You're not alone. Everybody's pay was cut last year.
OK, maybe not everybody's. But to no one's surprise, the average pay in the food & beverage industry declined by 6.3 percent over the past 12 months, to $93,537. That's the lowest it's been since we started this salary survey in 2007.
“This is interesting and challenging work. We make products that make a difference in people's lives.”
- Great Lakes product developer
At least that's the indication from our fourth annual Salary & Job Satisfaction Survey, which netted 1,611 responses to our April/May e-mail invitation.
Every job category we track in the survey showed a drop – except one. Plant Operations actually eked out a half-percent ($445) raise — are those the union guys? – although, at an average of $81,842 a year, that job category remains in the bottom half of the salary pool.
Purchasing saw the biggest drop, a 25 percent cut to $69,967 this year. But we add two cautions: This is the smallest job category in our report, with only 60 respondents, or 3.9 percent of our total sample. And last year, their $93,520 average paycheck was an unusual jump from previous years, which leads us to suspect our data collection.
A similar drop hit the Marketing & Sales people. This sizable group (11 percent of our total) faced a 19 percent cut, from a six-figure salary in 2009 to $84,726.
Also not incredible was the two percentage point drop in job satisfaction. Maybe the only surprise was that the drop was only two points. Nevertheless, at 66 percent (combining 25 percent "very satisfied" and 41 percent "somewhat satisfied"), that's the lowest satisfaction figure in the four years of this survey (the high point was 71 percent in 2008).
Subtle differences this year
Aside from salary, there were no huge changes in the responses to this year's questions. There was a slight movement downward in age, with growth in the under-29 and 30-39-year-old groups. The average number of years at the current company moved down by about a month (to 11.7 years), that's all. Average hours worked per week went up by 23 minutes (to 47.5 hours). The percent of workers paid for overtime went up by three percentage points (to 13.4 percent). All notable, but not big movements.
Getting back to salaries, much of the drop was caused by fewer respondents in three of the four highest-pay categories, all of them above $201,000. There were two ironies in pay: reductions in the two lowest categories ($16,000-$25,000 and $15,000 and under) but one more respondent (for a total of five) in the highest ($501,000 and above) category.
Time is lengthening since your last raise. Last year, 65 percent of you said you get one every year; this year, it was a hair under 60.
Turning to benefits, while the individual cuts were not huge, 11 of the 13 benefits categories we ask about saw reductions in the number of workers getting them.
For most categories, this is the second year in a row they've gone down. Any benefit that costs your employer went down; for example, 92 percent of our respondents last year got medical insurance, 89 percent are insured this year. The 401(k) match went down the most, 8 percentage points (to 65 percent). But day care doubled (still only 1.9 percent) and telecommuting was up too.
We asked a new question this year: "Considering cost to you – in terms of both premiums and levels of coverage – have your key benefits (primarily medical insurance) become more expensive (69 percent), less expensive (4.5 percent) or about the same (27 percent).
What you're saying
Despite the loss of take-home pay, one thing that didn't change much this year was the ratio of good comments to bad. While not quite as high as last year, it was very close: 470 respondents answered the "tell us why you're satisfied" question while 221 penned a response to the "why are you dissatisfied" query.
"Low [or cut] salary, lack of opportunities for advancement, no appreciation," was the most common complaint. "Feeling of less overall stability. Loss of 401(k) match. Pay freeze this year. More work with fewer people" – that one guy summed up the experience of probably a thousand.
"No raise in six years, we pay more for benefits and decreased retirement benefits," wrote a 50-64-year-old plant operator in a Midwestern bakery.
"Excessive hours, excessive expectations, continual budget cuts or belt tightening but executive ranks continue to expand," laments a 40-49-year-old man –himself in corporate management – at a Canadian meat & poultry operation. "Training and education is supported only if on the job."
"Work-life balance is out of balance," wrote a manager at a Midwestern maker of further-processed foods. "I work 75-plus hours a week. Fire drills and organization churn are at high levels, and micro-managing culture is way beyond normal for the food industry." But at least he makes over $100,000 a year.
