Pharma’s “golden handcuffs”

KEY TAKEAWAY: Many of the highest-paying employers in the health-care sector—and the entire S&P 500—were biotech companies, according to an analysis by The Wall Street Journal of annual disclosures for hundreds of big U.S. companies. While pharma may argue that these salaries are needed to attract talented people who take a job for salary alone usually are bound by “golden handcuffs”

Today a lot of people equate money with happiness. That’s too bad because they will eventually learn that is a huge mistake.

Yesterday a national reporter for a business TV network called me an asked about salaries within the pharma industry. I responded with what I know, which is that most biopharma companies pay their people very well. Although a “competitive” compensation package is needed to attract talented people, I could make a pretty good argument that these salaries result in people who will do anything to keep earning that paycheck.

In the industry, we call high salaries “golden handcuffs.” They handcuff people into trying to fit in and go with the prevailing winds for fear of losing a big paycheck that pays the mortgage and car loan.

Now, of course, in some cities you need a high salary to be in the middle class. San Francisco and Boston immediately come to mind. The apartment I was renting in Cambridge was 50% more than my current mortgage before I gave it up and decided it was cheaper to fly in for meetings.

There are a lot of people who deserve the money they are making. They fight for patients every day and try and do what’s right, but there are also a ton who will do anything they can to keep earning that big paycheck. These are people who won’t rock the boat even when they know what they’re doing is not in the best interest of the patient or the industry. They bounce from company to company and fancy themselves as “connected.” These are the people pharma needs to ditch.

If pharma is ever to get back in track and earn the trust of the people we serve, we first have to weed out those people who put money above doing what’s right. They are the ones who believe that everything we do is for sales, not patients. They always tend to ask the ROI of everything because they want to know the cost without the value.

Those who REALLY believe in what we are doing need to keep fighting the status quo and win the small battles that can distinguish a good pharma company from a bad one. Those who just want to keep earning that six-figure check need to face the reality that in working for money alone they are losing a part of their soul.