Sunday, February 03, 2008

Do Demoralizing Pharma Personnel Practices Contribute to Unsafe Drugs?

"If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of Giants."- Isaac Newton

"They could not see as far as necessary because they were standing on the shoulders of midgets." - Felix Fulmer

In "Avandia Mystery ... Elementary, My Dear Watson" I wrote that the mysterious disclosure outside GSK of an equally mysterious "leak" to GSK of a pre-publication article critical of Avandia might have been initiated by unhappy GSK employee(s).

Those who made the disclosure knew, or should have known, the devastating effects on the article reviewer, UT San Antonio researcher Dr. Steven Haffner. Honesty and fear of the imbroglio with the likes of Sen. Grassley might have played a role, but still, such a career-ending move against an ostensibly friendly scientist seems unusual.

If unhappiness was involved, why might GSK employees be unhappy?

In my post "Happy Accidents in pharma doubtful: Tax Break Used by Drug Makers Failed to Add Jobs" I wrote:

... as I understand it from former employees, during a downsizing people are required to justify their position and/or "bid on their own job" in a competitive fashion. If they fail and cannot then "find another position in the company" (after losing your own job that you may have had for years, what's the likelihood that will happen?), then it's out the door. IMO that is simply horrible management of those "precious" "human resources." What could be more humiliating than bidding on your own job?

I recently became aware of several former collaborators who were GSK employees and "lost" on bidding for their own and others' jobs during downsizing, and were shown the door as a result. My interactions further reinforce my belief that such policies are poorly engineered from a social perspective; they are alienating, strategically unsound, and to be plain about it, idiotic. Many fundamental questions arise:

  • Notwithstanding whether downsizing is really necessary, if downsizing is going to occur, do people made to bid on their own jobs and those of others have performance reviews on file?
  • Are these reviews unsatisfactory, and if they are unsatisfactory, why not simply lay the person off?
  • If they are satisfactory, does not being forced to bid on your own job send the explicit message that performance reviews mean little? Why is time wasted on reviews?
  • If performance reviews are irrelevant, does that not mean bonus determination is bogus and partial?
  • If employees are reviewed once a year and/or quarterly, and have been so for several years, they should be a very well known quantity to the company. How is it possible for them to be complete unknowns? If they are not complete unknowns, why are they treated as such in being made to bid for their own jobs?
  • Either a company knows what its employees can do, or they don't. If they do not know what their employees can do, then what do they really know about their business, and why are the decision makers in charge in the first place?
  • Why is it impossible for a company to match it needs to its assets without resorting to an idiotic process that is neither efficient nor litigation proof?
  • If incumbents are made to bid on their own jobs, does the company have any idea why these people are in the jobs they hold in the first place?
  • If performance reviews are satisfactory, might being forced to bid on your own job against internal competitors create intraprofessional animosities and enemies and an environment of paranoia that harm the company, both short and long term?
  • Is such social instability, where people never know when they will have to bid on their own jobs, good for worker morale and for the community?
  • Might it be better for morale to just have managers select people to be laid off, or have employees draw lots?
  • Does GSK feel employee morale matters?

If one takes this issue to its absurdist extreme, why not force employees to bid on what homes they can own, or what education they may provide their children? -- oh, wait! An HR policy of "bidding on your own job, you lose, you're out" is effectively doing that already!

Seriously, such methods make one's colleagues even more hostile and likely to act in underhanded, territorial ways than with other more traditional HR strategies. It seems axiomatic such an approach to one's employees demonstrates a fundamental contempt for their livelihood and peace of mind.

As in the post here regarding corporate puffery and rhetoric about what a great place they are for a "career", those who believe this approach to people's livelihoods is OK are deluded, and those who oppose it but are powerless to change it or afraid to denounce it become demoralized and cynical. An environment of contempt by management towards its demoralized, cynical and deluded employees is not the best for R&D and drug safety monitoring.

(How much of a stretch of the imagination is it to imagine that such a perverse environment could foster a subtle contempt for public safety issues, if those issues could harm a drug's sales and cause yet more rounds of layoffs?)

Ultimately, the following questions need to be asked:

  • Do the demoralizing effects of such human relations policies affect the company's ability to create and monitor the safety of their drugs?

  • Do you, as a patient, care that your ostensibly life saving, but potentially risky drugs are created and evaluated in this type of environment?

I know I do.

-- SS

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

It's not just in drug companies that this sort of demoralization occurs. It is rampant in large US corporations. I work for IBM. The same demoralizing HR practices go on here. Optimum employee performance of their job tasks requires that management and HR practices do NOT demoralize employees. But management & HR do not seem to realize this. My husband was a manager at IBM at one time. He told me about the corporate management training he received. For obtaining the best effort from employees, the training he received was horrid -- very negative & if followed strictly, very demoralizing to employees.