2010 Salary and Job Satisfaction Survey: Challenging Work But Out of Balance

Did you take more or less than a 6 percent pay cut? Our annual report uncovers across-the-board reductions.

By Dave Fusaro, Editor in Chief

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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.

Food Industry BenefitsTurning 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
food industry compensationDespite 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.

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