Look at Millennials to Predict the Future of Clinical Research Culture

Edye T. Edens, JD, MA, CIP, CCRP, Senior Research Compliance Consultant with First Class Solutions, Inc.

If you have the pleasure of knowing me in the professional world, or perhaps sitting through one of my lectures, you’re all too familiar with what I have to say about caring for your workforce, creating your culture, and, frankly, managing your management and leadership. It’s a “soap box” I have stood on for many years, unabashedly, because I believe, and the data don’t lie, that if you don’t respect your employees and practice healthy emotional intelligence in the workspace, you might as well throw your work product goals out the window.

Now, admittedly, you’ll also hear me making a snide comment here and there about those darn Millennials, yet I stand corrected this year, and I’d like to tell you why.

Those same Millennials are changing the face of workplace culture by truly bucking the system, saying no to unrealistic workloads, and walking out on tyrannical bosses in droves. And it’s slowly but surely changing the face of our research culture…for the better.

Rejecting the Package Deal

Healthcare and research have long suffered from what I call the “package deal” approach. This mode of operating assumes that because one individual is particularly gifted and educated in, let’s say, a complex biomedical discipline as a physician, then that same individual is automatically believed to have similarly superior abilities in leadership, people management, trial development, financial acuity, interpersonal skills, and so on.

Simply put, this assumption couldn’t be more wrong. And yet, this same approach is how we organize and staff our clinical research infrastructure time and time again, despite clear results that dispute the methodology. We, the collective clinical research culture, would never continue to repeat poor scientific methods endlessly if the results clearly identified problems, but we sure do when it comes to organizational charts, hiring patterns, and leadership development.

However, this year, more and more of my client and speaking engagements have become clearly focused on shaping research culture, overseeing change management in healthcare organizations, and attacking extreme cases of turnover in clinical research environments that had become disaster zones. I am thrilled that leadership teams are listening and even begging for long-term changes in this area. What I couldn’t determine at first was why—why were organizations only now finally ready to tackle what I’d been preaching from my personal pulpit to no avail for nearly a decade before this change could be felt? Now I get it. It’s those darn Millennials!

Let’s Meet the Millennials

Earlier this year, I was privileged to attend a fantastic lecture about generational considerations in the workplace. The material was focused on helping leaders of all generations comprehend the change taking place, as members of the Millennial generation now make up the majority of our workforce in healthcare. If we could better understand how this generation operates, communicates, and interacts with the norms of different generations, perhaps we could better work with, for, and around the Millennials.

And there it was—the clear “a-ha!” moment I was looking for as to why clinical research culture was finally being tackled by otherwise stagnant organizations.

Millennials are overpowering institutions by their sheer numbers and willpower to demand change—and not fancy, open-plan office spaces with treadmill desks and work-from-home capacity (although I do enjoy both). Rather, they’ve mobilized themselves, whether strategically or incidentally, with their astute use of social media and the new age of connectivity, to state their demands in the professional world, and it’s working.

Stop and think for a moment about how many comments or articles you’ve scrolled past on your social media of choice in the last six months that discussed something to the tune of “why Millennials are walking out” of different kinds of jobs, careers, or lifestyles. When your primary generation of employees demands change and refuses to adhere to the norm of “this is how we’ve always done it,” inflexible leadership and organizations will suffer inexplicably until improvements prevail.

And while some larger research organizations may be able to absorb these blows initially, it is inevitable that the quality of clinical research will crumble until cultural changes are fully realized throughout our industry.

The Teacher Becomes the Student

So the next time you find yourself about to say something about “those darn Millennials,” instead stop to consider engaging with and listening to those same Millennials, and to discern their power dynamic within your own organization. You may just find, as data have proven for years, that the management of your work culture is, in fact, critical to your clinical research goals—every bit as much as trial design and methodology.

Author: Edye T. Edens, JD, MA, CIP, CCRP, Senior Research Compliance Consultant with First Class Solutions, Inc.