Research: Views on work from the life sciences industry

Our recent survey examined the views of individuals working in the life sciences industry in North America and Europe about their experience of work.

Our recent survey examined the views of individuals working in the life sciences industry in North America and Europe about their experience of work.

In December 2018, Willis Towers Watson and Skills Alliance partnered to ask individuals working in the life sciences industry in North America and Europe about their experience of work. Our survey sought respondents’ views on a range of issues:

  • Factors making them more or less engaged with their work
  • Career development opportunities
  • Impact of senior leadership
  • The extent to which they felt empowered
  • The perceived value of rewards
  • Extent of diversity and inclusion in their organisation

More than 700 people ultimately participated in our survey, producing a balanced sample by individual demographics and types of organisations in the sector, and with approximately equal numbers from North America and Europe.

Compared to life sciences industry norms established from Willis Towers Watson’s database of nearly 200,000 respondents, we found that our respondents were typically a little less positive on issues such as sustainable engagement, career development, senior leadership, and empowerment.

However, given all survey invitees were already registered with an external recruiter in the form of Skills Alliance, this finding was broadly in line with our expectations. In other key respects, our sample was very consistent with wider norms, e.g.:

  • Across most measures, North American respondents were typically more positive than their European counterparts
  • Senior leaders and individual contributors were typically more positive in their views than managers in the middle layers of organisations.

Looking more closely at the data, two industry-relevant observations jumped out at us: our results were strongly impacted by career stage and company type.


  1. Life sciences companies are struggling to maintain the engagement of employees beyond their first year with the organisation:

Our results indicated that life sciences organisations are generally successful in engaging new employees, but that they are much less effective at maintaining employee engagement

even beyond the first twelve months with a company. While this result was particularly pronounced in our survey sample, we can also see evidence of it in wider industry norms.

This finding suggests that sector employers are not currently seeing the best of employees at later career stages, there are strong potential performance gains to be made by focusing engagement efforts on these groups.


  1. Early-stage companies provide the most engaging experience of work in the sector:

In recent years, our experience has been that larger organisations in the sector have increasingly felt challenged by talent competition from smaller, earlier-stage companies. We find that smaller organisations may indeed have the upper hand in the “war for talent”, as our data showed that employees of small-scale organisations (up to 250 employees, and especially biotechs) were clearly the most engaged. Further, respondents who expressed a desire to work in a company of different size to their current employer generally wanted to work in a smaller company.

Interestingly, it seems that the largest organisations in the sector (10,000+ employees) – with their scale and resources – may be well equipped to counter the challenge from the smallest companies, as their employees were the next most positive group. By comparison, those working in middle-sized organisations tended to be quite negative in their views, which suggest that they are most threatened by the talent competition from below and will need to work hardest to counteract this.


Our findings uncovered four key factors that drive higher employee engagement in the industry:

We will explore these initial findings in more detail, along with other interesting observations from the data, in future blog posts.

Willis Towers Watson is a leading global advisory, broking and solutions company that helps clients around the world turn risk into a path for growth. Skills Alliance is a specialist recruitment company working exclusively for the life sciences and medical technology market.

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