The formula for the best workplace: a product to be proud of, appreciative management, and trustworthy colleagues. That's the opinion of participants in The Scientist's Best Places to Work in Industry survey.

Our 2004 survey aimed to define what attracts highly talented workers to a company, and what initiatives keep those workers happy once they sign on. We also asked survey participants to identify the employers who come closest to realizing these ideals.

Pride in the product ranked first among factors contributing to pleasant work environments, with a score of 3.67 out of 5 possible points, followed closely by the confidence that workers' contributions are appreciated, and that colleagues have integrity and professionalism; each garnered 3.62 points. Respondents also praised companies that uphold industry standards (3.61), and they want companies to keep their promises (3.57). "Aventis has actual written-down values that we are expected to abide by, and in...


A Web-based survey asked industry-based readers of The Scientist to assess their work environments and experience against 46 criteria. We also asked respondents to rank the importance of each criterion. Companies were segregated into large (more than 5,000 employees) and small companies (fewer than 5,000 employees). Large companies with six or more responses and small companies with four or more responses were ranked. The rankings are based on the average score per institution on all factors, weighted by importance. Detailed information on the survey methodology is available at http://www.the-scientist.com.

Family-Friendly Policies Boost Productivity


The top-ranking life science companies in The Scientist's 2004 Best Places to Work in Industry survey help employees balance their home and work lives with family-friendly services and schedules.

"I am a mother of two teenage girls," explains survey participant Judith Kurth, vice president of life sciences with Visualize in Phoenix. "I am allowed to work at home, which is highly valuable. This is probably the most important reason why I remain employed with this company, and why I remain employed full-time."

AstraZeneca, the UK-based global pharmaceutical company, which placed ninth in the survey, polled more than 2,000 of its US employees in March to assess the effectiveness of flextime. Eighty-six percent reported that the adaptable schedules allowed them to work more effectively. "There's something about being in control that increases productivity," adds Joe Gibbons, a consultant with Brooklyn, NY-based FutureWork Institute, which specializes in workforce diversity. "If I don't have a manager looking over my shoulder, breathing in my ears ... I feel like I'm in control."

Flextime is just one of the family-friendly policies that allow global life science companies to stay competitive. Most businesses that ranked in The Scientist's top 10 among large companies – Pioneer HiBred, Procter & Gamble, Genentech, Pfizer, Abbott Laboratories, and AstraZeneca – offer assistance with parental leave, child care, elder care, and adoption; they also implement other programs to help their employees balance their personal and working lives.

Genentech, a biotech company based in South San Francisco, placed third in the survey. In addition to having an informal, employee-initiated flex-plan, for example, the company also provides running paths on campus, as well as onsite childcare and dental care. "We want our employees to look forward to coming to work every day," says Denise Smith-Hams, vice president of human resources. "All the amenities are there simply so that the employees can focus on their work of helping patients."

Pioneer HiBred International, voted number one in 2003 and again this year, offers alternatives to the standard work schedule, location, and structure of positions, according to Kim Lipshutz, human resources director, crop genetics research and development. Staff can work part-time or do temporary work; they can compress their workweeks or participate in job sharing. Employees can also opt to work at home or work part-time at home and part-time in the office.

Pioneer's headquarters has a gym onsite and a "health-works program" that provides resources to help workers learn how to reduce stress and eat healthfully. The company also has a community investment program for employees who contribute to a charity; the company will match the contribution. Time off is allowed for employees to volunteer in the community.

Fourth-place Pfizer, based in New York City, offers a sick-child policy and snow-day flexibility. During the summer months, from Memorial Day to Labor Day, employees are allowed to leave at noon on Fridays, after working forty hours. "Those three precious months, many colleagues leave and spend time with children," says Nancy Hutson, senior vice president, Pfizer global research and development director, Groton/New London, Conn. "People use that quiet afternoon to get work done and have the whole weekend."

