, improve problem solving, and enhance culture. But, beyond the direct benefits and inherent merits of a diverse workforce, the impact of diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging (DEIB) on attracting and retaining talent is becoming clearer, with one study showing that workplace belonging not only improves performance but also results in a 50% reduction in turnover.
As this becomes clearer to organizations planning to grow in 2023, it will challenge how DEIB is not just understood but resourced and fostered within organizations. HR and DEIB leaders will work more closely together, ensuring DEIB goals are set, resourced effectively, and prioritized across organizations’ leadership teams.
Organizations struggling to realize DEIB goals will also focus on uncovering the underlying causes for these shortcomings. For example, one of the biggest challenges impacting diverse hiring in the life sciences industry is around hiring referrals. While there are some advantages to hiring referrals, diversity in these hires tends to be lower, especially when hiring managers and the leadership team is not diverse.
In simple terms: referral hiring generally leads you to hire people who look, talk, and think like you, resulting in a lack of hiring individuals from underrepresented groups.
In 2023, this is going to be an increasingly glaring problem for organizations that can’t figure out how to improve diversity in their hiring practices—and a source of meaningful differentiation for those who can.
According to DeVry University, the #1 HR trend to watch for in 2023 is an increased focus on diversity, equity and inclusion.
HR will remain in the spotlight with a focus on compliance and transparency
The pandemic propelled HR into the boardroom like never before, casting a spotlight on the function that continues to this day. The HR function is mission-critical as organizations continue to manage the many implications of the COVID-19 crisis.
While these conversations—including hybrid and remote work, wellbeing programs, and quiet quitting—are far from over, HR leaders’ time in the spotlight will continue to shift and evolve into other important topics, including new laws and compliance requirements to include salary transparency.
For example, in late 2022, New York City joined Colorado, Washington State, and a host of other places in requiring a greater degree of salary transparency. In New York’s case, this means organizations that meet the statute’s criteria must disclose a salary range with every job opening posted.
As salary information becomes more public, it will cast a greater light on pay discrepancies and bias within organizations and the systems and processes thatgovern (or fail to govern) how pay is structured.
While this is a good step towards pay equality, it will be on HR’s shoulders to navigate their organization’s path through compliance and the development of sustainable longterm practices. This, along with many other strategic HR initiatives, are elevating the HR function, and we believe will ultimately be an important part of defining the future of work.
As Marissa Andrada, chief diversity, inclusion, and people officer at Chipotle put it to TIME:
Talent organizations will continue to be more specialized
When competition for talent is high—which, despite a slowing economy, can still be appropriately referred to as a “war”—it forces organizations to find ways to improve efficiencies while remaining competitive.
One of the ways we have seen life sciences companies accomplish this—and will see more of in 2023—is using specialized recruiters who can:
- Fill positions faster by leveraging their close relationships with a candidate pool, reducing the cost of having important work not being done.
- Give organizations an edge in understanding how best to attract, compensate, and close top talent for a particular role or function.
- Bring greater efficiency and capacity by handling tough niche positions and thereby allowing internal resources to focus on a broader set of roles.
When dealing with the combination of tough economic times and an employee-driven market, these benefits make specialized recruiting a game changer, especially for small and emerging companies that don’t have the extensive internal HR resources of larger organizations to fund and develop specialized recruiting talent in house.
Employee wellbeing will be a top retention tool
There’s no question that when it comes to retaining employees, the most important factor will continue to be salary. If you can’t pay competitive salaries, it will be impossible to keep good workers.
That said, there is plenty of room for organizations to improve retention beyond pay increases. And that starts with meeting employees where they are—which, sadly, is not the greatest of places. In 2022, employee stress was at an all-time high, according to Gallup’s “State of the Global Workplace: 2022 Report.” Engagement and well-being were also low, with just 21% of employees engaged at work and only 33% of employees thriving in their overall wellbeing.
It’s a challenging state of affairs for America’s workforce, and one that life sciences organizations need to help fix—not only because employees deserve it, but also because it’s good business. Workers who feel supported in their roles are more likely to stay at an organization.
As such, we’re going to see an influx of employer-provided wellbeing initiatives in 2023. Effective initiatives go beyond the check-the-box approach described by Dr. Petty Kern as the “fruit, fitness, and flu shots” approach and may even lead to some new roles within organizations.
To make a real difference, these initiatives will involve taking a closer look at one’s workplace culture, norms, and processes to address systemic issues, equipping leaders and managers with the skills and abilities to have honest conversations about employee wellbeing with their teams, and providing employees with the resources, tools, autonomy, and empowerment needed to nurture their wellbeing. In addition to supporting retention and preventing burnout, a focus on employee wellbeing is an end in itself and a way to demonstrate genuine care for employees.
