Why is there a culture of fear in Pharma?

Culture of fearMaybe it’s the compliance heavy verbiage that all pharmaceutical representatives are required to verbalize on every call in an effort to have a fair and balanced conversation about products?  Perhaps it’s the ultra conservative environment or culture that most pharmaceutical companies still embody and operate in.  Or maybe it’s even the internal competitiveness that is created when type “A” personalities all wish to win and get promoted.  It could even be the fact that many understand in the pharmaceutical world that one wrong move or professional action can create a situation where you are stuck with an unfair judgement about who you are as a professional, forever tarnishing your reputation and your ability to climb the ladder.  Whatever the case, after 11 years of being a professional in the pharmaceutical world, I can confidently say that there is a culture of fear in pharmaceutical sales.

Compliance heavy environment:  Each year pharmaceutical companies have their annual POA meeting.  Tons of representatives are traveling by air, staying in some large hotel or convention center, sitting in rooms going over corporate initiatives on messaging, having large awards ceremonies with decent food and perhaps even a little entertainment or theme to really tie it all together.  It is fairly exciting to see all of your friends that you don’t see on the day-to-day, enjoy the themed dinners, and generally have a good time.  But then there is that one general session, that turns the mood heavy.  The head of compliance comes out on stage to scare the living hell out of you on why it is so important to continue to convey fair & balanced information, to stay within the indication when speaking about a product and to altogether watch every single word and action being conveyed by you while in the field.

The compliance representative typically gives you a swift talking to, utilizing examples of those in the industry that have strayed from the path and have incurred not only heavy fines (in the billions of dollars) for their companies, but also punishment and fines for themselves including jail time.  Newspaper clipping are pasted into a powerpoint presentation with headlines reading scary things about how Company X just paid a $2 billion fines or that Representative B received jail time for some impropriety.  This is definitely one reason why there is a culture of fear in pharmaceuticals.

Conservative Environment or Culture:  Of course each pharmaceutical company is different and cultures across those companies may differ, but the fact remains in its totality, when compared to other industries, the pharmaceutical world is rather conservative in its approach.  In my time in the industry I have seen a bit of a lightening of this, but it is still a rather conservative business culture.  I can say that in all positions that I have occupied in the pharma industry that I have seen others gossip and judge a person for something that he/she is wearing, or judge someone’s personality as not being “cut out” for this type of work.  I have seen managers utilize fear as a motivator and completely unhinge a representative who is doing poorly in the rankings.  I have witnessed partners speak poorly of their counterparts verbalizing that they do not feel that that person is holding up his/her end of the bargain.

These behaviors that I mention are par for the course in the world of pharmaceuticals and I can honestly say that I probably partook in some of behaviors too.  Sometimes they work to motivate others or to change a behavior, and sometimes they create animosity and a destructive environment to work in.  Whether they are right or wrong is not the discussion rather the discussion is that they are prevalent in the pharmaceutical industry, even commonplace, and contribute to creating an environment or culture of fear.

Competitiveness of Type “A” Personalities:  Anyone who works or has worked in pharmaceuticals will tell you that in large part the industry is filled with Type “A” personalities.  When you look up what “Type A” actually means in Dictionary.com you will see the following:

adjective, Psychology
of or relating to a pattern of behavior characterized by competitiveness, a sense of urgency, impatience, perfectionism, and assertiveness

I think this pretty much sums it up when describing the world of pharmaceuticals.  It is an ultra competitive, “what have you done for me lately”, environment.  Professionals in all positions are figuratively scratching, clawing and fighting to get ahead.  Each professional knows that with a promotion comes a sizable increase in salary and bigger bonus and commissions potential.  I would say that some even just want to thrill of achievement as it is part of their makeup to achieve.  Everyone is sizing up the person next to them thinking, “I’m better than this guy”.

The professionals in the industry (in large part) are sharp, smart, well educated, well dressed, many times attractive, and have a history of winning.  Imagine putting young people who all embody these qualities together in a competitive environment.  They are all “going for it”, and trying to win professionally.  This many times creates a culture of fear that one wrong move can derail all that one has worked for.  One misunderstood conversation…one overhead personal conversation….one bad field ride…one situation in which there is a personality clash between rep and manager…the list is simply endless on why these things all contribute to that culture of fear in pharmaceuticals, especially with the type “A” personality.

Fear of one wrong or misunderstood move:  I can think back to when I was a manager and there was a POA meeting.  As can be expected professionals are making their way to the hotel via a long day of travel by air.  One representative made his way to the hotel with headphones around his neck.  These headphones were admittedly large, which I believe is typical nowadays.  But everybody at the meeting in the managerial circle could not stop speaking of how this person presented himself.  I for one did not care and chalked it up to the culture of young people and it did not change my perspective of this person one bit, but he was forever known as the guy who came to the POA meeting with inappropriate headphones on.

This is quite simply the ridiculous part of the culture that creates fear.  When you think about it, is it really that big of a deal that he enjoyed listening to music on large headphones that looked like earmuffs…probably not.  But once it is said and that tone is created, it is very difficult to live something like that down in the world of pharma.  It creates that culture of fear that one wrong move will put a label on you that is forever yours.