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The Ninth Annual Salary & Employee Satisfaction Survey

The results of this year’s Salary and Employee Satisfaction Survey brought us many familiar trends, painting a picture of overall satisfaction among lab professionals.

Trevor Henderson, PhD

Trevor Henderson BSc (HK), MSc, PhD (c), is the creative services director at Lab Manager.  He has more than two decades of experience in the fields of scientific...

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Challenges remain for women and younger researchers

As we review the results of this year’s Salary and Employee Satisfaction Survey, we see many familiar trends, and the results paint a picture of overall stability and satisfaction among laboratory professionals. However, as we examine the results more closely for our female respondents, it seems that many labs may still be equipped with a glass ceiling.


Consistent with our previous years’ studies, our audience has changed very little. Respondents were spread across a variety of industries including clinical labs, academia, and industrial labs [Table 1]. While overall results were very comparable to last year’s, it is notable that a very slight recovery was seen among government labs (2% increase) following the large decline in last year’s numbers owing to government sequestration efforts in the United States.

TABLE 1. Research Organization
Clinical / Hospital / Medical Lab 26%
University or College Laboratory 20%
Industrial Laboratory 17%
Government Laboratory 14%
Independent / Private Research Library 5%
Pharmaceutical Laboratory 5%
Contract Research Library 3%
Biotechnology Laboratory 2%
Consultant 1%
Other 9%

GRAPHS: A snapshot of our survey respondents

Laboratory management professionals, who include lab managers, corporate management, operations management, and academic department heads, among others, represented 70.3% of the survey respondents. The balance of survey respondents included research scientists, technologists, engineers, and academics [Table 2]. Scientists and lab managers from a wide variety of disciplines were represented in this year’s survey, with strong representation in the areas of analytical and applied chemistry, clinical labs, environmental science, microbiology, and agri/food industries [Table 3].

Table 2: Lab Management
Lab Management 70%
Technologist / Technician / Research Assistant 8%
Research Scientist 6%
Chemist 5%
Clinical Researcher 1%
Biologist 1%
Engineer 1%
Professor 2%
Post doctorate fellow 1%
Graduate / Postgraduate / PhD Student 0.3%
H & S Manager 0.1%
Other 6%


Table 3: Research Area
Analytical Chemistry 18%
Clinical 15%
Environmental 10%
Chemistry 8%
Microbiology 8%
Agri / Food 6%
Biotechnology 6%
Molecular Biology 6%
Biology 5%
Neuroscience 4%
Biochemistry 3%
Drug Discovery 2%
Forensics 2%
Other 8%

Loyalty and Longevity

Like many industries, the laboratory environment continues to be dominated by a maturing workforce, and is characterized by overall stability with little turnover among a well-entrenched group of senior scientists. Those with more than 20 years of experience represented more than half of the respondents for the first time, with a total of 56.5%, while those new to the workforce in the past year represented less than 1% of the total respondents [Figure 1]. This suggests that many lab professionals may be hesitant to retire from the workforce and that opportunities for young researchers to be elevated into the management ranks may not yet be available.

When examining workplace loyalty, we again see a developing trend toward increased workplace loyalty, with nearly a quarter of employees (24.4%) reporting having been with their current employer for more than 20 years, and over half (53.9%) having over a decade of history with their current employer. Conversely, only 2.6% of respondents could be considered “new hires” with less than a year of service—a number down from over 7% just two years ago. Whether this represents a lack of new opportunities for researchers in the job market, or efforts by employers to retain critical staff, remains unclear.

Figure 1. Years Employed as a Researcher / Scientist
Less than 1 year 1%
1 - 2 years 2%
3 - 5 years 5%
6 - 10 years 10%
11 - 15 years 12%
16 - 20 years 15%
More than 20 years 57%

Again this year we see a trend toward consolidation of laboratory operations as the industry continues to see the merger and acquisition of many companies. Currently, a full 50% of respondents are working for companies with more than 750 employees (up 5% over the past two years), while a mere 5.9% are employed by companies with fewer than 25 total staff. These results may be indicative of an economy that currently discourages smaller start-up labs and a market that is dominated by large industry players.

It has been widely publicized that 2015 marked the year that millennials (those between 18 and 34 years old) overtook the baby-boomer generation (those born between 1946 and 1964) in the U.S. workforce; however, this appears not to be the case among laboratory professionals. Only 8.1% of respondents reported being under 35 years of age, which suggests that many labs continue to be populated with older higher earners, and that opportunities for younger scientists may, as yet, be unavailable [Figure 2].

Figure 2: Survey Respondents by Age Cohort
Millenials 8%
Gen X 36%
Boomers 56%

Dollars and Sense

Making sense of this year’s salary results provided some interesting information. Overall, there has been little change in either average salaries or benefits in the past year. Average salaries continue to march slowly forward as baby boomers continue to mature in the workforce. The average salary reported for 2015 was $74,726, an amount comparable to the 2014 and 2013 averages of $74,257 and $70,700, respectively. In addition to base salaries, 42% of respondents were also eligible for performance-based incentives—a percentage roughly unchanged over the previous few years.

This year we decided to delve deeper into the numbers, examining in more detail the disparity between men and women when it comes to salaries and benefits in the lab.

