Survey: CRO employee turnover soars amid an industry boom

The rate of employee turnover in the CRO business leapt yet again in 2014, according to a new survey, as companies dial up compensation to retain talent.

In a new survey from HR+ Survey Solutions, the overall turnover rate for CROs jumped to 19.5% over last year's 14.4%, well above the estimated U.S. average of 15.7%.

To combat the industry's long-running trend of short-term employment, CROs increased nonmanagement salaries by about 7% on the year, according to HR+, which well outstrips the average 3% merit increase nationwide. Furthermore, about 75% of the 24 public and private CROs surveyed are employing sign-on bonus to lure talent from competitors.

Clinical monitoring employees saw the largest jump in turnover rate, according to the survey, jumping from 16.4% to 25.4%.

All this comes amid a global boom in demand for clinical research services. The number of registered clinical trials has soared roughly 8-fold since 2005, according to HR+, and Big Pharma's gradual slimming down has given rise to multinational CROs employing thousands of researchers. And because clinical research associates have so many employment options around the globe, it can be difficult for firms to retain employees.

That environment can be particularly tough on small to midsize CROs, HR+ notes, as larger competitors are more likely to pay out annual bonuses that encourage loyalty. The rampant use of sign-on bonuses may help smaller firms get workers in the door, but they should consider modifying their incentive structures to keep them from leaving, HR+ suggests.

"The CRO with 200 employees is competing for professional level talent against CROs with 10,000 employees," Judy Canavan, HR+ managing director, said in a statement. "Smaller companies should be using variable pay to help them compete against larger companies for top talent while controlling fixed costs."

- read the statement