Annual and long-term pay incentives at clinical research organisations (CROs) lag behind those in other industries, the latest edition of a CRO compensation survey has found.

According to the 15th annual CRO Industry Global Compensation and Turnover Survey, initial results from which were released in August, CRO industry executives in the US with salaries of US$250,000 were eligible for an average annual incentive representing 31% of salary and for a long term incentive (LTI) of 27%.

Executives at similar levels in other industries were eligible for annual incentives of 44% and for LTIs of 50%, revealed the survey conducted by US-based compensation consulting and research firm HR+Survey Solutions.


The survey indicated that CRO pay is heavily weighted toward base salary. This made up nearly 50% of the compensation package in 2012 for executives with annual incentives and LTIs of only 19% and 34% respectively, HR+Survey Solutions reported.

At director level, salary amounted to 86% of total direct compensation, with annual incentives and LTIs representing only 13% and 1% respectively of the package.

Incentives at CROs outside the US were similar to those offered in HR+Survey Solutions’s home market.

For example, director-level positions at US CROs were given, on average, an annual incentive accounting for 14% of salary. In Europe, South America and Asia Pacific countries, corresponding annual incentives were 18%, 16% and 17% respectively.

Motivate and retain

With continued high levels of staff turnover in the CRO sector (nearly 18% in the US last year, 21% outside the US), companies “need to take steps to strategically utilise compensation to motivate and retain employees rather than continuing to run fire drills in an attempt to fill open positions”, warned Judy Canavan, managing partner, HR+Survey Solutions.

“There is plenty of room for increasing incentive targets and the CRO business model is conducive to utilising metrics for effectively tying incentive awards to performance,” Canavan added.

Larger CRO, larger incentive

Another finding in the 15th annual CRO Industry Global Compensation and Turnover Survey was that executives working for smaller companies within and outside the US were less likely to receive annual incentives than those employed by larger companies.

Nearly 75% of director-level positions at the larger US CROs received annual incentives, compared with 48% at smaller companies.

At the director level outside the US, 70% of employees received annual incentives in larger CROs versus 19% at smaller companies.

“Smaller companies should be using variable pay to help them compete against larger companies for top talent while controlling fixed costs,” Canavan suggested.