Work in life sciences has never really been about the money, but the mix of qualities that companies offer – and employees want – changes over time. Singular Talent speaks to over 1,500 candidates every year and MD Tom Froggatt has seen the pandemic change what bio-scientists want most from employers.

In talking to candidates, you hear about a lot more than the job. How they got started, where they are in their careers or their lives, their hopes and fears… But over the years we have been tracking the answer to one crucial question: why do you want to change your job?

In November 2021, we listened to bio-science employees of every kind, scientists, lab-based and not, as well as those in commercial and support roles. What we heard showed marked differences in opinion from 2019, the last year we tracked their mood. The most significant shift is at the top of the table, where career progression (previously the most important reason for as many as 40%) dropped to 28%, and learning and development (previously the main reason for only 10%) has doubled to 20%.

What is the main reason for wanting to change your job?



Career progression



Learning and development



Culture and environment




Exciting Science



Patient Impact


Role, job title, work/life balance, salary, benefits



Other highlights were an increased emphasis on company culture and the working environment, and perceptions of overall business stability. Both were largely absent from the previous study, reflecting on the one hand changing priorities and the impact of working from home, and on the other perhaps fears of uncertain times ahead.

Not surprisingly, but always worth remembering, salaries, benefits, and job title remain mere symbols. While they must be reasonable, they are not main motivators for candidates to risk a job change.

We have seen a rise in people expecting more flexibility or who feel employers have not adapted to the post-COVID world

It is worth considering the context for these apparent shifts in attitudes as they may be expressive of bigger themes. The first is the effect of the pandemic on everything from work patterns to personal philosophy; short term or long, it has certainly made us think about what contributes to or detracts from a fulfilling life. Secondly, the tight labour market in life sciences as in other fields is enabling candidates to be more selective – they are able to evaluate companies more critically.

It is tempting to think of COVID as the trigger for a change in attitudes, but it is more likely to be an accelerator of change. What we have certainly observed in conversations with candidates is the re-prioritisation of the role of work in their lives, and within work the desirability of different qualities.

This latest set of views might suggest that ambition is not what it was, at least for the moment, and that fulfilment might be found more through continuous learning. In many cases, candidates said there was nothing wrong with their company, but they felt they had stopped developing, which in turn made them decide to leave.

The issues of culture and business stability seem more directly a consequence of companies’ response to the pandemic. We have definitely seen a rise in people expecting more flexibility and many who feel their employers have not adapted well to the post-COVID world. Concern for stability could be a response to something lacking in their lives, or a reflection of the wider economic upheaval.

Greater choice for candidates is giving them bargaining power. We see this all over the place, not only in candidate conversations, but in more tangible ways such as offers and counter-offers.

At present it would not be surprising for candidates to hold three or four offers with companies before making a decision. Worse yet for employers, the rate at which candidates decline at the last minute due to counter-offers has more than doubled in the first half of 2022 – generally to stay where they are.

How can you attract the best hires and retain your good people?

We have not talked much about progression and it remains top of the list, so let’s start there with improvements. It is important for employees to be able to see how they get on, but too often there is ambiguity. Be as clear as you can on what people need to do: requirements, timeframes, the precise competencies expected, and how they are measured. You might consider finding examples of other individuals’ progression or offer mentors to help motivate achievement in others.

For learning and development, the priority is to be ready to approach the subject on an individual level. It helps to understand what people are interested in as well as their strengths and weaknesses. Set budgets for development as a business, of course, but work with individuals to identify and create programs that are meaningful to them as well as broadly more beneficial to the business.

In precarious times, and especially in smaller businesses, stability is hard to cultivate but one thing that helps is communication. Emphasise the value of the work you are doing and the company’s strategies and plans. This is linked to culture and environment, which can be shaped by the management team as much as the employees. It is important that you make the culture apparent to potential hires during the selection/attraction stages, but equally that it remains consistent once they join. All your cultural building blocks such as values and behaviours should be clearly measured and maintained within the business and compared regularly.

In challenging times amid changing attitudes and a difficult market, employers can still do much to attract and retain talent. It’s important to put yourself in your employees’ shoes. Think critically about your culture, environment and how well you communicate. Allied to that is the need to think of employees not as a company but as individuals with definite needs that may vary over time. Be clear about their options for development as well as progression, and find ways to offer support that match different people’s aims. Lastly, it is vital to keep hearing opinions and think about making improvements to keep your talent advantage intact.