CRA Turnover in CROs: Causes and Consequences

Staff turnover is quite an issue for any business. In the industry of clinical trials, it can bring to such dire consequences as disrupted relationships with sponsors and even loss of research and monitoring bids.

Some Turnover Statistics for Clinical Study Market

The annual Global Compensation and Turnover Survey for CRO industry found that turnover rate in U.S. CROs for clinical monitoring jobs remained nearly as high in 2015 (25.1%) as it was in 2014 (25.4%).

CRA (clinical research associate) is one of clinical monitoring jobs. The main function of associates is to monitor the health of patients participating in clinical studies.

In 2015 even a 7% rise in average salaries for professionals in the U.S. clinical trial industry couldn’t stop this high turnover. Even worse: its average rate somewhat increased – from 19.5% in 2014 to 20.1% in 2015 – when looking at all positions in CROs.

However, the annual study conducted by HR+Survery Solutions also showed that this rising turnover trend is typical mostly for U.S.-located contract research organizations. When it comes to those located outside of the USA, the average turnover rate demonstrated a slight decrease – from 17.9% in 2014 to 16.4% in 2015. For instance, Atlant Clinical (located in Russia with offices in several European countries and the US) is one of those rare CROs with a team of dedicated highly skilled professionals, which boasts very low staff turnover.

The five countries with the highest turnover rates (30 – 47 %) are New Zeland, Switzerland, Norway, India, and Denmark.

Growth of Outsourcing

The global market of CRO is expected to reach $45 billion by 2022, growing at a 6% compounded annual rate, while in 2014 this market was valued at $27 billion (according to Grand View Research).

Outsourcing is a recent trend that causes considerable concern to pharma companies. Their demand in trials grew dramatically over the last decade: by December 2016 the number of registered clinical trials reached 231,508, while in 2005 the number of those was only 24,921.

Over the last 5 years, surging along with the number of trials were also pharma’s outsourcing expenditures. In 2016 about 38% of sponsors were spending $51–$100 million, and 18% spent even more than $100 million (according to Nice Insight Contract Research), while in 2015 only 23% of companies were spending over $50 million.

The Way High Staff Turnover Affects Sponsors

The excessive turnover becomes quite an issue for sponsors because it bears a high risk of disruption to trials, specifically:

  • loss of continuity with subsequent delays in timelines
  • lower productivity
  • knowledge loss
  • recruitment and training costs
  • increased workload on colleagues –

with all these factors resulting in an increase of trial’s costs. This is the reason why sponsors employ the practice of scrutinizing staff turnover during their CRO vetting process.


How Can CROs Stop Their Staff Turnover?

What is it that makes CRAs change jobs so frequently? The reason this behavior has grown so popular among professionals engaged in clinical research and monitoring is that they have figured out this to be a great way to enrich their CV and boost their compensation.

In order to deal with this trend, contract research organizations need to introduce changes into their relationships with employees. Building loyalty and engaging clinical research associates – who spend most of their working time traveling to study sites – is quite a challenge for CROs. And along with compensation, it definitely needs other practices to be introduced as well, such as work-life balance and internal career opportunities.

A topic-survey conducted among 16 CROs in 2016 by HR+Survey Solutions pursued the aim to understand the most popular measures used for retaining talent. According to this survey, 85% of participating CROs were using money as the most common method of retaining valuable professionals. Off-cycle raises were a common practice among those companies, with 48% of them using retention bonuses. This tactic was popular among U.S. as well as non-U.S. companies.

Money (in the form of higher bonuses) was also the major argument for attracting new employees among 81 % of U.S.-located CROs, while 80% of companies were also occasionally using above market average salaries.

However, it is obvious that no benefits and higher pays are capable of solving the issue of high turnover among qualified research and monitoring personnel until this market undergoes shortage of skills. The high demand for specialists from CROs and sponsors will remain the powerful force driving the turnover higher and boosting wages in this market until it is provided by sufficient amount of trained professionals.