To Retain Top Talent, Keep Your Eye On The Ball

By Deborah Borfitz 

February 2, 2023 | Retaining employees despite change factors in and outside the workplace—adjusting work-life balance to align with post-pandemic norms, for example, or adapting to shifts in job responsibilities and hours—is largely about staying the course with morale-building programs that help people feel supported and their efforts matter, according to Josephine Stacey, director of strategic business operations, global development, at Johnson & Johnson (J&J). While some level of employee turnover is inevitable, avoiding the spikes may require companywide investment in engaging hired talent to ensure they have the skillset for meeting business goals.   

The cost of high turnover is steep because of the lost knowledge it represents and the possibility it can dampen confidence in the ability to perform among remaining team members, she says. Recruiting and onboarding new employees, and getting them fluent in their position, is also a process that can take many months to navigate. 

Dollar-wise, the per-hire investment cost is in some cases three to four times a position’s salary, according to benchmarking data from the Society for Human Resource Management. That translates into significant financial risk if a person’s tenure with a company is short-lived, says Stacey, noting that most of the money is spent within the first three months of onboarding for costs related to recruiting, hiring, and training a new employee.  

The impact of turnover on work output, and various retention strategies for keeping employees engaged, will be the topic of a panel discussion being moderated by Stacey at the upcoming Summit for Clinical Ops Executives (SCOPE) in Orlando, Florida. Sharing their perspectives will be Eileen Doherty, vice president of Enabling Business Information Solutions for the Janssen Pharmaceutical Companies of J&J; Rosalie Filling, vice president and senior global head of R&D operations for Endo Pharmaceuticals; and Valerie Balosso, director of data management for infectious diseases at GSK. 

The conversation will likely extend to collaborative approaches to working with contract research organizations and sites to mitigate staffing changes, says Stacey. This will likely include ensuring diversity and inclusion (D&I), so everyone feels equally involved in and supported while driving jointly toward goals.  

Only over the past two years has the word equity even been formally added to the equation of some organizations’ DE&I efforts, she notes, to keep the focus on practices that make equality achievable. The move acknowledges that for everyone to receive the same benefits requires that some people receive different, though still just and fair, treatment—in this context, in terms of opportunities for engagement among traditionally underrepresented groups. 

While COVID-related school closings seem to have become a thing of the past, panelists might also have a few lessons-learned to share regarding their return-to-work policies, Stacey continues. Flexibility is key since the repercussions of changes as momentous as a pandemic extend well beyond the workplace. Helping employees maintain a healthy work-life balance is the more routine challenge, but not one that is any way unique to the pharmaceutical industry. 

Among other conversation starters will be how to draw and develop talent and grow people into careers, says Stacey. The new generation coming into the office will have different expectations than those who came before about how they want to be engaged, for example with more mentorship opportunities and digitized and video-based training options where they set the pace. 

Doherty will have much to contribute on how investing in employee career development and focusing on manager development are critical to engaging talent and aiding employee retention within a large and diverse organization, Stacey says. Simply knowing their employer is invested in employee career development can have a halo effect on a company, in addition to improving employee productivity and satisfaction and providing an opportunity to tap into non-local talent. 

Opinions are mixed on whether the so-called Great Resignation will end or continue in 2023. Plenty of jobs are available—according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, many millions more than people looking to fill them. People are also continuing to quit their jobs and based on an analysis from the Pew Research Center most have been rewarded with higher earnings if they were simply switching employers. 

But, as the Healthcare Consultancy Group has argued, there is hope in the war for talent. In its view, employee engagement is essentially a growth strategy that mainly necessitates keeping recruitment and retention approaches up to date. “This is a good problem to have,” says Stacey. “Finding and keeping talent needn’t be an uphill climb.”