2008 Food Processing Salary and Job Satisfaction Survey

Our second annual Salary & Job Satisfaction Survey's recurring theme of “More work dumped onto fewer people” continues.

By David Feder, Contributing Editor

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Raises and monetary benefits are always a sticking point, but this year’s comments on the topic betray growing frustration. “Cost of benefits goes up most every year and (our) pension was frozen five years ago. The company is much more conservative with raises and bonuses now,” said an operator at a large grain milling and cereal products corporation in St. Louis.

Just over three-fourths of respondents get a raise every year, as opposed to 80 percent in our 2007 report. But the raises are better: In 2007, two-thirds of raises were only 1-3 percent of salary. This year, 49 percent made 1-3 percent but another 25 percent made 4-6 percent of their annual salary for a raise. No comments on whether or not this was enough to offset rising food and gasoline costs.

This year, 69 percent told us they received a bonus, incentive or share in profit. Last year, only 65 percent did. For more than half of those, this equaled 1-9 percent of their salary. Although that’s lower than last year’s 61 percent in that category, that’s because those receiving 10-20 percent bonuses rose above 31 percent (29 last year) and those getting 21-35 percent bonuses went over 9 percent compared to less than 7 last year. On the other side of the coin, the number of processors taking a pay cut stayed at about one in seven.
Nine in 10 are still receiving coverage for medical, and eight in 10 still get dental. In fact, when it came to most benefits (life insurance, disability, pension, 401(k) match, tuition reimbursement, etc.), very little changed. Telecommuting, flex time and day care improved by a few percentage points.

Of course, the benefits must be for more than “show.” Says one engineer at a company making further-processed and packaged foods: “There is a tuition reimbursement benefit, but there’s very little time to take advantage of it — staffing is too bare bones [for the benefit] to be effective.”

You deserve a break today

The U.S. has the fewest paid vacation days of nearly any developed country on earth. According to Take Back Your Time Day, a project of the Center for Religion, Ethics and Social Policy (CRESP) at Cornell University, only 14 percent of Americans get a vacation of two weeks. Worse, according to CRESP, “Many others are afraid to use their paid leave for fear they could be laid off or demoted if they do.” In fact, notes CRESP, the average American vacation is now down to a “long weekend.”

This shows in our survey. More than 40 percent of respondents did not take all their allotted vacation last year. In fact, one in 20 of respondents got no paid vacation at all. This might not seem like a lot, but it’s nearly three times the number without vacation time last year. All categories of vacation time saw a 2 percent drop except the top two of 5-6 weeks or 6 weeks-plus.

If we’re enjoying it less, we’re not working much more than we did last year, with 55 percent of respondents reporting they work 41-50 hours per week vs. last year’s 56. The 51-60 hours workers dropped to 23 percent compared to 25 last year and only a half-percent more work more than 61 hours a week (just over 6 percent).

Compensation for all that overtime is another matter. This year we asked how many of you working more than 40 hours per week get paid for that extra time. A whopping 88 percent said “no!”

Our aging population shows, with nearly 40 percent of respondents in the 50-64 group. The next largest, 40-49, was close with 34 percent. The 30-39 year olds made up just 19 percent of our survey-takers. Forty-one of those polled are still working beyond age 65 — almost 2.5 percent. And lest you think these are the stuffed shirts, only four in 10 of those senior workers are in corporate management.

The Midwest suburbs are still central, holding 41 percent of those polled for this survey. Mid-Atlantic holds the next largest concentration with one in five. More than a third are urban and 19 percent are in the South and the Southwest.

Those surveyed have a solid history in the food business. Almost a quarter have been in it for 6-14 years; only 14 percent for six or fewer. An amazing 55 percent have 15-34 years, and 7 percent have put in more than 35 years. Impressive!

Our processors are evenly divided as far as loyalty to the job goes. A third have been at their company for five years or fewer, another third for 6-14 years and just under a third for 15-34 years. Thirty four of you have been at your job for 35 years or more. You either work for some seriously great companies or own them!

Nearly one in five of you work for MultiMegaCorp companies of 5,000 or more workers. Another 16 percent work for companies of 1,000-4,999 workers. Companies of 250-999 workers occupy 24 percent of respondents and 17 percent are in companies of just 100-249 employees. Companies of fewer than 100 workers engage another 24 percent of those surveyed.

But do you LIKE it?

When we asked last year how well you like your job, 68 percent of you said you were either “somewhat” or “very” satisfied. That climbed to just over 70 percent this year. This not only beats the national average, but The Conference Board Inc. says fewer than half of Americans claim to be satisfied with their jobs. The group notes job satisfaction is continuing its decades-long decline.

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.”

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