Live long and prosper: baby boomers continue to dominate the laboratory landscape
For the most part, year-over-year changes remain minor; however, when we revisit the results of earlier surveys it appears that the demographics of the scientific workplace may be changing and, more important, may be on the cusp of a complete reworking as baby boomers exit the workforce.
As in previous years, the majority of respondents— 75%—work in academic, industrial, or clinical research labs [Table 1]. Not surprisingly, we witnessed a slight decrease in the number of government scientists (7.6% decrease) and hospital researchers (18.8% decrease), perhaps owing to recent sequestration efforts. The upside appears to be that these losses have been balanced by a simultaneous increase in contract research and consultancy positions as well as increases in the highly regulated fields of environmental monitoring and food science, as well as the energy sector.
|Industrial Research Lab||24%|
|Academic Research Lab||24%|
|Government Research Lab||12%|
|Private Research Lab||4%|
Laboratory management professionals continue to represent the majority of survey respondents, with 70% of respondents working in a management position and the balance working as researchers/technologists or in academia [Table 2]. Research fields were well balanced across many disciplines, with the majority of respondents working in applied and analytical chemistry, life science, or clinical research. The balance of survey respondents reported involvement in environmental research, agriculture, drug discovery, or physical science [Table 3].
|Technologist / Research Assistant||8%|
Who’s the boss?
Management responsibilities appear to be increasing among lab professionals, as evidenced by a decline in the number of respondents reporting that they have no supervisory/ management responsibility (18% versus 22%), and there was an increase in the number of managers responsible for management of both laboratory professional and non-laboratory professional employees. Further, lab managers appear to be managing more staff than ever. In previous surveys, the largest cohort of lab managers (26%) supervised one or two employees; this year that number decreased to 23%, with the largest group of managers (24%) now responsible for 10 to 24 employees, an increase of 4% from last year. Increased responsibility for lab managers, including the management of nontechnical staff, appears to be a trend moving forward.
Longevity and loyalty
When it comes to tenure, this year’s survey revealed interesting results. There is a noticeable reduction in the numbers of new researchers, with only 2% of respondents working in the sciences for less than two years. This figure is down 3% from last year and overall represents a 66% decrease in the acquisition of new laboratory workers since 2010. Conversely, 52% of respondents report over 20 years of experience, compared to 48% last year and an overall increase of 27% since 2010.
Concerning loyalty and job retention, the 2014 survey results suggest that hiring may be on hold for many labs. Employees working less than two years with their current employer sharply decreased by 6% over last year (10% versus 16%). This figure is again down from 21% in 2010, perhaps indicating a trend toward decreased hiring and less mobility among lab workers currently employed. Long-term employees continue to show an increase, with a similar 6% increase in employees with over 20 years of service compared to last year (26% versus 20%), a whopping 10% more than the reported 2010 numbers (16%). This again suggests that more tenured employees may be displacing new workers in many labs.
Interestingly, again this year we see a trend toward smaller labs and smaller organizations where respondents work. Last year, 49% said they worked for organizations with over 1,000 employees; this year that number decreased to 44%, in spite of the fact that we see a 2% increase (27% versus 25%) in the number of people working for organizations with over 5,000 employees. Minor growth was seen in both small and midsize organizations. These numbers are not surprising, as the industry continues to see the acquisition and merger of many companies as well as downsizing and consolidation of many labs.
Live long and prosper
When considering the salaries of our survey respondents, an interesting trend is revealed. There has been a marked reduction in the number of employees earning less than $35,000 annually. In fact, we see a 33% decrease in this earning group for last year alone and an over 50% reduction since 2010. We can only speculate on the cause of this reduction; however, it seems apparent that these workers are not simply moving into higher pay categories, as the percentage of workers making between $35,000 and $75,000 has remained virtually unchanged for the past five years. It is far more likely that budget constraints on many labs have eliminated or automated these jobs or moved them offshore.
