From the Great Resignation to the Great Re-Engagement
In the war for talent, an employee-centered focus on purpose, personal discovery, learning, and innovation is a winning strategy, says medical communications business Healthcare Consultancy Group (HCG)
We have all heard about the Great Resignation, through to the Great Reconsideration. It is an extraordinary trend that is shaking employers globally.
Lockdowns have changed work patterns for good. Two out of every five workers have either switched jobs or are actively looking for another and remote work has become a common expectation.
The Microsoft 2022 Work Trend Index, a study of more than 31,000 people in 31 countries, found that 43% of the workforce is considering leaving their jobs in the coming year.
Data on LinkedIn revealed that one in seven jobs being posted in 2021 specified a remote or hybrid work component compared to just one in 67 before lockdowns. This dynamic is especially acute for pharma; an estimated three quarters of pharma jobs now have a remote working component.
This is evidently one of the key reasons for such unprecedented job churn. It is far easier to change jobs if you don’t have to uproot your life and instead simply have to take delivery of a new work laptop.
“Employees have become far more empowered than they have ever been,” says Matthew D’Auria, Chief Executive Officer at Healthcare Consultancy Group. “It is so much easier to leave one job and start another because the barriers to transitioning have completely changed.”
Adding to this dynamic is the rapid growth in pharma roles - growing by 10% as new specialisms arise - creating new employment options and putting a premium on specialist skills and knowledge.
The result is that the flow of talent into pharma is insufficient to fuel the desired rate of growth. This is, unsurprisingly, especially marked in areas of innovation, such as in oncology or in data science, but demand is expanding across most therapeutic areas.
And the challenge is not just acquiring and retaining people but also having the resources and means to develop those you hire.
Talent strategies now need to take account of all this and those who continue to pursue outdated recruitment and retention approaches will quickly find themselves at a serious competitive disadvantage.
Indeed, medical communications consultancy HCG sees employee centricity and engagement as being fundamentally a growth strategy.
Engaged, satisfied and productive employees are no less than the engine of a virtuous cycle. Put simply, says D’Auria, such employees “do great work, great work creates satisfied customers, and that creates more work and drives profit which is reinvested in platforms to continuously engage your staff.”
This approach is working for HCG. Its retention rates have stayed stable, despite all the turmoil since early 2020, and bi-annual employee engagement surveys are very positive. “It is the most important measure of how we are performing as a business.” says D’Auria “We continue to see very high engagement scores, despite all the change in how we work and deliver for our customers. It’s improving across categories.”
So what’s the secret sauce here?
There are several components all aligned to engaging, empowering, and enthusing the employee:
Connecting to purpose
A series of studies has shown that employees value, and are motivated by, a strong sense of purpose to their work, making this one of the most important aspects of any role and workplace. “People who feel connected to purpose at work are more productive and more likely to stay,” says D’Auria. “Work is where we invest so much of our time. If we are not getting a sense of purpose, our sense of self-satisfaction will be limited."
For HCG, a central part of shaping this is to make the positive impacts of everyone’s work more tangible to them. “Our mission is to bring our clients’ medicine closer to the patients who need them. Connecting our employees to the impact our work has on patients is essential."
HCG invites patients into the agency as part of its Work With a Purpose Program to share their experience of the therapies which HCG has helped clients bring to market to talk about the impact these therapies have had on their quality of life. “It’s easy to get lost in the work of the next deadline, congress or symposia, so that connection to purpose is something we regularly revisit,” says D’Auria.
Being a learning organization
Nurturing employees’ desire for personal and professional growth is foundational to being an attractive workplace. “One of the things employees tell us is they never want to stop learning. They want to continue to be challenged, so we invest substantially in learning and development,” says D’Auria. “Finding ways of feeding that personal development is something we are passionate about.”
This learning and personal development work is done in various ways - on-demand, live and in person through mentors, he adds. “It’s really critical for there to be a lot of options for employees to choose from and they need a say in it. We devote a specific amount of time to learning and development.”
