With so many so satisfied, companies must be meeting important needs of their workers. What are those needs? By far, the answer is to be challenged (i.e., not bored) by their work. More than 37 percent positioned that as the top issue. Expressed as a poignant and well-articulated plea, a plant ops expert at a large multinational corporation making nutritional foods and beverages noted, “I am not challenged at work; I’m not working in an area that allows me to use my strengths and provide value every day.”
Another processor, this time working R&D at a multinational agricultural and protein products manufacturer in New Jersey, explains “(There’s) no real motivation to do better since it seems that no matter how good a job you do, it is not enough to carry the company into the next generation. It’s all about, ‘what you are doing for me today?’ It seems only the bosses make the good money, and not much trickles down.”
Speaking of trickle-down theory, salary was a distant second as a motivator, at only 21 percent. Money actually dropped a couple percentage points (3) compared to last year’s survey. Being appreciated by supervisors and owners came in third at 16 percent, and job security was fourth with over 13 percent. Advancement opportunities made fifth place with just over 9 percent.
But those smaller things can count for a lot. A plant ops engineer with an MBA, working at a small confectionary products company in northern Illinois, describes the worst of the industry: “I wear too many hats. Being in a smaller company, I am in charge of maintenance, all CMMS data input and output, all MRO purchasing and purchase research, PLC programming and maintenance, robotics maintenance, office PC programming and anything else remotely technical on a 24/7 basis. Raises are minimal, and never exceed the cost of living and no bonuses for many years. I have no control over my budget and monthly cost information is unavailable to me, as the company is private (and therefore secretive). Promotion opportunities are nonexistent, salary is well below the norm for my knowledge and experience level.”
Whew! After that litany, you’d think this more-than-able worker is justifiably fed up. But he goes on to note, “The stress is lower than in larger companies I've worked for in the past, challenge and variety of work is ample, I have a good boss and my talents are at least somewhat respected by peers.” The latter endorsement likely explains why he’s been at his job for about a decade.
Bottom of the list — surprisingly, considering the troubled times we’re in — was the need for a low-stress environment, at under 4 percent. Still, stress is where you encounter it. A dairy products manufacturer in Wisconsin clearly was at the end of his rope when he wrote his company suffers from “lack of communication and focus; ‘Chicken Little’ syndrome when problems occur; near-complete lack of understanding at senior management level vis SPC, Lean, Process Excellence, 6 Sigma, etc., (yet they) beat those buzzwords to death. Sales and Marketing live in their own world where laws and theories of physics and economics do not apply, e.g. touting great ‘variable income’ being derived from products we are losing money on.”
In spite of this year’s flood of complaints -- such as “overworked, underpaid,” “not compensated for additional work” and “long hours and low staffing levels” -- there certainly was plenty of praise going around as well.
Two and a half times as many respondents provided praise as provided gripes this year. Comments such as these abound: “I enjoy producing and maintaining a quality product our customers need and want, making us a leader in our industry”; “I thrive on helping develop new products to maintain our competitive edge”; “As a Quality Control supervisor, I enjoy the work I do and take pride in the fact we produce very healthy and safe products for consumers”; “(I’m in a) positive environment, (with) challenging work (and a) solid management team.”
Other positive responses included: “I find my job challenging and enjoy the people with whom I interact”; “Great job diversity, many opportunities to grow and succeed; good pay and benefits”; “Salary and benefits are good; positive commendations from supervisor and team leaders happen frequently. (I have) technically challenging tasks (and) interesting work”; and “Recognition of jobs well done.”
A number of folks even describe what anyone would deem the perfect job. Says Richard Turchetta, a quality control expert for a Lincoln, R.I., bakery, “I am given total management control over my department without interference from higher management. I am the Food Safety Manager and I receive excellent support from the president and board of directors creating new policies and procedures that benefit the company. I am able to purchase all tools and equipment necessary to perform our function, within reason, without upper management interference.”
Similarly, Rebecca Lewis, a lab manager for Bakersfield, Calif.-based Bolthouse Farms Inc., writes that her place of employment has “nice people, lots of laughter and much appreciation. Management is good about being clear about what they need from you and your department; they also want to know what you need to get the job done or done better. Continuing to learn is encouraged, with no scapegoating if there are problems, just finding the solution. That’s what I love about this place.”
The food and beverage industry is still a strong one. Although rising commodity and energy prices are tightening both consumer and company spending, the fact is people rely on the food industry for tasty, nutritious and convenient meals and meal components, plus the beverages to wash them down with and the sweets and snacks to follow them. It’s the American way, and you — the processors — should be proud of the part you play in making it happen.
This web-based survey was sent as an e-mailed link to all food and beverage processors who subscribe to Food Processing and provide their e-mail address. The 1,700+ responses were automatically assigned an identifying number for anonymity during analysis. Answers were collated as a comprehensive total as well as across several categories. All responses are kept confidential.
Product categories in which respondents work the majority of their time: fruits and vegetables (6 percent), dairy products (7 percent), baked goods (8 percent), beverages (8 percent), confectionery products (5 percent), meat/poultry/seafood (19 percent), grain products/milling (4 percent), snacks (4 percent), further-processed & packaged foods & specialties (including frozen foods, meals, pet foods, sauces & condiments -- 14 percent), value-added ingredients/powder mixes (7 percent) and 19 percent logged under “other” (total slightly more than 100 percent due to rounding).