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The Fourth Annual Salary & Employee Satisfaction Survey

In reviewing this year's survey results, it is not surprising to discern a noticeable belt-tightening on the part of management and a rise in the subsequent stress felt by lab employees.

by Pamela Ahlberg

New Data Indicates Reduced Headcounts and Less Trust in Management

In reviewing this year’s survey results, it is not surprising to discern a noticeable belt-tightening on the part of management and a rise in the subsequent stress felt by lab employees. While salaries have stayed about the same, the headcount in individual labs and larger organizations has shrunk. There has also been less investment in training, equipment and basic resources.

Nevertheless—and similar to past surveys—the majority of those working in the scientific research field enjoy what they do and share a sense of purpose and a commitment to their work and organizations. What’s different, however, is the reduced level of trust they feel in the leadership at their organizations. But first, the numbers.

Compared with last year, there has been very little change in compensation. Those making less than $25,000/year climbed from last year’s 6% to 11%, suggesting new hires at the bottom of the pay scale. There was a bit of good news in terms of bonuses, with 44% of respondents saying they were on bonus plans—up 9% from last year. Interestingly, last year 42% reported seeing changes to their benefit plans, compared with only 22% this year, suggesting a leveling-off in more severe forms of cost-cutting.

Reduction in force

The number of respondents working in smaller labs— with one to 10 staff members—rose to 54%, compared with 49% last year. And the number of respondents working in organizations with fewer than 100 people grew from 22% to 32% this year. We also saw that the number of employees in larger organizations has dropped. This year, 8% fewer respondents told us they were working in organizations employing from 1,000 to more than 50,000 people. Based on this, it seems headcounts are dropping—which would make sense given the number of layoffs this past year.

Further evidence that research staffs are getting smaller was the 12% fewer respondents who thought that Salary & Employee Satisfaction Survey New data indicates reduced headcounts and less trust in management by Pam Ahlberg staffing levels at their facilities were adequate to provide quality products and/or services. The message seems to be that resources are thinning and, as in many other industries, organizations are trying to get by with less. An interesting footnote, however, is that there has been virtually no change in the number of those working full time vs. part time (97% full time; 3% part time).

Job security and faith in leadership

Changes of note compared with last year’s survey were seen in questions concerning job security and other more subtle aspects of the job. For example, 8% fewer respondents said they believed their jobs were secure and 9% fewer said they felt valued at their organizations. Given the economic climate, job insecurity and reduced staffs, it was not surprising that this year nearly 15% fewer respondents were happy with the work-life balance they had at their organizations (78% vs. 64%).

Where there is job insecurity and stress, it is not surprising to find that trust in an organization’s leadership falters. There was a 14% drop among those who said they had confidence in their organization’s leadership and an 11% drop among those who felt they could trust what their organizations told them (59% vs. 70%). Other organizational complaints included a 13% drop among those who believed there was adequate planning of corporate objectives and 10% fewer than last year saying that the leaders of their organizations were open to input from employees. All of this suggests that in some organizations, management has become more isolated from and less responsive to their employees.

Training and support

The greatest and most consistent change for the worse reported in this year’s survey concerned training and resources, with a whopping 21% fewer respondents than last year telling us that their organizations provided them with as much initial training as they needed (49% vs. 70%). As for ongoing training, 20% fewer than last year felt they were provided with enough, and 17% fewer said their organizations provided the information, equipment and resources they needed to do their jobs well. If this doesn’t speak to belt-tightening and bottom-line concerns, nothing does.

Future plans

Despite all that, the clear majority of respondents still love what they do. In fact, the percentage of those who said they like the work they do rose almost four points from last year to 95.9%.

However, complaints such as not being given enough authority to make decisions rose 4% and those who did not think they were given recognition for work that was well-done rose 6%.

But despite the fact that 10% fewer respondents than last year felt there was room to advance at their organizations and 12% fewer said that their career goals were being advanced through their current jobs, 9% fewer said they would leave their present jobs given the opportunity. This same message of “staying put,” despite less than perfect work situations, was reinforced by the fact that 8% more respondents than last year said they expected to be with the same company, in the same position in the next five years.

While the changes from last year look small on the surface, for lab professionals, who are traditionally very content in their chosen profession and secure in their career trajectories, this year’s survey results provide evidence that more than a few are feeling less pleased with their situations and less secure about their futures. Next year’s survey results should reveal whether this year’s data is a blip or a trend.


Lab managers and those in management positions made up 58% of respondents. Scientists—including chemists, microbiologists and biochemists—made up 20% of respondents. The balance included technicians, faculty, engineers, purchasing agents, safety managers and “other.” Of the total, 20% of respondents worked in industrial labs, 17% in university or college research labs, 16% in hospital/medical labs, 11% in contract research labs, 5% in government research facilities, 4% in private research labs and 2% in clinical labs. The remaining 25% fell under “other.”

The majority of respondents, 39%, hold bachelor’s degrees, 27% have master’s degrees and 22% have earned their doctorates, which represents a minor uptick from last year in both master’s and doctorate degrees. The survey was made up of 62% men and 38% women.

To complete the snapshot, the three pie charts below provide age, ethnicity and geographical information about our respondents