Pandemic relief: Pharma sales rep salaries—and job satisfaction—actually increased in 2020

It turns out pharma sales reps didn't need to worry about a pandemic effect on their salaries. Pharma reps’ average pay jumped to $158,013 in 2020 from $151,217 the previous year, according to MedReps’ annual survey.

That’s good news for the three-fourths of reps who last March said they were concerned about pay cuts. What actually happened? Only 14% reported earning less money during 2020.

Reps are also more satisfied with their jobs than ever: More than 85% said they are very or somewhat satisfied with their pharma sales jobs, an increase from 76% who said the same in the 2019 survey. (MedReps didn’t ask the question in 2020.)

While the job hunting firm didn’t ask why, the pharma industry’s image boost with consumers thanks to its overall pandemic response could play a role.

RELATED: Pharma sales rep salary survey finds annual incomes rising, but COVID-19 concerns mounting

“We can say exactly why, but I think it’s fair to say people do have a bit more pride in working for pharma companies this year,” Robyn Melhuish, MedReps’ director of marketing, said.

Employer support during the crisis could be another reason pharma reps are more satisfied. Base salaries increased more than commissions last year, while reps also reported receiving more benefits.

Pharma sales reps listed benefits including health insurance (90%), 401(k) plans (90%), expense accounts (80%), gas reimbursement (74%) and a company car (71%). More than half (51%) also reported paternity leave, while another 47% benefited from tuition assistance.

“We can take that as a sign that when sales reps weren’t making as much in commission, companies were offering these other benefits to supplement income,” Melhuish said.

RELATED: Satisfaction not guaranteed: Doctors disappointed in pharma's digital pandemic efforts, survey says

One area of change—likely unrelated to the pandemic—was a big bump in compensation for sales reps at small pharma companies. Sales reps at companies with 50 or fewer employees earned an average pay of $170,063, an almost 50% increase from the $115,680 average in 2019.

Commission and bonuses made the difference with small pharma reps earning an average $63,977 in extras, MedReps reported. That compares with $41,280 at medium-sized pharmas (51-999 employees) and $45,757 at large pharmas. Base salaries for all three were similar.