Between the COVID-19 lockdown, the ‘Great Resignation’ and the complicated adoption of hybrid work, the motivations and desires of biotech employees are in flux. 

Most biotech employees continue to seek flexibility and freedom in their jobs, but employers are struggling to maintain connection and keep their employees engaged, according to a recent survey out of biotech hiring company Singular Talent.

Tom Froggatt, managing director at Singular Talent, said some of the report’s findings weren’t necessarily a surprise: People longed for a continuation of remote working, even as some companies are trying to get people back in office.

“Our conclusion is that freedom and flexibility are here to stay,” Froggatt said. “Companies trying to [bring people back into the office] without necessary justification will find it difficult. There’s certainly resistance among the biotech population to working with less flexibility, whether that’s in terms of remote working or in terms of hours.”

Still, the survey also found that employees’ desires over how they worked were shifting. Most not only wanted options on where they worked, they also wanted it on setting their own priorities, the way they completed their work and having ownership over their work.

While many companies are embracing a hybrid work approach that allows for some flexibility, the report identified a few worrying trends.

For one, biotech employees reported feeling more disconnected from their companies and the corporate missions, with Gen X workers in particular reported feeling undervalued.

“We’re seeing this desire for more remote working, but we’re also seeing the flip side of that in that people feel less connected to their employers than they did before,” Froggatt noted. “That came out in some frustrations around communication and the transparency of companies.”

Several factors may play into that. First, the pandemic reshuffled people’s priorities in life and work has shifted from being top priority to perhaps second to other things like family and wellbeing.

There may also be less of a drive to focus solely on furthering a career. Singular Talent reported that prior to the pandemic, 40% of people cited that their main reason for moving jobs was career progression, whereas now it’s only 27%.

“We’ve seen over the course of the pandemic that the emphasis people place on career progression has declined,” Froggatt said.

Those trends suggest that biotech companies will need to make some changes to help maintain retention, especially as the need for talent skyrockets. As in other industries, people are more likely to leave their jobs for new opportunities than pre-pandemic.

“In many cases, companies haven’t done a brilliant job of maintaining a connection with employees while increasing flexibility,” Froggatt said. “It’s a difficult problem to solve.”

The key is improved communication, as well as a focus on getting to know employees as individuals on a personal level. Biotech companies can also dig into drawing the connection and making it clear to their employees that their day-to-day work matters to patients, even though the drug in development may be years from the clinic.

“The answer to that disengagement is not going to be to bring people back into the office,” Froggatt said. “Companies will have to find ways to communicate better with their employees when they’re working remotely and flexibly.”

He continued: “You have to find ways to engage them with your mission on an ongoing basis, whether they are there with you or a thousand miles away. Because if you don’t, other people will give them a place to do their work where they might get paid more, or they might have a better connection with the person they work for. Finding ways to engage people, but in a way where they voluntarily want to engage, is key.”