< advice / Employee retention; top tips for retaining physicists

Employee retention; top tips for retaining physicists

Author: IntaPeople | Date published: 16/12/19

Employee retention; top tips for retaining physicists

You’ve done all the hard work, written the best job adverts, attracted top candidates, refined your interview process and hired the perfect candidate for the role but do you struggle to retain your physicists?

Employees deciding to move on is an inevitability but is your turnover rate higher than the industry average? If so, not only is this costing you money, you may be falling behind on projects, team morale may suffer etc.

Did you know?
According to the REC, a poor hire at mid-manager level with a salary of £42,000 can cost a business more than £132,000.

The first hurdle in retaining staff is ensuring that you are hiring the correct person in the first instance. Seems obvious, but many companies fail at this stage due to their poor interview process. Are the candidates fully aware of the responsibilities, culture, progression opportunities? For more information, here’s a link to an article on the best questions to ask a physicist in an interview.

What is your onboarding process?

Making a new employee feel welcome and part of the team will leave them feeling valued and their impulse towards the role will naturally increase. This is especially important if this is the candidate’s first role in industry, it can be a particularly memorable moment for some. The easiest way to refine your onboarding process is to speak to your existing employees, how was their experience? What suggestions do they have?

Motivation and engagement

During the interview and onboarding process, you should have a fair idea of what motivates your physicist, whether it be developing a product, researching new technologies, presenting ideas, money, progression and so on. Is this something that they’re doing at your company? When speaking to physicists who are looking for new opportunities, the most common reasons they are looking to leave their current role are:

– Lack of progression
– They are looking for a higher salary
– Being pigeonholed
– They are looking to go into industry (in certain circumstances)

Let’s look at these individually…

Lack of progression – this could mean several things, but it usually refers to responsibilities, whether it be leading a team or a project or similar. A highly educated/experienced physicist usually has expertise in a very specific area, and many are keen to transfer their specialist knowledge.

A higher salary – a standard reason and reasonably straight forward solution if you have the funds. In some companies, offering more money just isn’t feasible; but are there any other benefits you can offer instead of an increase in salary? Share options? Remote working to save on travel costs?

Being pigeonholed – this is an interesting one and almost exclusively reserved for candidates who are looking to leave larger companies. This runs almost parallel to lack of progression, with a bit more specificity. Physicists are naturally curious and constantly attempt to widen their knowledge, when they get pigeonholed into a monotonous role these intrinsic traits are restricted.

It’s important to hold regular meetings with your employee to gain feedback as to how they’re feeling in their current role. Are there any courses that they’d like to attend? Any qualifications that you could subsidise? Could they potentially take an internal secondment to gain new skills in a different department?

Looking to go into industry – if you’re taking a physicist straight from university, it is important to uncover what parts of their role in academia they found enjoyable and not so enjoyable. For example, many postdocs enjoy the freedom and flexibility they get in academia, is this something they’ll miss out on when they join your company? If so, how big of a problem is that for them?


It’s important to understand when and how to recognise your employees.

Let’s start with when, there are standard recognition techniques used universally such as employee of the month, Christmas monetary bonuses, yearly salary increments etc. but do we recognise someone when they have achieved something that is important to them? For example, a physicist may well be solving problems in the product development stage consistently which is great, but they may only be satisfied when the product becomes commercially viable, or filed for patent, or receives its first order, this is WHEN you should recognise.

How should we recognise employees? The simple answer is it depends. How big is the achievement? How much does it mean to the employee? But also, what type of recognition would best suit this person?

A few examples:

If you have a younger employee, maybe straight out of university, and they’ve just successfully completed their first project, how much would it mean to them to be named employee of the month? Would it mean more to them if the CEO came into the office specifically to shake their hand and say well done?

If a senior employee just successfully completed a large project, would it mean much for them to win employee of the month for 3rd time in a row? Probably not. Would they value a handshake from the CEO that they’ve known for 15 years? Maybe not. Would it be more effective to give them a monetary bonus or buy them flights to a destination they’ve always wanted to go to? It might be more effective to give this employee more responsibilities, a larger team, a bigger budget.

The key to retaining talented physicists is communication, make sure you have meaningful conversations as often as possible with your employees to get to know them on a personal level. Not only will these conversations yield valuable insight into their motivations, just taking the time to listen will make them feel like a valued member of your team and your company.

If you’re struggling to attract or retain physicists or STEM talent get in touch. As a specialist recruitment team, we have the expertise to help you achieve your hiring goals.

< advice / Employee retention; top tips for retaining physicists