While the percentage of the highest earners remains unchanged (approximately 13% earning over $110,000), we see the greatest change among those earners making between $75,000 and $110,000 annually. The percentage of individuals in this category rose 4% last year and has risen over 8% since 2010 [Table 4]. These shifts in wages are not unexpected as we see the baby boomers (those born between 1946 and 1964) mature in the workforce.
|Less than $25,000||4%||6%||48% ↓|
|$25,000 - $34,999||4%||6%||29% ↓|
|$35,000 - $44,999||6%||10%||19% ↓|
|$45,000 - $54,999||13%||12%||2% ↓|
|$55,000 - $64,999||14%||14%||2% ↑|
|$65,000 - $74,999||13%||12%||5% ↑|
|$75,000 - $84,999||12%||11%||16% ↑|
|$85,000 - $94,999||10%||9%||36% ↑|
|$95,000 - $109,999||11%||9%||18% ↑|
|$95,000 - $109,999||6%||5%||13% ↑|
|$110,000 - $124,999||4%||4%||20% ↑|
|$125,000 - $149,999||4%||4%||20% ↑|
|More than $150,000||3%||2%||28% ↑|
When considering the influence of the baby boomer generation on salary costs, it seems that they remain the primary earners and perhaps are not exiting the workforce as early as many experts and analysts had predicted. According to our survey results, a full 53% of researchers are of the baby boom generation, as compared to 44% last year and 36% in 2010. The newest cohort of workers, the so-called Millennials, represented only 11% of survey respondents, down from 20% reported for the previous year.
It appears that many labs continue to be populated with older high earners, perhaps in more secure and tenured positions. Further, it appears that as organizations tighten their financial belts, it’s the youngest workers who are getting squeezed out. Fortunately, this is likely a short-term solution for many labs, as most baby boomers will inevitably be retiring in the near future, freeing up more opportunities for young scientists.
Again this year we see an increase in the percentage of laboratory workers experiencing significant changes in their benefit packages, with 21% of respondents reporting changes in benefit plans compared to 19% last year and only 15% in 2010 [Figure 2]. When asked to describe these changes, the comments were typically negative, complaining of reduced health benefits, higher premiums, increased co-payments, decrease in or elimination of 401(k) matching, reduced tuition reimbursement, etc.
While benefit packages may have been slashed in many cases, interestingly there appears to be an increase in the number of employees eligible to participate in bonus programs, with a 5% increase (39% versus 34%) among eligible individuals in 2014 compared to the previous year. Further, the average amount of bonus payments increased, with 38% of respondents receiving bonuses over $5,000 compared to 32% in 2013. This strategy of pay for performance appears to be a growing trend in the research industry, where compensation is at least partially tied to personal, group, and/or financial objectives.
As research becomes increasingly technical, it is not surprising that the number of laboratory professionals with advanced degrees is also increasing [Table 5]. The largest change was among laboratory professionals with doctoral-level degrees; a full 20% of respondents carry the title of doctor, up from 14% last year and 9% in 2010. A decrease was observed among lab workers with associate-level degrees or no degree, with only 7% of employees reporting in this category, down from 9% and 17% in 2013 and 2010, respectively. While there has been very little change in the percentage of lab workers with bachelor’s- and master’s-level degrees, clearly the demand for highly skilled workers remains persistent.
|Some College||2%||4%||77% ↓|
|Associate Degree||5%||5%||37% ↓|
|Bachelor's Degree||46%||47%||4% ↓|
|Master's Degree||25%||27%||19% ↑|
|Doctoral Degree||20%||14%||122% ↑|
The majority of lab professionals surveyed appear satisfied with their current positions, with 78% of respondents stating that they will be working in the same capacity next year, a value up 4% from last year. Given that, slightly fewer people (15% versus 17%) reported that they expected a promotion in the upcoming year as compared to last year. Very few employees expect to be leaving their employers in the coming year, again supporting the evidence that most lab workers are currently satisfied with their present employment.
A full 92% of respondents indicate that their current experience and skills are sufficient for their job, a value up 2% from last year’s survey. Interestingly, far fewer respondents indicated that they were interested in seeking additional training or education, with only 13% of respondents considering returning to school, down from 19% in 2013.
When questioned about their organizations’ training, respondents indicated that across the board, training opportunities were slightly worse than in previous years. Results indicated 1% to 3% decreases in satisfaction in the areas of initial and ongoing training, job support and enhancement, and education to better balance work and personal time.
While year-to-year differences appear minor in most areas, it seems apparent that the aging demographic of the laboratory community is placing pressure on laboratories to become more innovative with their approaches to business. Changes in benefit packages and bonus structures seem to be part of many labs’ plans, as is a reduction in new and less-skilled employees, perhaps in favor of automation or moving jobs offshore. However, we are on the brink of change for much of the laboratory industry as the bulk of the mature workforce looks forward to retirement and exciting new positions are created for emerging scientists. As always, we will be watching closely.
If you participated in this year’s Salary & Employee Satisfaction Survey, thank you. We look forward to returning to this important topic a year from now and will be counting on your participation once more.
For complete survey results, go to www.labmanager.com/satisfaction8