AstraZeneca also provides on-site services such as a convenience store, beauty shop, post office, bank, and dry cleaning. A family doctor is on hand to address any minor health concerns, reducing time off for medical visits. "Flexibility costs nothing," says Gibbons, "but [companies] will gain ... much in return."

- June Holloway

Top 10 Ingredients for Job Satisfaction


1. Proud of what I produce


2. Team works well together


3. Colleagues do a professional job


4. Company has ethical standards


5. Promises made are kept


6. Improvements are recognized


7. Team gives me satisfaction


8. Company provides equipment and services I need


9. Company allows flex time


10. Company provides adequate health care

Computer Science in a Small Container


With 14 employees, half of them dubbed vice presidents, OpenEye Scientific Software offers an intimacy that's impossible to achieve in a large corporation.

That translates to a great research and nonresearch work environment, according to this year's survey respondents. "There's a lot of flexibility," says George Vacek, vice president of strategic development for the Santa Fe, NM,-based company, who responded to the survey. "If [employees] have a big idea, they can chase it."

OpenEye develops drug discovery software that helps to "screen out 90% of [the molecules] as crap before you start," Vacek explains. The company received high marks for its family support, training opportunities, and staff relations. "We have high-caliber employees," Vacek says. "They are not only smart and good at what they do, but they are genuinely fun people. They work well together, and at a small company, that's critical."

However, Geoff Skillman, vice president of pharmaceutical chemistry, is quick to say that OpenEye isn't perfect. He explains that at a large company, an employee can avoid unpleasant jobs and difficult people, but at OpenEye, each person's role is clearly defined, and collaboration is imperative. "If someone came into our office, they would be shocked at the level of conflict," he says, but loud discussions are more effective than silence when decisions need to be made.

Both Vacek and Skillman attribute the company's strength to its president and founder, Anthony Nicholls. "He did a remarkable job of recruitment," says Vacek. "He gets everybody's opinion and involves them in decisions. He's very generous," adds Skillman.

Although the company hopes to stay small, they will probably be hiring during the latter half of this year, Vacek says.

- Maria W. Anderson

Biotechnology Firm Taps Genetic Riches


Diversa's research niche, mining for genes on land and sea and engineering them into products, has helped propel the San Diego-based biotechnology company into The Scientist's top-10 list of the Best Places to Work in Industry.

Biodiversity access agreements with at least 14 countries, including Russia, Kenya, Cost Rica, and Indonesia, allow Diversa to explore untapped sources of genetic diversity. To maximize revenue, the company turns proteins and enzymes from these genes into agricultural, industrial, and chemical products, says Jay Short, president and CEO.

Annual revenues increased from $32 million (US) in 2002 to $49 million in 2003 and are projected to be as high as $70 million in 2004, he says. The increases reflect the launch of four new products, including Quantum Phytase, an animal feed additive, and Luminase, for use in paper processing. While Diversa manufactures and markets some of its own products, it also collaborates with other companies, including Bayer, Dupont, and Syngenta. "The science is really translating into success," he says.

"Diversa is an excellent place of employment," says one survey respondent. "Upper-level management values employees of all levels and does their best to provide as many 'extra' benefits as possible." Short says those benefits currently include training seminars, a health club, and a strong human resources department. Plans to offer researchers the opportunity to travel to international research sites are underway.

The company's infrastructure counts as one of its strengths, according to the survey. Short says that the acquisition of a smaller company increased Diversa's staff to 360, and with that, the company adopted a new research structure. Scientists are divided into three sections, each with its own research leader: an agricultural, industrial, and chemical business section, a pharmaceutical business section, and a core research group. "A project plan may involve people from all three R&D units, but the project leadership is done by our junior scientists that have the most expertise in that particular area," Short says.

- Maria W. Anderson

Article Extras

Interested in reading more?

Magaizne Cover

Become a Member of

Receive full access to digital editions of The Scientist, as well as TS Digest, feature stories, more than 35 years of archives, and much more!
Already a member?