By Beth Harper
As 2017 comes to an end, I have been reflecting on the topics I’ve covered this year, focused mainly on patient- and site-centricity. It occurred to me that as an industry, we’ve been missing the topic of staff-centricity for quite some time. Patient engagement officers and related roles are becoming more commonplace, and many service providers have a variety of personnel focused on customer engagement. But it’s rarer to hear about employee engagement officers. So, wearing my “new hat” as ACRP’s workforce innovation officer, I wanted to shift gears and touch on this important topic during the time of year when many of you are providing performance evaluations, thinking about your staffing needs for the coming year, and contending with ever-present clinical research professional talent shortages.
Let’s start with the staggering statistics regarding turnover rates. While the percentages vary by role and organization, long-published data from a nearly 20-year survey on turnover rates suggests that CROs (and the clinical research associate [CRA] role in particular) experience a 50 percent staff turnover rate compared to the U.S. professional turnover rate of about 17 percent.1 If that’s not discouraging enough, a 2013 Gallup poll reported that a staggering 87 percent of employees worldwide are disengaged at work.2 Some studies (such as those from the Society of Human Resource Management) predict that every time a business replaces a salaried employee, it costs six to nine months’ salary on average, whereas others predict the cost is even more — that losing a salaried employee can cost as much as twice their annual salary, especially for a high earner or executive-level employee.3 There are direct and indirect costs associated with employee turnover, of course, and simply paying more to hire and train staff doesn’t seem to have addressed the chronic issue of high staff turnover. Case in point, a 2016 industry-specific survey suggested that a third of employees in the life sciences sector feel disengaged at work and a salary increase is not the solution.4 Enter the concept of staff-centricity or employee engagement.
The term employee engagement relates to the level of an employee's commitment and connection to an organization. At its heart, employee engagement is about “creating an environment where you honor your employees, where you take care of them, so they can then take care of your customers.”5 As such, most of the literature around employee engagement is directly linked to its effect on customer engagement. The happier the employee, the better the customer experience. For those of us in life sciences, the trickle-down effect should naturally result in better patient engagement, regardless of the specific role one plays in clinical research. While this may be a bit of a stretch (as not everyone in life sciences plays a direct role in engaging patients/customers), conceptually at least, it’s not hard to make the connection between employee engagement and a positive customer experience, whether that involves a study coordinator interacting with a research subject, a CRA interacting with a site, a CRO project manager interacting with their sponsor client, and so forth.
Whether you buy in to the notion that more engaged employees can have a direct or even indirect impact on patient-centricity, you may be compelled by some other bottom-line metrics that suggest a direct relationship between employee engagement, productivity, and profitability. According to one study, businesses with highly engaged teams saw their profitability increase by 21 percent, sales productivity by 20 percent, and output quality by 40 percent.6 So, what’s a leader and manager to do?
The upshot from the human resources literature is that the number one key to staff retention is providing them with opportunities for professional development. In fact, when it comes to loyalty, staff with internal opportunities for professional growth are four times more likely to stay with their current employer.4 This was reinforced by another survey that found a 34 percent higher retention rate comparing those with development opportunities to those without. Plus, 75 percent of employees with professional development opportunities said they were likely to stay with their employers for another five years, whereas only 56 percent of workers without such opportunities said the same.7 In terms of the specific types of professional development programs, the same survey noted that respondents weren’t all that picky when it comes their preferences:
Historically, however, training budgets are among the first to be cut because of the difficulty quantifying the value of training, with many viewing this as a cost rather than an investment. Of course, training and professional development isn’t the end-all, be-all of staff-centricity, but employers who offer skill development training to increase job performance, satisfaction, and self-sufficiency can not only enhance employee engagement and reduce turnover rates, but also achieve competitive advantages. Here’s hoping you think twice before reducing your staff training and development funds and that you more than reap the benefits with higher employee engagement in the year to come.
About The Author:
Beth is the president of Clinical Performance Partners, Inc., a clinical research consulting firm specializing in enrollment and site performance management. Beth is also serving as the Workforce Innovation Officer for the Association of Clinical Research Professionals (ACRP). She has passionately pursued solutions for optimizing clinical trials and educating clinical research professionals for over three decades. Beth is an Adjunct Assistant Professor at the George Washington University who has published and presented extensively in the areas of protocol optimization, study feasibility, site selection, patient recruitment and sponsor-site relationship management. Beth is currently serving on the CISCRP Advisory Board as well as the Clinical Leader Editorial Advisory Board, among other industry volunteer activities.
Beth received her B.S. in Occupational Therapy from the University of Wisconsin and an M.B.A. from the University of Texas.