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Has pharma got the feelgood factor?

Published on 30/10/06 at 11:07am

People are expecting more from their jobs than they ever have before. The concept of a job for life - or even for the next five years - is a thing of the past for many people. Benefits, seniority and years of service are counting for less and less, and few people expect to spend more than a couple of years in the same job.

My own experience as a life coach is that there are four Rs of job satisfaction: namely, responsibility, rewards, relationships and recognition, and if any or all of these are deficient, good people will want to leave -  "grin and bear it" is not an option any more for modern workers.

So, what is job satisfaction? The simple answer seems to be: "we're not completely sure, but we'll know when it isn't there."

The routes to satisfaction

There has been a great deal of research into the subject, including the influential work carried out in the late 1950s by Frederick Herzberg, who proposed his two factors theory, which drew a key distinction between job factors which promote satisfaction and those which promote dissatisfaction.

Aspects not directly related to the work itself (or job context factors) - which Herzberg  called hygiene - such as pay and working conditions, can cause job dissatisfaction, but conversely, even when they are of a high standard, they do not necessarily improve satisfaction. The primary promoters of job satisfaction are the more intangible factors which do relate directly to the job - Herzberg's so-called motivators - such as responsibility, recognition, or the type of work itself.

Herzberg proposed that employers who want to give their workers job satisfaction need to look at the hygiene areas first, as once these are at an acceptable level, addressing the motivators - for example, recognition and achievement - will then enable employees to become more productive, creative and committed. But, the idea that satisfied workers are more productive isn't new; more than 400 years ago, William Shakespeare wrote:"To business that we love, we eagerly arise and go to with delight."

In reality, how closely are productivity and satisfaction related? Researchers into this question have focused on measurable issues, including ratings, absenteeism, performance and staff turnover. Their evidence suggests that satisfaction and performance are, in fact, only weakly related, although correlations were found to be higher for people in supervisory or professional jobs, where performance depends more on motivation, creativity and helpfulness.

Studies of absenteeism have been equally indecisive, suggesting a weak negative relationship, i.e. the more satisfied you are, the less likely you are to be absent. Similarly, when researchers looked at staff turnover, they found it also had a weak negative relationship with job satisfaction, i.e. the more satisfied you are, the less likely you are to change jobs

But even if the research is inconclusive, most managers would agree: satisfied workers make better workers. David Garmon-Jones, former head of sales and the new managing director at Merck Pharmaceuticals UK, says:" We invest a lot of time and effort in this area. At Merck, we try to get the environment right. People need to feel they belong, and that they can make a difference, as well as enjoying their work."

So, in the absence of clear evidence, it remains uncertain whether satisfaction affects productivity or vice versa. In other words, is a happy worker a productive worker, or is a productive worker a happy worker?

Nature or nurture?

In order to break this logjam, some researchers have suggested that the wrong question is being asked. Perhaps the real question is what causes job satisfaction: "is it the job, or is it me?" Or in researcher-speak, should they take the situational or the dispositional approach? This has spawned the job satisfaction researchers' very own version of the nature/nurture debate: does satisfaction vary because work conditions vary, or because peoples attitudes to their jobs vary? For instance, do the perceived received rewards match the perceived deserved rewards - in other words, is credit given where its due?

A second line of enquiry explores value, or whether one's job is perceived as fulfilling important values. And yet a third school of thought holds that job satisfaction stems from the emotional value associated with the job. This would include factors such as employees being able to use their full range of skills and abilities, whether they could control the speed at which they do the job, and whether they have authority to take decisions or need to refer back to a supervisor all the time.

Empirical evidence for the situational approach (which can be summarised as "it's the job, not me") suggests that satisfaction relates to the nature of the work itself, social relationships, and economic benefits. Taking the opposite stance, evidence for the dispositional approach ("it's me, not the job") comes from the work of Professor Barry Staw of Berkeley, who argued that since job attitudes are highly stable across situations, individual dispositions must be the deciding factor.

To test his hypothesis, he led a study on the influence of emotional disposition on job attitudes over long periods of time, proposing  that it would be possible to predict likely job satisfaction in adulthood from the emotional attitude of the adolescent. Richard Arvey of University of Minnesota then took things a stage further, claiming job satisfaction had a genetic component. His team went on to examine 34 pairs of identical twins reared apart, and his results suggested that they were, indeed, more alike in terms of job attitudes than non-twins.

But the situational camp was not done yet. Professor Barry Gerhart of Vanderbilt University carried out yet another study and found that pay, status and job complexity were all predictors of job satisfaction, and that job complexity was the strongest of the three. In other words, the more complex the job, the higher the level of job satisfaction.

The practical importance of this debate for pharma managers is that if job satisfaction is the key to productivity, is it possible to increase job satisfaction by changing work conditions, as the situational camp would claim, or, conversely, is it more a matter of selecting the right people in the first place, as the dispositional camp would argue?

What workers want

So, what do modern pharma workers want from their jobs? And more specifically, what are the priorities for a fulfilling job in pharma?

Today, most companies have sorted out the hygiene issues, so the focus is now on motivation, and HR, traditionally concerned with hiring, firing and pay, has moved into motivation over the past 10-15 years.