44% of employees experienced a lot of daily stress in the previous day
Only 33% of employees are thriving in their overall wellbeing
Just 21% of employees are engaged at work
Legislative reform will change the life sciences talent landscape
With the passing of the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) last year, which gives Medicare the ability to negotiate drug prices for the first time and puts price caps on drugs, biopharma manufacturers are faced with a new set of challenges that will have ripple effects on the talent landscape. We anticipate a few trends coming as a result.
First, as companies reassess clinical programs, we expect to see cuts in the clinical/R&D roles as companies shrink or refine their R&D organizations. Some have already cut, or signaled their intentions to cut, certain programs as a result of this new legislation. As stated by ZS, “There are many uncertainties around rule-making and implementation, but even conservative baseline assumptions already point to a reality that some existing development programs will no longer be viable.”
Second, while R&D talent might be in the crosshairs, we expect roles in Market Access as well as Medical & Scientific Affairs to have increasing importance as companies navigate the implications of these changes to law. Expect a war on talent for these roles.
Finally, we should also see an increase in the use of contingent labor and contracted talent as companies seek to mitigate risk and manage their fixed costs. And, when it does come to hiring full-time employees, we expect companies to further scrutinize every hire, to make sure they are hiring the very best available, and to fill as many talent gaps with as few heads as possible.
While this story is still unfolding, there is no doubt these laws are going to continue to cause significant disruption—and uncertainty—for biopharma companies, leading to long-term shifts in where and when they invest in talent.
Market Access / Medical & Scientific Affairs Talent
Contingent Labor & Contracted Talent
Workplace flexibility will continue to evolve
As much as we have talked about the pros and cons of remote work, hybrid work, and on-site work, what we’re learning is that, ultimately, it’s about flexibility. It’s about employers being able to give employees the options that best suit them when it suits them.
Surprisingly, recent college grads prefer working in the office with only 2% expressing interest in fully remote positions. Employees with caregiving responsibilities, on the other hand, prefer the flexibility of remote/hybrid work arrangements.
As we see it, the organizations that will win the workplace arrangement race are the ones who figure out how to be the most flexible while still prioritizing productivity and collaboration. From rethinking the workweek—for example, could employees be given the option to work four 10-hour days?—to where work gets done, including virtual offices, HR will be challenged to balance business needs with employee expectations of flexibility.
The good news is that organizations that are able to properly balance these needs will find themselves in an advantageous position with their workforce. According to Gartner, “organizations with the most human-centric work environments are 3.8 times more likely to see high employee performance, 3.2 times more likely to enjoy high intent to stay among employees and 3.1 times more likely to see low levels of fatigue among employees than those organizations with far fewer human-centric attributes.”
At the same time, these shifts, particularly when it comes to remote work, will present challenges for building and sustaining culture—something that will continue to be a hot topic of conversation in 2023.
As Jonathan Trevor and Matthias Holweg put it in a recent publication from MIT SMR:
The “Great Resignation” will cool off
The Great Resignation—AKA the Big Quit, AKA the Great Reshuffle—caused massive disruption this past year. But now, the conversation has shifted more towards “loud layoffs,” which will cause some candidates in 2023 to ask themselves if now is the right time to make a change.
During times of economic unease, employees often perceive their current role as the safer option, even if that isn’t the reality, which may make it more difficult for organizations—particularly smaller ones perceived as less secure—to fill open positions this year.
As such, we think this will lead to a situation of the haves and the have-nots—good news for employers with strong economics and diverse funding sources, but a challenging state of affairs for the startups and emerging companies that can’t as easily demonstrate they are on solid financial footing, that their open roles are critical, or that their business strategy is sound.
Ultimately, this means that smaller organizations are going to have to work harder to attract talent since competitive pay alone may not be enough to sway candidates. Companies will need a thoughtful workforce plan and consider options beyond full-time employees for filling skills gaps—for example, maybe some talent can be built or borrowed as opposed to bought?
This type of intentionality, combined with a commitment to employee-centric culture and a focus on the myriad benefits of joining a startup or smaller company, is the kind of approach smaller organizations will need to compete as The Great Resignation cools off and candidates are less likely to jump ship.
Workforce analytics will take center stage
As mentioned in the introduction, 2023 will largely be about balancing financial pressure with the challenge of engaging and retaining talent. Workforce analytics is where the two meet. As HR leaders implement strategies and programs to attract and retain talent, they will be under pressure to justify whether these initiatives are working.
