Love and Sex: Pharma Sales

canstockphoto7856078In my many years of experience in the world of pharmaceutical sales, I have witnessed many instances colleagues embarking on relationships.  Love and sex is certainly not unique to the world of pharmaceuticals, as all industries have those that fall in love or embark on sexual relationships with people they work with.  It is only natural for people who work closely together to gain a fondness for each other over time. After all it is hard to ask the heart to be rational when at times we all know that the “heart wants what the heart wants”.  But when we look at the subject of love and sex in pharmaceuticals, what is appropriate and what isn’t?  What should you educate yourself on when it comes to relationships in the world of pharmaceutical sales?  We will explore these answers and more!!

When it comes to love and sex in the world of pharmaceutical sales, we must look at it from the various realistic angles.  There are many relationships that have a potential to happen in the world of pharmaceuticals.  Here take a look at exactly what types of relationships we are actually speaking about:

  • A relationship between two salespeople working for the same company
  • A relationship between two sales people working for different companies
  • A relationship between a sale representative and a physician
  • A relationship between a sale representative and a staff member in an office they call on

Let’s take it in parts.  First we will look at…..

A relationship between two sales people working for the same company

In my time I have seen this go horribly wrong but I have also seen this type of relationship blossom into a meaningful lifelong relationship as well.  Anyone who has been in the industry for any amount of time will tell you that each and every company has had a situation where two young sales representatives have embarked on either a long-term relationship or a sexual relationship.  In my own experience, as early as the new hire training there were whispers of those having sexual relations during training.  I have heard gossip about married representatives cheating on their spouses, I have heard gossip about unattached representatives engaging in sexual relationships, but I have also I have seen single representatives engage in long term loving relationships that have led to marriage.

Whatever the case….it definitely happens!!  Some organizations have strict no fraternization policies, but frankly most do not.  With that said, there is a policy….as there are policies on almost everything when it comes to big business, especially in pharmaceuticals.  In fact, many of the companies are forward thinking and realistic enough to understand that these types of relationships do happen from time to time, and all that they expect is that you simply make human resources aware of the situation so they may manage it accordingly.  Whatever the case, all employees of major pharmaceutical companies are given a policies and procedures manual.  It is likely to be posted online on the company’s intranet site for easy employee access.  My advice would be, if you find yourself genuinely interested in a co worker, it is in your interests to read and fully understand the policies of the company you work for.  If you do not you are jeopardizing your livelihood….and I think you would agree, that is just not smart!!

The problem however with these types of relationships is the same problem with all relationships…at some point it is likely to end.  This is where pharmaceutical representatives get themselves into trouble.  I have seen actual e-mails that were sent to the entire organization (i.e Everyone Everywhere) where a jilted lover describes the entire relationship and how he/she believes they were mistreated by the other party.  This of course may protect that person in the short-run (I would even go so far to say they were directed by an attorney to write such an e-mail for professional protection), but equates to professional political suicide.  You can bet that person that wrote such an e-mail will not become the next DM in your district or anything else higher on the organizational chart in the near or foreseeable future.

Though we can write for hours on this subject alone, another very prominent aspect to this type of relationship is the POA meeting.  Whether it is just a sexual relationship or a loving long-term relationship, relations often happen at the POA meeting.  Think about it….you get hundreds of good looking, sharply dressed twenty-somethings together for around 3 – 5 days and include beer and wine at every dinner, and something is bound to happen.  My advice here would be utilize every ounce of self-awareness as is humanly possible.  Forgetting about love and sex, pharmaceutical companies are notorious for having the “we are always watching” attitude.  They are watching and it is probably a bad idea to nuzzle the neck of your co worker at the POA meeting.  Plus despite your own thoughts that you are the best looking most suave individual that has ever stepped foot at a POA meeting, if you make an advance and it is not reciprocated you may be fired almost immediately.  If you make an advance and it IS reciprocated….you now have become two professionals who completely lack self-awareness.  You can consider the company you work for as now being the company you will never get promoted in.

A relationship between two sales representatives working for different companies

If you simply cannot hold yourself back from entering into some type of relationship in your professional life, this is the best one to enter into.  I cannot be certain, but there is likely no policy in the policy manual that prohibits or even mentions embarking on a loving or sexual relationship with a representative from another company.  In fact suffice to say that if you do enter into this type of relationship, it is no different than entering into a relationship with anyone anywhere.

My only advice here would be, if you find love or sex with a representative from another company they will likely be someone you met within the territory you work.  This may present problems if the relationship ends and you must see this person from time to time in the field or in an office.  If there is a lack of maturity, an argument or uncomfortable conversation may ensue in an office.  You can consider this the worst possible scenario and I would advise you to go to a different office if in fact you see a past love in the office you are about to frequent.  Especially if you work in a POD environment, this WILL eventually get back to your partners and WILL eventually get back to your manager or theirs.  It is a potential black mark on your record whether or not it ever officially goes on your record.

A relationship between a sale representatives and a physician

On its surface this is a horrible idea.  Additionally, you can be certain that companies have a policy against this type of relationship that stems from the appearance of quid pro quo.  Pharmaceutical companies are terrified of even the slightest appearance of quid pro quo.  With that said….this happens a lot more than people think.  I have heard gossip (never validated) of representatives having sex with physicians to get them to write more scripts.  I have heard gossip of married physicians who have slept with more than one representative over the years and have a reputation for doing so. One common theme that I have heard in my time is the socially awkward physician (who likely had his/her head stuck in a book while becoming a doctor) has misinterpreted kindness by a representative as a sexual come-on and henceforth becomes the socially awkward physician who “doesn’t get it”.

The dangers of any type of non-professional relationship with a physician is the following:

  • The appearance of quid pro quo
  • A competitor representative calling the FDA and telling them that someone is trading sex from prescriptions
  • If the relationship goes bad, Doctor will eventually stop writing your product even if it is the best product
  • If the relationship goes bad Doctor may contact your company which will in turn create professional difficulties
  • From physician perspective, you open yourself up to sexual harassment claims
  • From physician perspective (if you are married) you will eventually lose your wife/husband who will now have grounds to take half of your money….

The question then becomes… it worth it??!!

A relationship between a sale representative and a staff member in an office they call on

This one is a little tricky.  It also happens all of the time.  Many of the staff members look at the representatives as sharp and polished individuals.  They also understand that representatives though not rich, are paid well and have a good life.  A representative is an attractive date at the very least.  That said, when a representative dates a staff member and it goes south, what typically happens is the representative stops frequenting that specific office.  This opens up the representative to questions from his/her manager, especially if the staff member works for a physician who is a big writer.  Questions you may receive from your manager or partners:

  • Why are your partners frequenting this office but you are not?
  • Why is this physician declining?
  • Last time I rode with you in this week you visited Dr. X…why are we not seeing him today?

Additionally, the staff members talk to other representatives.  If they feel jilted in any way…this will get out to other salespeople in the field.  Additionally, perception is everything.  Even if you have done nothing wrong in ending a relationship with an office staff person, if they call your company and complain or even lie about your relationship because they feel mistreated, this will create a terrible perception about your professionalism and hinder your career.

For the young professional who is trying to make a career in pharmaceuticals, entering into any of these relationships poses huge risks.  From termination to gaining a terrible reputation or even to getting painted  (whether warranted or not) as someone who lacks professionalism and or self-awareness, these relationships are fraught with professional dangers.



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