Top strategies for retaining CRA talent

By Melissa Fassbender contact

- Last updated on GMT

Top strategies for retaining CRA talent

Related tags: Clinical trial, Employment

High turnover rates among clinical research associates (CRA) continue to plague the industry – and competence and staff engagement are the "crux" of the issue, says IAOCR.

IAOCR has dubbed 2017 as The Year of Engagement​ and has pledged to drive the discussion around staff engagement and competency in the industry.

To learn more about these issues and how companies can better retain CRA talent, Outsourcing-Pharma.com talked with Jacqueline Johnson North, CEO of IAOCR.

What are some of the main reasons the industry has suffered from high turnover rates?

The role of Clinical Research Associate (CRA) can be very interesting with opportunities to travel, meet new people and play a pivotal role in drug development. These specifics, however, are both the appeal of the job and the challenge for the industry.

The remote working practice of many CRAs, the emphasis on experience, and the exciting, new opportunities readily available means staff turnover rates are exceptionally high.

What is the current demand for CRAs?

While the number of clinical trials is increasing, there is a severe entry-level CRA deficit. Not enough people are selecting this as a career path. For those who do, they often have to overcome the demand for ‘experience’ over competence because many employers are not doing enough to nurture early talent. All this means the balance is tipped in the favor of existing employees. An experienced CRA is a valuable commodity and highly sought-after.

While this all sounds great for experienced employees it’s neglecting one key factor; engagement. Engagement is attributed to job satisfaction, higher productivity, increased profits and loyalty, as well as notably lower turnover.

How does this affect turnover?

Due to the industry being experienced-focused, once a CRA has a certain length of tenure they become very valuable (regardless of whether they are working to a competent level). Competitor companies can put together appealing packages to attract the CRAs and if there is a low level of loyalty CRAs may change jobs frequently.

How can companies create a higher level of loyalty?

Being able to identify with your employer is associated with job satisfaction, work performance, and employee retention. Organizational identification is important because of the relationship between identification and commitment to the organization which creates positive outcomes for work attitudes and behaviors including motivation, job performance and satisfaction, as well as employee interaction and retention.

How does staff engagement factor into this?

Competence and staff engagement is the crux of the issue. Improved employee engagement informs job satisfaction, loyalty and organizational identification, which help to achieve what we refer to as ‘stick-a-bility’ - an employee who wants to ‘stick’ with their employer.

The vast number of CRAs are field-based and don’t have regular, meaningful, face-to-face interaction with their organization. They don’t sit next to their colleagues, bond at the water-cooler or casually discuss work over lunch.

While technology can help us feel more connected through emails, video calls, desktop chat etc. the quantity of these interactions doesn’t reflect the quality. High quality interactions help to provide meaningful relationships.

What are some ways companies can work to improve staff engagement?

Engaged employees are more productive and loyal ambassadors for your organization. Employee engagement can, and should, always be improved upon – it is not a “nice to have” it is essential to a well-functioning and effective organization.

The following outlines some steps that employers may already have in place, but are always worth reviewing:

  • Employee interaction:​ Regular and consistent communications are the first step in good employee interaction. Ensure employees understand that their role is important and how they are actively contributing to helping the organization achieve its’ goals. 
  • Be creative:​ Don’t underestimate the importance of little changes. One manager I know encourages their team to send a “Stuff on my mind” email to them each Friday to share anything that they want to at the end of the week.  
  • Employee development:​ Ensure employees can visualize their future with your organization. Formulate a clear personal development plan together and provide support to help them achieve their development goals. 
  • Entry-level growth:​ Rather than poach talent, grow talent. The industry needs to identify and grow new talent, which in turn will reduce demand on employees, re-aligning the supply and demand ratio to a more stable environment. While the CRO business model is based on billable time the ‘bigger picture’ needs to be considered. 
  • Fly the Flag for Competence:​ Comprehensive development and robust assessment of competence leads to engaged, loyal, competent employees.  The industry is becoming more aware of the importance of competence over experience and in time competency-based approaches to nurturing new talent will be valued. 
  • Ask questions:​ Are you doing everything you can? Are your employees fulfilled and satisfied? How frequently do you reach out to them? Is there team morale, even across the different locations?
  • Learn from other industries:​ Most industries are generally very inward focused, clinical recruitment included, but we need to look externally and learn from other industries. Benchmarking against other industries and bringing their examples of best practice into what we’re doing. Helping the industry to be the best industry against other industries.

Each month IAOCR will be sharing hints and tips to help people feel engaged at work. Everyone is invited to participate on Twitter​, Facebook​ and LinkedIn​. 

(Feature image: iStock/Julia_Sudnitskaya)

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