The research enterprise is very familiar with the current workforce shortage. On average, open clinical research positions take three to six months to fill and can often remain open for up to nine months. The investment upfront to find and train the new employee is enough to demand strategic thinking about employee retainment. How do sites retain their employees when other sites, sponsors and CROs are looking to poach top talent?
In the past decade, clinical trials have become more complex, yet employee wages and site budgets have remained static, otherwise known as, “do more with less.” Consequently, the first tool for retaining top talent is adequate staffing. Overwork diminishes the employee sanctification in providing value to the organization and community. By keeping employees working at the top of their scope, sites can recoup in clinical trial budgets the expense of a full staff.
If possible, acknowledge employees in research publications. Coordinators are often doing the majority of the work on the clinical trials, but are then left off of the publication of papers. Some publications allow for an acknowledgement at the end if the coordinator cannot be listed as an author.
Invest in employees through continued education and certifications. Will paying for certification make these employees more employable elsewhere? Possibly, but more importantly, it also shows an appreciation for employees and a willingness to help talent achieve success at the top of their game. Employees that are performing well are more content and likely to remain loyal and grow within your organization. Include education in clinical trial budgets to help pay for these costs. Sponsors and CROs seek sites with certified staff; they should help pay for the ongoing education to achieve and maintain certifications.
Look for ways to offer employees flexible working hours. Typically, less research is done on Fridays. Alternative schedules, such as four nine-hour shifts Monday through Thursday, coupled with half-days on Fridays, are worth consideration. Half of the staff could alternate the four nine-hour shifts and one half-day schedule with four ten-hour shifts Monday through Thursday. The goal is to be creative and equitable among staff.
Create opportunities for employees to progress along their career path. One of the biggest reasons for leaving an organization is lack of career advancement opportunities. Sites can create tiers in the role of clinical research coordinator to rectify this impediment. The first tier of the role could be reserved for those who are just entering the profession and are seeking training and experience. The second tier would then be a more autonomous role that owns the entire trial process. Finally, a third tier could take on the most complex studies which include multiple arms and serial assessments. The same model can be used for regulatory affair coordinators, project managers, and finance roles with the baseline experience of the coordinator. If the employee hits his or her ceiling too fast in an organization, they will be left with no other choice but to leave.
Offer bonuses or additional benefits. Examples of effective add-on benefits include covering the cost of certification fees (once passed or renewed), paying for professional memberships, and performance-based bonuses, either monetary or in paid time off.
Look for other ways to increase morale. Some teams employee a staff morale committee. This creative team can boost morale through fun initiatives, such as quarterly themed newsletters, “Thank You” boards to publicly thank team members and team building events, such as a Super Bowl chili cook off.
The bottom line is that retainment of good employees requires investment in talent to keep them happy and loyal to the organization. The hard truth is that they may end up leaving anyway. However, if you were a good employer, they may return with additional experience or as a sponsor, bringing a new trial with them. Taking the time now to cultivate top tier talent at all levels helps to ensure a thriving team dynamic for years to come.
Note: This article originally appeared in the December, 2016 edition of SCRS Insite: The Global Journal for Clinical Research Sites.
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