CROs concerned with employee retention

Turnover Trends

A recent report from BDO USA, LLP, which offers assurance, tax, and financial advisory services to clients worldwide, said that most contract research organizations (CROs) are grappling with employee retention issues. According to an article by Melissa Fassbender in, the challenge is familiar to the industry, which has seen turnover levels at or above 20 percent for seven of the last 10 years.

The report, based on data from 48 CROs in the US and 55 other countries, added that the 2017 turnover level for clinical monitoring positions was 25.5 percent, project management jobs, 21.3 percent; and database management jobs, 12.3 percent. Ten countries have turnover levels at or above 28 percent, about double that of the US, which averages around 14 percent. Salaries have increased by an average annual rate of 2.1 percent annually between 2009 and 2018, said Judy Canavan, managing director and leader of BDO’s Compensation Surveys practice, although the rate of increase has been higher since 2013.

The use of annual incentives has not risen appreciably over the last 10 years, “despite the industry being very metric-driven,” according to Canavan. One-third of the companies do not use bonuses for professional level (non-managerial) employees. Only about half of professional level employees got a bonus. As Canavan related, 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.”? Larger companies often have long-term incentive plans, she said.

The report cited trends leading to turnover of CRAs at CROs, including compensation, burnout from travel and steep learning trajectory. According to the report, the average number of sign-on bonuses in a year ranged from 68 to 163 per company, versus an average of 2 to 104 retention bonuses offered by companies. Canavan said that the CRAs’ value is higher than the 3 percent per year merit increases they currently are getting.

As Canavan explained, “Companies are trying many approaches to stave off turnover. 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.”?

An earlier survey by HR+Survey Solutions found that international employee turnover in this kind of job rose to almost 23 percent in 2016 and just above 25 percent in the US. The survey sample came from 28 public and private CROs with fewer than 500 to more than 12,000 employees. Still, it found that CROs are showing turnover much above the overall U.S. professional turnover rate of 17.8 percent, reported Michael Causey on the Association of Clinical Research Professionals website.

Causey said that most clinical trial professionals are in a good position to make a move, because the number of registered clinical trials has soared from year to year, according to


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