Retaining employees is critical to the success of any company in the healthcare sector, from pharma to medical devices and from bio-tech to life sciences. That’s not a trend or something that changes with the times; it’s a fact. We all know what hard work it is finding and hiring great people. You want to work hard because of growth, not to replace a good performer.

How can you keep good people? What do people want from their job? What makes them happy and more likely to stay than leave? Surveys consistently show that while salary is critical, it is not the only reason. That said, appropriate compensation and benefits packages are important as a pillar of employee satisfaction and engagement.

So then, what else do healthcare professionals care about? The answer is flexibility, opportunity, and recognition. Flexibility sometimes outranks salary as the #1 concern, and all three are always somewhere in the top 5 of surveys. If you want to address what employees want and design programs that help achieve those goals, here are some things we know they care about.


Your professionals want flexibility. Study after study shows that this is a key concern, with numbers ranging from 50% to 90%+. But what does flexibility look like? Often just what you might think – telecommuting/WFH arrangements. But that default flexibility doesn’t work for every position, company, or industry. It can be tricky to run a drug trial or test AI in next-gen artificial limbs from a house or coffee shop. Employees still care about flexibility though, so it’s important that you think more creatively and figure out what options will work.

Start by asking your employees what they want and what flexibility means to them. You may expect “out of the office” when they simply want to start at 10 instead of 9 or leave at 4 for a personal commitment; that’s referred to as “micro-agility.” Healthcare professionals are well aware of the importance of their work and have a high degree of pride and personal responsibility. They will likely suggest solutions that keep things on track. Many companies are instituting unlimited time-off policies. Simply not ascribing the time with labels and limits is already a measure of flexibility and puts the employee more in charge. The right kind of autonomy makes people happier. Trust your employees, be flexible, and they’ll nearly always do the right thing for both of you.


Naturally, people want the opportunity to be promoted and to make more money, but that’s not the only kind of opportunity people want in their jobs. They want opportunities for education, to build new skills, master existing ones, and develop as a professional. Healthcare companies employ highly skilled, intelligent, curious people. They want to work on important and interesting projects. They want exposure to senior management and the best clients. They want to be part of their industry, joining professional groups and attending conferences and events. Offering these kinds of opportunities will not only make them happier, they increase employee effectiveness and productivity.

Increasingly, employees also want opportunities to give back, to support the community and organizations they care about. They expect their employers to actively supply opportunities to volunteer. They want you to partner with a local school system and develop a mentoring program that they can be a part of. Some may want a week off to build with Habitat for Humanity, but others really want the company to take the initiative and build as part of a company team. Employees have been saying for years that a company’s values matter to them. They want to work for people that share their values. More and more, they would like to actively live those values together. Don’t ignore the importance of this to your team. Providing this kind of opportunity can make a real difference.


Recognition, at its simplest, means saying thank you for a job well done. It also means touting an employee’s accomplishments and a team meeting its goals. It means thanking everyone when the company is publicly recognized. It means acknowledging the team effort needed to succeed. When the drug trial results are promising or your product receives FDA approval, celebrate with everyone; say thank you.

It’s just as important to recognize efforts that don’t necessarily make a splash but are nonetheless extra and noteworthy. Sometimes it means appreciating the ordinary, the everyday work. It’s an accomplishment to do the complex, important work the health sector engages in every day, not just through a snowstorm, economic downturn, or other challenging situation. Simply saying thanks and goodbye as you leave for the day is a great start. A quick text or email accomplishes a lot and costs little. It’s the effort that matters. Don’t underestimate the power of a handwritten note or card in our digital age. Think about the impact that just one note a month written by each member of senior leadership could have.

Finally, there are tangible rewards like gift cards, movie passes, spot bonuses, and even more formal programs and rewards. No one type of recognition fits every situation or satisfies every employee. Providing both informal and formal recognition on a regular basis, in addition to annual performance and compensation reviews, will give you the best results.

Engaging and Retaining Healthcare Employees

The key lesson from all of this may be understanding that when it comes to keeping your employees happy and engaged in their work, so you can retain a productive, successful workforce, one size won’t fit all. One size won’t even fit one person’s “all.” No one would be truly happy with sincere compliments and low wages, but no amount of salary or movie passes can make up for an unpleasant manager or distant, disengaged leadership either. 

Healthcare professionals want to be compensated for their work, but they also want to be appreciated. They want to be intellectually and professionally challenged by meaningful work and be paid well. Healthcare companies need to address the full range of employee concerns and provide multiple solutions to address them. If you pay attention to what people want, you will absolutely improve your retention numbers.


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