Work/Life Balance in the Life Sciences: Not as Bad as You Think

Published: Sep 07, 2017

Work/Life Balance in the Life Sciences: Not as Bad as You Think September 5, 2017
By Jennifer Fink,

How the best life sciences companies facilitate work/life balance

Seven out of 10 life sciences professionals consider manageable working hours important. Fewer than half, though, believe that reasonable working hours are a strength of life sciences employers. Yet work/life balance within the life sciences may not be as elusive as many people seem to believe. According to BioSpace’s 2017 Ideal Employer Report, potential employees often assume a negative work environment, while current and past employees frequently extoll companies’ flexible hours and family-friendly practices.

Many life sciences companies have devoted a lot of time and effort in recent years into creating a corporate culture that allows individuals to contribute in meaningful ways without sacrificing the rest of their lives. Jonathon Parker, Vice President of Regulatory Affairs for Takeda and a father of three, says that’s the case for Takeda.

“The culture here is one that recognizes the importance of the employee,” Parker says. Takeda’s corporate philosophy is built around four priorities, in order: the patient, trust, reputation and the business. “The business,” Parker notes, “is considered fourth; not first. When you have that philosophy, you can extend it to work/life balance.”

Life sciences companies that excel at work/life balance tend to exhibit these three characteristics:

A Culture of Trust

Flexible schedules and manageable working hours are important to life sciences professionals for a variety of reasons—some of which have nothing to do with family and community responsibilities. At its most basic level, Parker says, giving professionals flexibility to meet the demands of their jobs demonstrates trust. Rather than micromanaging the when and how of employee work, the more progressive companies encourage (and trust) employees to make good decisions about how to best go about their jobs.

Parker, for instance, lives in Andover, Massachusetts; his office is in Cambridge, and traffic is beastly. So rather than wasting his time in rush hour traffic, Parker has shifted his work hours. He typically gets to work by 6 am, which allows him to leave early enough to beat the evening rush as well. “It’s a couple hour shift, but it allows me to actually be home when the kids come home,” Parker says. He makes the most of his commute by participating in teleconferences with colleagues in other time zones during his drive home. “I’m still being productive, and no one gives a boo about the fact that it’s while telecommuting.”

Responsiveness to Employee Input

Sometimes, there’s a difference between what management thinks will make employees happy, and what actually makes employees’ lives easier. The best life sciences companies are constantly tweaking these policies, practices and protocols in response to employee need.

“We as an organization have built our work/life balance program based on feedback from our employees,” says Sarah Gibson, Senior Manager, Talent Acquisition Life Sciences Solutions for Thermo Fisher Scientific . (Thermo Fisher Scientific, #18 overall in BioSpace’s 2017 Ideal Employer Report, is a Top 25 ranked company for work/life balance.) “We look at employee information surveys and really listen to what they’re looking for.”

See the BioSpace’s complete list of Top 25 Employers for work/life balance

Takeda does the same. In fact, a few years ago the company tweaked their vacation policy in response to employee concerns. Previous, the amount of vacation an employee got increased by about a week every five years. “You’d have two or three weeks for several years, and then of all sudden, it’s four,” Parker says. The wait for additional vacation was unnecessarily long, and stressful for employees. So, the company changed the policy. “Now, essentially, you get a day added on each year,” Parker says.

Supportive Policies

Trust and a responsive, considerate corporate culture aren’t enough; supportive policies and access to benefits and infrastructure are also necessary to help life sciences employees balance their personal and professional responsibilities.

Virtually all life science companies offer some form of family leave. Many offer flex time, telecommuting and compressed work weeks. Depending on the job, part-time work or job-sharing may be options. “We encourage our employees to talk to their managers and teams to understand what kind of flexibility there is,” says Gibson, noting that policies can vary by division and location.

Wellness programs, employee assistance programs, and on-site and back-up child- (and, in some places, elder-) care can make life much easier for busy life sciences professionals.

“I know that, if I’m in need, my company will take care of me,” Parker says. That kind of support allows life sciences professionals to contribute with confidence.

Follow Ideal Employer news on BioSpace over the coming months as we dive deeper into this multi-faceted research and provide insights valuable to both professionals and hiring managers.

Are you building your talent pipeline? Download the full report for access to detailed insights you can use to build your workforce strategy and attract the best talent.

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