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How To Make Your PhD Employees Happy

They are some of the smartest people on the planet, but do the needs of your PhDs match those of other employees?

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They are some of the smartest people on the planet, but do the needs of your PhDs match those of other employees?

Guides

How To Make Your PhD Employees Happy

They are some of the smartest people on the planet, but do the needs of your PhDs match those of other employees?

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PhDs inhabit levels of academia that most of us have never unlocked, performing hard, long-term research into difficult questions. If you thought they hung around university campuses all their lives, think again - these research experts also seek gainful employment in the private sector.

But the transition from campus to corporate, for many, can be cumbersome. Luckily, businesses can make this transition easier for academics. So what do these grey-matter superheroes want out of your workplace?

To find the answer, we interviewed 250 employees on their preferences for work-life balance, career opportunity, corporate culture and responsibility. Against a control group of MBAs and business professionals, here are the key differences we found about the way PhDs work:

  • Job security beats promotions: 62% want long-term job security over rapid advancement.
  • Getting results is more important than praise: 65% don’t require external validation, their personal satisfaction is a far better barometer of their on-the-job contribution. And that’s not the only way PhDs are highly goal-oriented...
  • Focus and humility: 60% of PhD respondents preferred to work with data rather than people-focused tasks as opposed. But Eight in 10 prefer teamwork to working solo. Some 57% are content being a small but significant contributor rather than a key decision-maker.
  • Create a laid-back workplace: 65% are after a relaxed and approachable corporate environment whereas 35% feel a structured and professional office and company hierarchy brings out the best in them.
  • Feed ownership: 69% of PhDs want complete responsibility over their work.
  • Status is a motivator: 64% of the control group wants to be known as an expert in their commercial endeavours.

Leisure time is important: Over two-thirds of respondents would prefer one additional week of annual leave to an additional £2,000 in salary. The same proportion said they are happier when they have time for hobbies against the one-third that are happier when they are working and making an impact.

In one way, your next PhD employee is no different from any other - they need to feel a sense of mission and enjoy an environment that allows them to excel.

But PhDs also bring something unique to the table. They derive the most intense satisfaction from the work being conducted, even down to getting friendly with the individual data they may be dealing with.

They’ve demonstrated a clear thirst for learning, and as such may have the capacity to pick up new methodologies and technologies quicker than most.

The key is to understand what motivates your people, and to create an environment in which all your classes of workers can flourish and be challenged.

Is there a perfect recipe? Absolutely not. Each organisation is different. Perhaps, based on the evidence of this survey at least, we could start by looking at the work/life balance we offer all employees.

A scheme by which employees have the option to buy or cash-in annual leave days might do the trick.

Is a genuine career path available for those that both merit one and want one, or do external hires get preference?

Is the environment collegiate and collaborative enough to satisfy the preference for teamwork? Is the environment and hierarchy fit-for-purpose, as professional and structured, as you’d expect from a bank, or relaxed and approachable like many technology start-ups, cool and creative like ad agencies?

This author has long been a fan of the contributions former academics are making in commercial industry but it might take a little more than plugging them in and letting them go. The right type of nurturing might just make all the difference…for all of our employees.

Jason Muller is co-founder and COO of Pivigo - the data science hub, which is a data science marketplace and training provider based in London.

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How To Make Your PhD Employees Happy

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