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Was 2020 a year to remember, or a year to forget? Professionals have experienced unprecedented changes and challenges during this highly irregular year. This year’s LCGC salary and employment survey reveals a variety of reactions, responses, and outlooks to recent events among separation scientists. This article explores these issues and other longer-term factors affecting scientists and technicians working in chromatography and separation science.
As always, we report on overall salary trends and how they compare to past years. Unlike previous reports about LCGC salary surveys, which focused heavily on the numerical details of the salary data (1,2), this year we looked beyond the numbers to focus more on broader trends and workplace emotional health. We asked about job security and respondents’ outlook for a future working in this challenging and technically complex field. We inquired about what separation science professionals consider their greatest workplace concerns. We asked how many respondents are searching for new opportunities, and why. We looked at the effects of working in a COVID-19 environment, and what discrimination is experienced in the workplace. And finally, we asked respondents for their outlook on 2021.
This year, 473 separation scientists from around the world responded to LCGC North America’s 2020 annual employment survey. We found that nearly all professionals working in the LC–GC world are more concerned than usual about the security of their jobs and incomes, given the declared pandemic. Nevertheless, respondents are fairly optimistic about the coming year. Nearly 68% of respondents expect the economy to recover to its previous levels during 2021, and 67% believe their job situation will improve during 2021. There is also strong confidence among our respondents that their own organizations will improve their revenue streams in 2021 (69%).
Nevertheless, just over half of respondents (52%) indicated they are interested in seeking a new employment opportunity for reasons unrelated to the pandemic. Of those seeking improved career opportunities, one-fourth (24%) are seeking a higher salary, 15% are looking for a new challenge, and 10% are dissatisfied with their current employer for personal reasons.
The COVID-19 pandemic resulted in dramatic changes in work culture globally. Since March, nearly one in five (18%) respondents were either laid off or furloughed; 46% have limited or no access to their laboratories; and 43% say they are struggling to stay positive during this declared health emergency.
Organizations and their operations have been seriously challenged, as facilities have been closed or severely restricted, with online or virtual classes, meetings, and conferences being required in many situations. The business downturn caused by the pandemic has resulted in nearly one-fourth (23%) of organizations downsizing, and 10% having initiated restructuring mergers with other organizations. On a positive note, only 3% of respondents say that their work functions were offshored.
Despite these challenges, over three-quarters (76%) of respondents feel they are able to complete their work despite these unusual challenges, and even though nearly half (48%) of respondents claim their work- load increased, over half (57%) are satisfied with their current working conditions, and 40% say they enjoy working from home.
Our survey results indicate that just four in ten respondents (44%) are not interested in seeking a job change. The main reasons these respondents want to keep their current job situations are good salary (13%), location of their office and laboratories (11%), or the perception that there are few good job opportunities in or near their current locations (11%). Other reasons for staying put in current jobs are good work colleagues (7%), good managers and bosses (6%), and high external job competition (5%). Nearly one in three (30%) would not want to leave their current position, even if another job opportunity were presented to them.
On the other hand, over half of respondents (51%) said they would leave their cur- rent positions for a new or better opportunity. A full 32% indicated they were ready for a career change, either major or minor. The main reasons respondents were seeking new opportunities were for a higher salary (24%), for a new challenge (15%), or for better job satisfaction (10%). Some respondents (8.5%) had a variety of personal reasons for seeking new employment. Some were looking for an improved work-life balance (6.8%), while others wanted more responsibility (5.4%). One in twenty (5.6%) felt insecure about the stability of their jobs or employer. Figures 1a–1c provide a detailed breakdown of the career or job change responses.
Questions relating to potential job changes also connect to perceptions of both job security and the job market. Almost one-third of respondents (33%) feel their jobs are less secure this year than last year, while 22% feel they are more secure; the rest (45%) say there is no change in their job security. Figure 2 displays the respondent perception of their current job security.
Almost half of survey respondents (54%) believe that the current employment mar- ket for separation scientists is either good or excellent, and only 8% think it is poor. Of those separation science professionals that desire to change positions (51% of our survey respondents), one in five (20%) assess the job market as one where employer organizations are competing for good candidates, while the rest feel that there is moderate (42%) or strong (38%) competition from candidates for any good open positions (Figure 3).