Science Under The Glass Ceiling

Across most industries women are at a disadvantage when it comes to achieving salaries comparable to those of their male counterparts. According to United States Census Bureau data, in 2013 the female-to-male earnings ratio was 0.82, meaning that the average female worker makes 18% less than her male counterpart.1 Among laboratory professionals this appears to hold true, with the average salary for female respondents being $71,044 as compared to $83,491 for men, an earnings ratio of 0.85. In fact, women overwhelmingly dominated the lower income categories and were underrepresented in the higher ones [Figure3]. Across all wage categories gender was significantly correlated with annual salary (p < 0.05). Additionally, women were also significantly less likely to be involved in performance-based bonuses (p < 0.05). Interestingly, among this year’s survey respondents there were no gender-based differences related to age, employment status, education level, or length of employment— factors that might influence salary and bonus.

Figure 3: Percentage of Male and Female Respondents By Salary
Annual Salary Male Female
$25,000 - $34,999 1% 2%
$35,000 - $44,999 3% 5%
$45,000 - $54,999 4% 9%
$55,000 - $64,999 10% 17%
$65,000 - $74,999 9% 16%
$75,000 - $84,999 10% 15%
$85,000 - $94,999 15% 11%
$95,000 - $109,999 17% 10%
$110,000 - $124,999 11% 6%
$125,000 - $149,999 12% 6%
More than $150,000 6% 5%

Nearly a decade after the United States National Academy of Sciences released a report concerning the status of women in science titled Beyond Bias and Barriers: Fulfilling the Potential of Women in Academic Science and Engineering, 2 it seems that change, while occurring, is ploddingly slow. This report demonstrated a pattern of unconscious but pervasive bias against women in science and described a work environment where anyone without the work and family support of a traditional “wife” was at considerable disadvantage. While there are no conclusive results pointing to a particular deficiency in the system responsible for pay inequities in science, the results of the current survey do illustrate some interesting trends.

When examining areas of research, it is obvious that there is a bias toward women entering the life sciences and clinical research. In fact, among survey respondents, women were more than three times as likely to be working in clinical and biological sciences and only half as likely to be employed in applied or analytical chemistry. It is possible that careers in clinical and life sciences are less lucrative than those in other scientific disciplines dominated by male researchers. It is also possible that clinical occupations are less likely to offer performance-based bonus programs.

Regardless of the reason, it is apparent that laboratory management is as susceptible to gender-based pay discrimination as other professions, and the industry must continue to address gender stereotypes in the workplace as well as some of the unique barriers faced by women entering STEM disciplines.

Education Matters

A highly competitive job market coupled with the need for highly skilled employees means we continue to see growth among the most educated. Although there was no change among those surveyed who reported having doctoral degrees (19.8%), a 3% increase was noted among those with master’s degrees (28.4%) and a similar decrease among those with bachelor’s degrees (44.7%) [Table 4]. Most underrepresented in the current survey again are those with some college or associate degrees, at 4.4% and 2.7%, respectively. These results are consistent with the trend we have seen over the past five years indicating an industry decline among those lacking graduate- level degrees, perhaps owing in part to downsizing and automation of less-skilled procedures.

When questioned about education and skill levels, a full 92% of those surveyed believed they had adequate skills to be successful in their current position, a number identical to last year’s results. Interestingly, again this year fewer respondents indicated they would be seeking additional training or education, with only 8% indicating they would be returning to school, down from 13% in 2014.

Table 4: Education
Some college 3%
Associates degree 4%
Bachelor-level degree 45%
Masters-level degree 28%
Doctoral degree 20%

Job Satisfaction

If job retention is a good measure of employee satisfaction, it can be said that most lab professionals are satisfied with their current situation. A total of 89.3% of respondents stated that they will be working with their current employer in either their current or a different capacity over the next 12 months.

Employees also largely agree that their employers provide adequate information, equipment, and resources to perform their jobs well (61.6%). However, it seems that some employers could improve in the areas of training, with only 44.2% and 45.5% of respondents reporting that they receive adequate initial and ongoing training, respectively. Additionally, only 34.5% of respondents felt that their employer helped them improve their worklife balance, and a mere 27.7% felt that their employer provided adequate support to explore other opportunities within the company.

Total job satisfaction is multifactorial, and includes salary, benefits, coworker and management relationships, workplace flexibility, and opportunities for advancement, among others. It seems that, like many workplaces, the laboratory presents some challenges when maintaining satisfied employees; but overall the picture remains positive with high employee retention and very few disgruntled workers.

In Summary

Like every other industry, the laboratory workplace is challenged to become increasingly productive and innovative in its approaches to business. Managing employee expectations while experiencing a generational turnover in the workplace can be difficult, while working toward eliminating workplace discrimination and bias against female scientists takes considerable leadership. Automation and new innovations are rapidly changing the skill sets required for many laboratory professions, and competition for the best and most skilled employees has perhaps never been higher. Fortunately, today’s laboratory professionals seem well equipped to handle the changes to come.

If you participated in this year’s Salary and Employee Satisfaction Survey, thank you. We look forward to revisiting this topic next year and again will be counting on your participation.


1. U.S. Department of Labor, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Women in the Labor Force: A Databook, December 2014 Report 1052

2. National Academy of Sciences, “Beyond Bias and Barriers: Fulfilling the Potential of Women in Academic Science and Engineering.” (National Academies Press, 2006) (ISBN 0309100429)

For complete survey results, go to