"Manager is a micro-manager and shows no appreciation for what you do. Work load is not fairly distributed and poor performers are not held accountable in other areas," said an engineer in the Southwest.
"Insufficient compensation. Poor corporate decisions from upper management. My boss doesn't know what the hell is going on and I have to explain EVERYTHING to him," laments a 30-39-year-old man in R&D at a Great Lakes processor. "The culture has become CYA [cover your … ummm … behind] and finger-pointing."
"My boss is too ironic [we're not sure what that means]. It's an obligation to work from Monday to Sunday without extra time pay," complained a 40-49-year-old female operator in a dairy plant.
But some are not just bitching: They have insight into what's wrong and they worry for the future of their companies.
"There is no process discipline within our business units. The global supply chain lacks a spirit of collaboration," says a 40-49-year-old product developer, who is making over $200,000.
"There's instability, change of ownership, change in upper management, high employee turnover, unclear sense of where the company is headed" – that litany from a 30-39-year-old Canadian in plant operations at a fruit & vegetable processor. He's only making $36,000-50,000.
Another plant operations guy, at a Middle Atlantic bakery, adds: "Upper management has no idea of what it takes to keep a plant running 24/7. They do not understand that 50-year-old equipment needs a little TLC once in a while. Policies are being set by 26-year-old MBAs that do not know that the real world is nothing like the text book version."
You tell 'em, Bubba.
"This company is still struggling since coming out of bankruptcy," said a man at a Southern snack food manufacturer, who also checked the "very dissatisfied" box.
And while many workers want to blame the owner, consider this comment from the "dissatisfied" side: "I am the majority owner. The recession hurt!"
One marked difference this year: Very few people said they were dissatisfied because of a lack of responsibility or challenging work. That was a common complaint of past years' salary surveys.
On the positive side
As we said, despite the salary cuts and the tough year, the positive comments still outnumbered the negative ones, by more than two-to-one.
"I love the ‘something different every day' aspect and the lack of boredom," beams a 40-49-year-old in plant operations at a Southwest fruit & vegetable company (who also notes he gets a raise every year). "I like the problem-solving and analytical parts of the job and also the communication aspects."
"The R&D environment is very challenging and thus satisfying to me," said a man at a Great Lakes beverage company. "There is never a dull moment, and the continuous learning, even after 35 years in this business, is very enjoyable."
"I'm happy to be working for a dynamic company with solid market share with many natural/health-oriented product lines," said a 50-64-year-old senior manager at a Southwest dairy company. Also happy is this 30-39-year-old female engineer at a Southwest fruit & vegetable company: "Employees with this company are appreciated and respected. The company is forward-thinking, results-driven and focuses on continuous improvement." All that and a salary over $200,000 make for a satisfied employee.
A Great Lakes product developer said what a number of respondents felt: "This is interesting and challenging work. We make products that make a difference in people's lives."
"I love what I do, but I get stuck working 12-14-hour days more and more," wrote another. "I wish I had more time with my family and was able to afford a comfortable life."
Several felt their companies were sympathetic to employees and their communities. "This company understands the difficult times in the community right now, and didn't lay anyone off during the slow times," said a plant operations worker at a Great Lakes meat & poultry processor. Similarly, "This is a small company, family owned. The family has been very generous to the employees--even during the hard times when our sales hit a low," wrote an over-65 product developer at a beverage company.
And, "Our company CEO is a highly motivated and dedicated person who truly cares about the employees," wrote a 50-64-year-old female manager at a Midwestern dairy. "Compared to many other companies in our area, we are so fortunate to receive raises and bonuses in the current economic climate."
Maybe the best comment of all, from a Southern engineer who sounds like she has it all: "Excellent pay. Flexible hours to work around kids' activities. Peers are great to work with. Challenging work. And who can complain about getting paid to make beer?"
A toast to all 1,611 of you who made this year's salary survey a joy to write. And good luck at getting that 6 percent salary cut back.