Providing strong career paths and options maps closely to being a learning organisation. Employees value the opportunity to learn through different roles and experiences, for example by working in new therapeutic areas or different HCG agencies. “The ability to move from one position to another with different challenges and so expand your skillsets is really important to employees.”
It’s a mistake to let managers jealously guard the knowledge and capability of employees they don’t want to lose, says D’Auria. Instead, HCG circulates new opportunities internally and executive sponsors help employees find new positions of interest to them. “We work hard to make sure we nurture a culture of opportunity. We encourage employees to look around and see the options available to them. That is a critical part of ensuring we retain employees - offering them a new job but not a new company.”
People before places – global and flexible
HCG has been location ‘agnostic’ to a great extent since 2019 and was already benefiting from this in terms of being able to fish from a larger pool of global talent.
The experience of pandemic lockdowns further cemented the importance not only of being able to hire on a global basis but also of being able to afford employees maximum flexibility, adapting and flexing to their individual circumstances and needs.
“By keeping employees at the centre of everything we do, we made unprecedented decisions to make it really easy for them to balance childcare, help with school assignments or care for a loved one,” says D’Auria. “We realized how critical it was to apply flexibility to each of these individual circumstances. Employees have earned that trust and we have proven that productivity can be maintained while providing people with that flexibility.”
Bringing together the best of remote working and office locations as centers of excellence for team building, learning and innovation is emerging as a central part of the mix across industry and pharma is no different.
HCG has taken a comparably flexible approach to the resumption of office presence, emphasizing office presence for very specific activities such as team building sessions or career mapping. “We are bringing the best of remote working with the things best done in an office to enhance the way we engage with one another.”
Diversity, equity and inclusion
Far from being merely an ethical component of running a business, a commitment to a fair, diverse and inclusive workplace is smart business.
A recent PWC diversity and inclusion benchmarking survey shows that almost 40% of employees consider diversity (or the lack of it) to be a barrier to progression in their organization. “As you progress from junior to senior levels, the thinking is more homogenous, and the demographics are more homogenous.
“Organizations that are structured that way are doing themselves a tremendous disservice. Diverse teams are higher performing. If you don’t feel like you belong and you don’t feel opportunities are afforded to you, it is hard to consider yourself as a maker of that culture,” says D’Auria.
To cultivate a more diverse workplace, HCG embarked on an extensive internal listening exercise followed by a three-year education, talent acquisition and talent retention strategy that is driven by a cross-company council. The council tracks key activities and measures of success, such as demographic diversity and retention rates for minority employees, and reports back on progress made.
These approaches are important in avoiding groupthink. A good example includes the differing definitions of diversity gathered from its listening exercise. US group colleagues identified race as a priority, for example, whereas those in the UK emphasized the importance of socioeconomic diversity. This in turn has informed the local implementation of the diversity, equity and inclusion strategy.
A culture of innovation
Establishing a culture of innovation is essential in the battle for talent. This means celebrating successes as well as learning from failures, which requires a high level of trust.
To this end, HCG’s chief innovation officer is the leader within HCG who, with a company-wide team of 80 catalysts, drive innovation across 80 categories by ideating, sharing successes and failures and broadcasting the resulting insights across its agencies. This amplifies the innovation culture across the group. “We don’t leave any employees behind here. Everyone’s an innovator at HCG,” says D’Auria.
The war for talent may be fierce but there is hope and it is not necessarily a zero-sum-game either. One promising finding of surveys of people who exited the workforce over 2020 and 2021 is that more than half of those who have left the workforce would consider rejoining it if employers offered more flexible terms and a better work/life balance.
The appeal of employee centric, then, is clear. But it is also important to recognize that these qualities cannot be faked or fudged.
“You have to be committed to it. If these things are not authentic, your employees will see straight through it. If you say your behavior is flexible but you don’t back it up, you are doing more damage,” says D’Auria. “That has to be the priority. We believe growth will be a result of these things and you can’t deprioritize them. You can’t say ‘when the numbers look better, I will invest in talent acquisition and get to these things’. You invest in these things first.”