The vast majority (93%) of respondents say that salary and bonus structure is the most important factor in their jobs. The next most important factor was job security (92%), followed by work–life balance (89%), the team one worked with (88%), retirement benefits (84%), and health insurance (84%). The factor receiving the lowest ranking was the ability to work from home (42%), showing that working remotely was not really a factor this year. Other low-ranking factors were the prestige of the organization (42%), and maternity or paternity leave (26%), keeping in mind that possibly only approximately one-third of respondents are in child-bearing years and have an interest in raising a family.
Regarding paid time off (PTO), only one in three used all of their allotted vacation for this past year, and one in five used less than 25% of their allotted PTO. The remaining half used between 26% and 99% of their scheduled PTO time. Although we do not have previous data to compare the use of allotted PTO with previous years, we suspect that there was less time used for vacation this year due to limited availability of vacation and traveling opportunities.
For 2020, 40% of respondents received raises, while 43% did not. Alarmingly, it was noted that 17% experienced a decrease in pay over this past year (Figure 5). In our 2019 survey (1), we found that 27.41% of respondents did not receive any salary raise, but we did not record any salary decreases for full-time professionals. Our questions about pay scales indicated that one in twenty (6%) were very satisfied with their pay, and feel their pay is at the high end of the market value. One-quarter (24%) feel they are paid fairly. A full 70%, however, feel that they are paid at the low end of the scale or are paid below market value.
For this year’s survey, we recorded salaries between $15,000 and $250,000 USD. The reported mean and median annual salaries for all those surveyed were $89,576 and $90,000, respectively, indicating the reported salaries are similar to those seen in the past few years. For the United States, we found a slightly lower average salary for 2020, but the same median salary as last year. The median salary number is important, because it is often a better indicator of overall salary levels. Table I displays the annual salary trend since 2017 for the United States (See also Figure 6).
As far as bonuses, one-half of respondents did not receive any annual bonus. Of those who did receive an annual bonus, amounts ranged from $200 to $30,000. The mean and median bonus values for all respondents were $7551 and $5450, respectively.
For this year’s survey, we wanted to explore the issues of discrimination in the workplace from multiple perspectives. To this end, we asked several questions with respect to the issue of discrimination, with some surprising results. A full two-thirds (84%) of respondents did not sense or report any form of discrimination, and among that group, 17% said they are not part of any group that would expect discrimination. This left 16% that feel they have been discriminated against at their place of employment for a variety of reasons, which we further explored.
We asked respondents if they feel discriminated against, and their thoughts on the primary reason for that discrimination; the results are presented in Table II. Seven in ten respondents do not sense any form of discrimination. Of those that reported concerns about discrimination, 9% feel that gender is the major issue, followed by age (7.2%), nationality (3.3%), and race (2.8%). The least-reported causes for discrimination reported were pregnancy leave or childcare issues, illness, physical disability, mental disability, and schools or universities attended.
We followed up the initial workplace discrimination question by asking the respondents to comment on how discrimination against them has resulted in a work problem or effect. The results are given in Table III. Nearly 71% feel there is no discrimination at their workplace. Of the full respondent pool, one in twenty (5.2%) feel they do not receive equal pay for the same job performed, almost the same percentage (4.7%) feel they are not recognized appropriately for their contributions, and 4.1% feel they have not been promoted as they should have been. Almost 2% of respondents feel they lost their job, or were demoted, based on discriminatory practices. Some feel they were harassed, received the worst work assignments, or were bullied in the workplace. It is also interesting, and somewhat surprising, to note that of nearly 30% of the people experiencing discrimination in our respondent pool, only 3.8% of them have formally reported or lodged a complaint for discrimination at their place of employment. The reported main reasons for not lodging a formal complaint are that people felt it would not make any difference (12%); that there would be reprisals from management, including loss of their job (6%); or that the discrimination was not serious enough (5%). It is very unfortunate, but 2.5% of respondents said they had actually resigned their jobs and moved on because of discrimination. Some felt they could not afford a lawyer (1%), that they would not be believed (0.5%), or that they were ashamed to raise the issue (0.5%). There were a few that did not realize that they could or should formally complain (2%), and some thought a formal complaint of discrimination would affect their future employment opportunities (2%).
