If your organization has a high CRA attrition rate, it’s time to take a long, hard look at why you’re losing clinical research associates. If poor-performing CRAs are quitting, it’s likely a symptom of an inefficient hiring process; after all, shouldn’t your hiring team have ruled out the poor-performing CRA candidate prior to the hire? However, if good CRAs leave, the root of the problem may go much deeper. Read more about the causes of high turnover and how to decrease your CRA attrition rate. 

If your organization has a high CRA attrition rate, it’s time to take a long, hard look at why you’re losing clinical research associates.

CRA Attrition Rate: What It Is and Why It Matters

CRA attrition rate is the rate at which CRAs leave the company (either voluntarily or involuntarily), and there are two main types of attrition. The first type occurs when poor-performing CRAs are hired and later quit or are fired because they are unprepared for the workload. This is a sign of a weak recruitment process.

However, the second type of attrition is much more frustrating, and it occurs when good CRAs quit. Losing a good CRA will negatively impact your study data, as well as damage site and sponsor relationships. This loss of continuity will cause timeline delays, and one Tufts study suggests that delays in research studies could cost up to $600,000 to $8,000,000 per day. 

However, the lost profits don’t stop there. There’s also the cost of re-monitoring if the attrition is due to poor performance, the potential loss of research bids, and the cost of re-hiring, re-onboarding, and re-training new CRAs. Ultimately, the numbers speak for themselves – unless you’re looking to throw away your money, do everything in your power to a) avoid hiring poor-performing CRAs and b) keep good CRAs from jumping ship. 

Let’s first focus on keeping high-quality CRAs engaged. Read on to learn how.

Reduce CRA Attrition Rate: How to Keep Good CRAs from Quitting

Compensate Fairly

While compensation isn’t everything, it is essential that you offer a competitive rate for contractors and a competitive compensation package for perms.  To lower your contract CRA attrition rate, take a look at how your contract CRA hourly rate compares to other companies that are also competing for these high-quality resources. 

While many companies offer retention bonuses for perms; we have clients who also offer retention bonuses to contract CRAs in order to incent these critical resources to stay through study closeout.  However, be careful when offering bonuses for things like the number of days on-site, as this metric isn’t focused on quality.  Incentive plans should focus on excellent performance, such as consistently turning reports in on time, minimizing report errors or revisions, etc. 

So while having a competitive rate is important, other factors are equally important. Additionally, bonuses and incentives can help solve the problem, but no amount of money can make up for weak company culture.

List Accurate Job Descriptions

Another way to lower the CRA attrition rate is to list job descriptions accurately. Good CRAs often quit because the position isn’t as originally advertised. Unexpected increases in travel, an abrupt shift in assigned tasks, unplanned schedule changes, or unforeseen project delays can turn a good fit into a pain point. Even if the job was originally presented correctly, the needs may change…making a good CRA become a bad fit. 

The key to either a misunderstanding in the original job scope or in a situation where the job parameters have changed is to be transparent. Always do your best to describe the job thoroughly and accurately. And when scope (or schedule or other job characteristics) change, have a candid discussion with your CRAs impacted by these changes.  

Be willing to still accommodate the contract CRAs’ original job preferences.  After all, there is a specific reason why these high-quality CRAs selected your company and this project. Ask these valuable resources their thoughts about the changes and find out what they are okay with.  You may need to proactively make some staffing shifts, but being transparent and proactive will still minimize (and maybe even eliminate) the CRA attrition rate.  At a minimum, being proactive in these discussions will mitigate a ‘surprise’ resignation from key team members, giving you time to gracefully plan for the staffing change.  

And it will definitely increase job satisfaction, as your team members will appreciate the openness, honesty, and flexibility exhibited during these types of discussions.

Additionally, be transparent about management styles during the recruitment process. For example, if a new hire doesn’t like to be micromanaged, they likely won’t mesh with your high-touch manager.  Alternatively, a junior CRA will require more ‘hand holding’, therefore may not work well with the manager whose style is more collaborative.  Keep these work styles and management preferences in mind when hiring to avoid conflict while offering appropriate support to your individual team members.

Create a Healthy Workplace Culture

Some companies think retention is all about the money, but that hasn’t been our experience. Richard Branson is known for the saying, “Train people well enough so they can leave, treat them well enough, so they don’t want to,” which brings us to company culture. How a company treats its CRAs is just as important as how well they pay them.  

To build a strong company culture, you first need to engage your CRAs. Build a corporate environment in which CRAs feel respected and heard. Proactively ask for feedback,  listen to their ideas, and implement those ideas whenever possible. 

Because CRAs are constantly traveling to different sites, it’s easy for them to miss out on opportunities to build relationships with other company team members.   For example, as these resources are typically in the field, they miss out on water cooler talk, lunch with the team, or ‘after work’ activities such as ball games, dinner, or happy hour. 

