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Webinar: Coping with Staffing Needs in the Wake of the Recession

According to a quarterly Associated Press survey of 42 leading economists, economic growth will slow from 3.5% to 3.0% in the next 18 months ( The primary reasons are slow hiri

According to a quarterly Associated Press survey of 42 leading economists, economic growth will slow from 3.5% to 3.0% in the next 18 months ( The primary reasons are slow hiring and consumers' reluctance to spend. What are the implications of this for lab managers and their staffing needs?

An increasing number of new science graduates are delaying their entry into the industrial laboratory workforce by taking post-docs. Baby boomers are delaying their retirement, reducing the number of job openings. One-third now expect to retire only after age 65 according to an Employment Benefit Research Institute survey..

Given these conditions and limited staffing budgets, how can lab managers meet their staffing needs?

New Concepts of Laboratory Employment Needed

The latest quarterly earnings reports from many chemical and pharmaceutical companies, major employers of laboratory professionals, appear to be good. Despite this there appears to be relatively little increase in hiring. Indeed, the number of people in conventional full-time employment is still declining. The improvement in the job market is in temporary employment. According to a recent study ( ), employment in temporary jobs has increased 19.6% over the past year.

Should lab managers institute unconventional (at least for laboratories) hiring practices to hire the staff members they need to achieve goals while not substantially increasing their long-term payrolls?

Hiring temps

Certainly, one option to increase staffing levels is hiring temporary employees. Overall most people now being hired are working in temporary positions. Couldn't lab managers to the same and hire people to work only until project goals are achieved?

Many laboratory professionals accept temporary employment hoping to do an excellent job and having their position will be converted to a full-time, long-term one. However, often this is not an option and lab managers should be honest and open about a temporary employee's prospects.

Lab managers can try to retain high performance temps by finding them another position in the lab when their current assignment is completed. This gives them the advantage of employing an individual in whom they are confident rather than taking a chance and hiring a new temp unfamiliar to them. The temp employee has the advantage of little or no interruption in their income as they transfer from one temporary position in the laboratory to another.

Upon project completion, letting temporary employees go is less psychologically damaging to full-time staff members that laying off employees according to University of Georgia associate professor of public administration and policy Jeffrey Wenger.

Hiring part-timers

Hiring people to work part-time may be a way to get needed work done when the workload is insufficient for a full-time position. Currently the common solution in this situation has been to assign additional work to current employees. However, this approach can heap an excessive amount of work on lab staff members, often the most reliable ones, as lab managers assign additional work to their most reliable employees. Feeling overworked, these individuals may be more likely to change jobs in the future.

Hiring part-timers enables them to have some earnings - particularly valuable after an extended period of unemployment. In the case of an outstanding part-time staff member, perhaps a second lab manager can also find a part-time position so the individual receives a full-time income. However, there are possible of legal complications should an individual be working two simultaneous half-time positions for the same employer and not receiving the benefits full conventional full-time employees receive.

From the part-time employee's perspective, he or she may be able to find a second part-time position with another employer. Adjunct faculty members often work in this fashion having simultaneous part-time positions at two or more colleges. In California, these individuals as known as "freeway flyers" based on their commutes from one campus to another.

John K. Borchardt

Dr. Borchardt is a consultant and technical writer. The author of the book “Career Management for Scientists and Engineers,” he writes often on career-related subjects.