CRO industry still plagued by CRA turnover: Report

By Melissa Fassbender contact

- Last updated on GMT

(Image: Getty/AndreyPopov)
(Image: Getty/AndreyPopov)

Related tags: Cra, Clinical trials, CRO

Most CROs are struggling with employee retention, a challenge not new to the industry, which has seen turnover levels at or above 20% for seven of the last 10 years, according to a recent report.

The report from BDO USA, LLP, professional services firm, collated data from 48 contract research organizations (CROs) in the US and 55 other countries.

According to the report, turnover levels within CROs are at or above 20% for seven of the past 10 years.

In 2017, the turnover level for clinical monitoring positions specifically was 25.5%, higher than that of project management (21.3%) or database management jobs (12.3%).

The 10 countries with the highest turnover levels – at or above 28% – are double that of the US, which averages around 14%.

This, while salaries have only increased by an average annual rate of 2.1% per year from 2009 to 2018, explained Judy Canavan, managing director and leader of BDO’s Compensation Surveys practice.

“It’s surprising salaries aren’t increasing at a higher rate, given high turnover levels for clinical research associates,”​ Canavan told us. However, the analysis showed that salaries have increased at a faster rate over the last five years (2.4% from 2013 to 2018), up from 1.7% from 2009 to 2014.

“It is interesting to note that the use of annual incentives has not increased much over the last 10 years, despite the industry being very metric-driven,”​ Canavan added.

Read: How to reduce clinical trial site investigator turnover

According to the report, one-third of the companies surveyed do not use bonuses for professional level (non-managerial) employees and only about half of professional level employees received a bonus.

Canavan said the use of long-term incentives and/or stock plans “tends to be less prevalent than in general industry because the smaller companies tend to shy away from their use.”​ Though larger companies, especially those which are public, do often have long-term incentive plans, she noted.

Trends driving turnover of CRAs at CROs, while compensation is one, also include burnout from travel, a challenge that could potentially be addressed by the increasing number of “at-home”​ clinical trials.

Additionally, CRAs have a steep learning trajectory, quickly increasing their value and desire to move to a new job, enticed by new hire bonuses, among other benefits.

Per the report, the average number of sign-on bonuses in a year ranged from 68 to 163 per company, compared to an average of 2 to 104 retention bonuses offered by companies.

As Canavan explained, the CRAs’ value outpaces the 3% per year merit increases they currently are receiving.

“Companies are trying many approaches to stave off turnover,”​ she said. “This includes various forms of stay bonuses, training, and working through managers to build commitment to the organization. Still, most companies are struggling with high turnover.”

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