If you’re an HR leader in 2023, assume you will need data to support your budget requests, data to demonstrate your talent strategy is working, and data to ensure compliance requirements are being met.
In addition, using workforce analytics can help you zero in on exactly where in your organization interventions can be the most impactful—and predictive analytics can help you proactively address the situation before it becomes problematic.
The good news is that whether you call it workforce analytics, people analytics, or talent intelligence, analytics within the HR function of organizations has been gaining traction over the past few years—and it’s a market that’s expected to grow considerably over the next several years.
These tools will be invaluable for HR leaders who will be expected to do more with less and prove that many of the programs we’ve discussed here—from DEIB initiatives and employee wellbeing programs to great workplace flexibility and hiring specialized recruiting support—are working as intended.
Leadership effectiveness will become a greater priority
Economic instability, access to capital, workforce uncertainty, retention vs. resignations, change management, scaling up quickly—there is no shortage of complex challenges life science leaders will be facing in 2023. And, to be sure, their ability to solve problems and navigate choppy waters will be watched closely by employees, investors, and other stakeholders throughout the year.
Leaders must be able to navigate complexity, make well-informed, data-driven decisions, and create real change within their organizations, which is why their effectiveness is, according to a Gartner study, one of the top five priorities for HR leaders in 2023 with 60% of HR leaders making it a priority for the year.
But we believe that the success of leaders is not about them working harder or longer. Instead, it will increasingly be about providing leaders the resources and developmental support they need to navigate increasingly complex and quickly evolving environments.
How can leaders emerge on the other side stronger and more effective than before? By investing in their coaching and development, particularly when they are experiencing the limitations of their typical approach or need to navigate critical transitions to be successful. Unfortunately, too many have historically thought that coaching is for employees with substandard performance or as a last ditch effort before termination. It’s time to ditch those antiquated notions and embrace coaching as an investment for highly valued leaders to help them accelerate their learning while navigating new challenges and complexities.
Leadership coaching has been shown to result in positive outcomes, including increased personal and leadership skills, higher quality social interactions, and enhanced performance and productivity. As the expectations of employees and uncertain economic conditions continue to challenge long-standing assumptions and practices about how workplaces function, leaders must be able to adapt to these changes and be effective managing the new workforce.
Companies will need to do more with less
Throughout this report, we’ve discussed many important programs and initiatives that can help companies attract, retain, and hire top talent in a highly competitive environment. And, while being competitive this year is going to require doing more, it’s also going to require doing it with less.
After a record-breaking year in 2020, which was heartily broken again in 2021, life sciences growth flatlined in 2022 as layoffs were announced in droves, new legislation created new uncertainties, and M&A volume plummeted. Going into 2023, these pressures are unlikely to lessen as inflation is seen as the number one challenge by pharma executives this year, according to a poll by GlobalData Healthcare.
As such, being successful is going to require some creativity, courage, and commitment. Recently, in “Weathering the Storm: How to be effective in your people strategy during an economic downturn,” we outlined five ways life sciences leaders can get through these challenging times, including:
- Getting intentional with workforce planning: The purpose of WFP is to help you develop a comprehensive, data-driven approach to thinking about talent, allowing you to build resilience in your talent lifecycle.
- Leveraging flexible and fractional resources: Instead of knee-jerk FTE hires, companies should consider other ways of filling talent gaps, including internal training and promotion, recruitment processing outsourcing (RPO), and contract workers.
- Using assessments to promote and hire for right-fit over experience: Assessments allow you to de-emphasize experience and home in on key behaviors, making it easier to identify employees and candidates who are apt to fit your organization’s needs.
- Improving retention and leveling up existing teams: Keeping employees from burnout and avoiding turnover is, largely, a cultural question that can be solved with upskilling, coaching, and mentoring programs.
- Finding invested external partners: Beyond your internal efforts, good external partners can also give you the ability to quickly and easily scale your recruiting and development efforts without the need for additional headcount.
Despite the challenges the life science industry is currently facing, there is plenty to be optimistic about, and we believe the efficiencies and better best practices that will result from this pressure will result in a healthier, more robust environment in the long term.
About Mix Talent
Mix Talent was built to support the near-term goals and long-term success of pharma, biotech, digital therapeutics, medtech, and gene therapy organizations as their programs progress from bench to market. We leverage 30 years of experience in R&D, regulatory, quality, technical operations, clinical and commercial search, sales builds, human resources, and talent assessment to anticipate your challenges and solve your complex problems, helping you grow your organization with full attention to your culture: the most powerful force for talent there is.