It is important to note that, in a follow-up question on discrimination, the results of those making a formal complaint in the workplace were as follows: Over one-third (39%) of those formally complaining felt they were treated as the problem and there were reprisals against them; 39% felt that some slight action was taken about the discrimination, but it was insufficient; and 22% felt that appropriate action was taken by management and the situation has improved.
A total of 473 separation scientist professionals from around the world responded to the survey, which was fielded from September through October 2020. The respondents were 68.4% male and 31.6% female. Respondents primarily were from industry (62.0%), academic institutions (18.4%), government or nationally funded laboratories (9.8%), military (0.2%), and from other organizations (9.6%), such as private laboratories, hospitals, and medical facilities.
The various job titles of respondents include scientist (23.2%), manager (20.6%), principal or senior scientist (20.0%), director (8.7%), technician (4.9%), associate or assistant professor (4.5%), full professor (3.4%), CEO, CTO, or president (2.1%), vice president (1.7%), graduate student (1.7%), post-doctoral scientist (0.9%), and laboratory assistant (0.2%).
The years of experience of respondents are shown in Table IV.
Note that 68% of respondents have worked at their current organization for more than 5 years, while nearly half (49%) have been at their current position for more than 10 years. Table V and Figure 4 give information on career longevity of respondents with current organizations.
Professionals across all fields working in 2020 have experienced unprecedented changes and challenges during this extraordinary year, and of course, this includes separation scientists. Among our respondents, 17% experienced a pay cut this year—likely a result of the COVID-19 pandemic—and 18% were either laid off or furloughed. Approximately 46% have limited or no access to their laboratories, and 43% say they are struggling to stay positive during this situation. In spite of all that, over three-quarters (76%) of respondents feel they are able to complete their work despite the unusual challenges of this year. They are also fairly optimistic about the coming year: 68% of respondents expect the economy to recover in 2021, and 67% believe their job situation will improve during 2021. Our respondents also have strong confidence that their employers will have improved revenue in 2021 (69%).
Of course, the ongoing concerns related to any workplace remain, pandemic or not. We found that the greatest workplace concerns of professionals in separation sciences are salary and bonus structure, job security, work–life balance, working colleagues and associates, retirement benefits, and health insurance benefits. Over half (57%) are satisfied with their current working conditions—even though nearly half (48%) of respondents claim an increased workload. And just over half (52%) of our respondents indicate they are interested in seeking a better employment opportunity beyond their current situation.
We noted that 40% of respondents received raises, while 43% did not—and 17% experienced a decrease in pay over this past year. A full 70% feel that they are either paid at the low end of the scale or are paid below market value. The mean and median annual salaries in 2020 are similar to those in the recent past, with a slight decrease this year vs. the past two years.
When asked about workplace discrimination, two-thirds (84%) of respondents did not sense any form of discrimination. The most highly reported forms of discrimination included gender, age, and nationality. Only 3.8% of those discriminated against have formally reported or lodged a complaint for discrimination at their place of employment. Of those formally reporting a discrimination claim, 22% felt that appropriate action was taken by management, and the situation had improved.
All in all, 2020 will be remembered as an extremely challenging year. In spite of it all, professionals in the separation sciences have met the challenges quite well.
(1) J. Workman, Jr., LCGC North Am. 37(8), 560–572 (2019).
(2) J. Romeo, LCGC North Am. 35(8), 544–551 (2017).
Jerome Workman, Jr. serves on the Editorial Advisory Board of Spectroscopy and is the Senior Technical Editor for LCGC and Spectroscopy. He is also a Certified Core Adjunct Professor at U.S. National University in La Jolla, California. He was formerly the Executive Vice President of Research and Engineering for Unity Scientific and Process Sensors Corporation. Direct correspondence to JWorkman@mjhlifesciences.com.