The implementation and effectiveness of the latest thinking on creating job satisfaction can be examined by looking at smaller companies. Merck Pharmaceuticals UK, for instance, had a top 20 position in The Guardian's list of Britain's Top Employers 2005. A survey in Pharmafocus positioned the company as a top 20 pharma employer, and it also ranked in the top 50 in the Financial Times' Best Work Places list in 2004 and again in 2005.

David Garmon-Jones, of Merck UK, thinks it is management's job to create job satisfaction and foster loyalty. He says:" People are more demanding of their employers, and loyalty is not as common in people as it may have been in the past. You have to work harder these days to generate loyalty."

These various surveys gave a useful insight into the level of satisfaction within the company. They showed that Merck's employees believe they earn a better-than-average remuneration, boosted by the fact that top performers can earn bonuses well above the industry norm, with targets which are clear and easy to measure. Furthermore, accountability for sales works better for smaller companies, such as Merck UK, which have correspondingly smaller sales forces, compared with larger companies with overlapping or mirrored sales teams. As a consequence, reps believe there is more recognition of their sales efforts, which when combined with a user-friendly CRM system, helps to improve accountability. The Pharmafocus survey also showed Merck reps record their calls more often and more accurately, and can, therefore, prove how much credit they deserve for sales which, again, makes them feel valued.

One point which is often overlooked is that of product loyalty  Merck reps displayed a belief in the company's products which was higher than the industry average - an important factor, since if reps do not have faith in their company's products, they'll move to a company with products they feel more confident with.

The personal touch

On a more personal level, Merck workers felt they had better-than-average relationships with their direct managers. A good manager can inspire, lead, give confidence and support an employee's development, and the surveys suggested that Merck's smaller teams produce better cross-functional working and staff relationships. Employee motivation was further boosted by the fact that most current Merck managers originally joined the company as representatives and have grown with the business, with the result that role models, testifying to a clear link between effort and reward, are visible across the company. Clearly, Merck's approach is paying dividends as far as staff are concerned as, overall, only 3% of Merck employees declared themselves likely to move on to a new employer in the near future, compared with the 14% industry norm.  

One interesting fact which emerged from the Pharmafocus survey was that the age of employees also plays an important part in job satisfaction. Of those aged 25 and under, 52% thought their company was doing enough for their career progression, but this youthful enthusiasm waned between the ages of 36 and 45 - employees in this age group gave the lowest scores when asked if they thought their company did enough for their careers.

My own coaching experience suggests a range of reasons for this, which are usually to do with disappointment that early career expectations have not been fulfilled. Not everyone can be sales manager or chief executive, and it is this age group which needs to come to terms with these facts and explore ways they can obtain job satisfaction from a more junior position than that they once aspired to. Older workers, however, gave higher scores, which suggests that those who stayed the course were able to put any disappointment behind them and get on with doing a good job.

This is normal. Typically, satisfaction plotted against age shows a U-shaped curve, which starts out at a high level, dips in the middle years, and then rises again as workers near retirement.

And finally, remember that even the best designed job satisfaction programme, wont always please everyone. For some, the grass is always going to be greener elsewhere.

A two-pronged approach

But there are methods which any employer can use to increase the job satisfaction of the company's employees. The first aspects to look at are the hygiene issues, such as administrative polices, and decide if they are clear and fairly applied across the company. Next, the supervisory system should be examined, bearing in mind that not all good employees make good supervisors  they will need leadership and listening skills plus a strong concept of fairness, so clearly, they must be chosen carefully. Similarly, interpersonal relationships and socialising between colleagues is important and this can be worked into company life; plus it will have the added benefit of building camaraderie and teamwork.

Once the people are right, working conditions should be considered as these will have a tremendous effect on employees level of pride in themselves, their work and, hence, the company - a nice chair can make a world of difference, and pleasant surroundings can lift the spirits.

Earnings can also be a point of contention, and although most people recognise that not everyone can receive a big salary, they do want to be paid fairly. Any employer should be aware of salaries and bonuses being offered by competitors and should try to match them. In addition, there should be a clear pay policy, particularly concerning pay rises and bonuses. Once all these hygiene factors are satisfied, then it's time to start looking at the motivator factors.

The work itself must have purpose, and individuals need to believe their work is important. This can be assisted by good managers who show how individual contributions result in positive outcomes; for example, by sharing success stories about how someone made a real difference, or improved a process. And while it can be useful to eliminate or streamline certain tasks, it is also important to show how the more mundane ones are essential to the overall processes. This less interesting work can be counteracted by providing more challenging tasks.

Most people want to do a good job, so they should be allowed to use their talents and not be set up for failure with overly difficult or impossible challenges. Clear, achievable goals and standards should be set for each position and to boost a sense of achievement, regular, timely feedback shoud be given, and good work recognised and acknowledged.

Giving employees responsibility is another way to produce motivation and this can be done by allowing them enough freedom and power to carry out their tasks so they feel they own the result. Then, as individuals mature in their jobs, further opportunities for added responsibility can be provided. Promotion, too, can be a reward for loyalty and performance, even if it means creating a new title to reflect achievement.

Finally, employees should be encouraged to pursue training or further education, which will make them more valuable and more fulfilled professionally. By putting all these hygiene and motivator factors in place, employees will have every opportunity to enjoy job satisfaction, and this can only be a good thing for them and for the business.


John Hosken is principal consultant at Information Advisers and also a qualified business coach. For more information e-mail: or visit:

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