To remedy this, consider establishing social venues that extend beyond the office and can be performed with remote team members. You can do this by incentivizing proper high-performance behavior that builds loyalty and camaraderie. You can also coordinate specific meetings where all team members are co-located for both casual and work reasons (quarterly strategic meetings, as an example). 

Incorporate Flexible Schedules and more Remote Work Options

Another way to decrease the CRA attrition rate is to stop requiring your CRAs to come in-house when they aren’t on the road. Incorporating remote work options allows for greater flexibility, making work more accessible and less of a hassle. There are also several studies that point to greater productivity when working remotely.

Additionally, suppose you take the flexible work arrangement further by not demanding the CRAs to have their ‘butt in chair’ from 8:00 – 5:00 PM daily. In that case, you are likely to see even more productivity.  In a survey by Airtasker, they identified that team members who are allowed to work remotely with flexible hours were likely to work 1.4 more days every month or 16.8 more days every year than office workers. 

This increase in productivity extends to CRAs, keeping them happier and working harder. Providing a flexible work arrangement is essential for mitigating recruiters providing better offers to your CRAs. In our experience, we see that CRAs are more interested in home-based positions, often refusing to entertain the ‘in-house’ options even if the salary is 15-20% higher. 

Businesswire agrees with us, citing that freedom to work flexibly is more important than a pay raise. Hold CRAs accountable to deliverables, but let them dictate their time. You get more out of people when you are flexible, which cuts down on their dissatisfaction; thus lowering the CRA attrition rate. 

Engage Your CRAs and Build Loyalty

The CRA position is exceptionally independent, so this recommendation can be challenging, but building loyalty with your CRAs is important. One of the best ways to do this is to show your appreciation to the CRA team. Recognize individual and group achievements, send out congratulatory emails to celebrate each team member’s contribution to an achieved milestone and generally make your CRAs feel special.

Also, offer opportunities for additional training or career advancement.  Work with the CRAs who are interested in putting together an Individual Development Plan so they can achieve their objectives. Their improvement will be to your benefit, and the loyalty built will be priceless.  

Promote Internally

To decrease the CRA attrition rate, be open to promoting CRAs internally. This way, good CRAs don’t jump ship for another company. Both the sponsor or CRO benefits when CRAs have upward mobility and space to climb the company ladder. To encourage this internal promotion, encourage a progression or succession plan. Be forward-thinking about how you grow your people, and consider the talent you already have before looking elsewhere.

Hold Your Leadership Accountable

In a perfect world, instead of your high-quality CRAs leaving (aka, CRA Attrition Rate), they are promoted.  

To lower the CRA attrition rate, hold your leadership team accountable when their CRAs voluntarily leave the company because they are dissatisfied, or involuntarily leave the company due to poor performance.  

Holding your leadership accountable in this way will make leaders ultra-sensitive to maintaining their high performers; not only because it benefits them and the projects they manage, but because they are held accountable if their attrition rate is higher than the company average. 

Additionally, openly give kudos to those leadership team members who have CRAs promoted to other roles within the organization. When your leaders pay attention to how they develop and incentivize CRAs to progress their careers, they will also pay more attention to how to keep them satisfied…therefore keeping them from quitting. 

Lastly, on this topic, we find that one of the main problems with many companies is a lack of internal organization, company maturity, and process continuity. If the processes are constantly changing, new approaches aren’t being documented well, and CRAs are confused about what metrics they’re being held to, then CRAs will be discouraged and dissatisfied. 

Then, when these CRAs do quit, the remaining associates are stretched even thinner, increasing the likelihood of additional CRA Attrition. This can all speak to a lack of underlying support. If CRAs don’t have the leadership in place to feel supported or receive a timely response if issues like site fraudulence arise, they aren’t likely to stick around. To remedy this, hold your leaders accountable, ensuring that they’re there to engage, manage, and support their CRAs.

Evaluate your Company’s Reputation

Lastly, reduce the CRA attrition rate by being a company that does the right thing. Don’t let the metrics outweigh the ethics. Have a great reputation for contributing to the industry and not just pushing products, and CRAs will feel proud of their work. 

Give to charitable organizations and talk about it, discussing what you’re doing to make a difference and what this work means to you. 

Reputation is critical, and it’s hard to rebuild a brand once it’s been compromised. Analyze brand and reputation and think about how your treatment of employees factors into that. Consider conducting surveys both internally and externally to read your brand reputation. There’s no CRA shortage, so if you’re having difficulties recruiting CRAs, you should take a long, hard look at why these high-quality, critical resources don’t want to work with you. 

Decrease CRA Attrition Rate with craresources

To recruit and retain the best CRAs, you need to know why good CRAs quit in the first place. By decreasing your CRA attrition rate, you’ll save yourself time, money, and hassle, ensuring that good candidates have room to grow and flourish within your company.

If you have specific questions about strategies to decrease the CRA attrition rate, reach out to the experts at craresources. Engaging us to answer the hard questions and do the legwork will benefit you every time. Reach out to us today to learn more about how we can connect you with the most experienced CRAs and the best sponsor work environments time and time again.