High Levels of Turnover Plague CRO Companies, Rates Escalate


Applied Clinical Trials

Turnover rates at clinical/contract research organizations (CROs) have been problematic for some time, especially among clinical research associates (CRAs). In 2018, CRA turnover rates in the U.S. reached a five-year high of nearly 30%, according to a new report from BDO USA, LLP.

The results of BDO’s 2019/2020 CRO Industry Global Compensation & Turnover Survey showed a 4 percentage point jump in turnover rates for clinical monitoring professional roles in the U.S. between 2017 and 2018, after hovering around 25% for the previous four years. Meanwhile, compensation levels for these roles have remained largely stagnant; salary increase budgets even started lagging behind general industry rates.

“If CROs hope to retain key talent, they must do a better job of linking pay raises to an employee’s level of contribution and re-assess merit budget increases,” said Judy Canavan, Global Employer Services Managing Director at BDO. “Competency models can help companies quantify this linkage.”

While incentives can serve as a powerful recruiting and retention tool, there has been little change in the CRO industry’s use of incentives in the U.S. since 2015, with eligibility for annual incentives either holding steady or declining. As further illustration of unchanged compensation strategies, the target and actual awards for annual incentives-both by job level and salary level-have remained flat over the past five years.

Meanwhile, turnover rates outside of the U.S. are notably lower-at 16.5%. This is up more than two percentage points from 2017, but down from a high of almost 23% in 2016.

“CRAs outside of the U.S. tend to have less intense travel requirements, likely easing turnover rates,” said Canavan. “Still, CRA retention is a major concern for CROs overall. Individuals in these positions gain valuable skills very quickly, making them attractive targets for competitors. Compensation strategies need to better reflect this dynamic.”

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