2012 Salary and Job Satisfaction Survey: Salary Meltdown

Our 6th annual survey finds a retreat to 2008 levels.

By Mike Pehanich, Contributing Editor

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Average salaries for the food industryIs America on the road to economic recovery?

Not according to our sixth annual Salary & Job Satisfaction Survey, which found an average salary of $95,546 across all categories of respondents. That's a 4.1 percent retreat from the $99,666 average tallied in 2011, putting industry salaries roughly at a level reported in 2008.

The 2011 Food Processing Salary Survey found income had rebounded 6.6 percent, making up for almost all of a 6.3 percent drop from 2009 to 2010 salary averages.

Job satisfaction linked minimally to the dollars. Predictably, those who were "very satisfied" with their job averaged $108,360, nearly $10,000 more than the next highest group, which was – surprise! – the "very dissatisfied" ($98,915). Interestingly, there was only a $223 difference between the average salaries of the "somewhat satisfied" ($95,023) and the "somewhat dissatisfied" ($94,800). So clearly there's more to job satisfaction than a fuller wallet.

Food Industry salariesAmbivalence was the killer. Those who were "neither satisfied nor dissatisfied" were farthest back in the salary pack with a $78,336 average.

Season of discontent
Of course, there's nothing like a salary cut – even a statistical one – to set a surly tone for a survey. Comments reflected widespread discontent.

"I got promoted (to Thermal Processing Authority) without a pay raise but was given much more work," rued one respondent, illustrating the oft-repeated "more work for less pay" theme.

"No pay raise or cost of living increase since my start date," said another.

Others lamented lost raises, benefits and bonuses with comments like: "unrealistic bonus plan"; "raises down last two years"; "salary not keeping pace with cost of living"; "medical benefits not affordable"; "hours cut"; and "lack of position advancement or suitable pay increase for five years."

Some feel they are pawns in a corporate chess match. "Concerned about outsourcing," worried one. Said another: "If employee qualifies for pension, he no longer qualifies for a 401k match; employer has stopped stock options."

Disappointment and frustration abound, but there's also a pervasive weariness, a sense that workers and companies are in economic limbo, not drowning but merely treading water – or stuck in a time warp.

"I feel that the company pay structure is based out of the 1980s," said another. "Many feel the same way."

Despite the grousing, the level of job satifaction is virtually unchanged from last year, with 61 percent in the "very satisfied" or "somewhat satisfied" categories (versus 63 percent last year). Perhaps more important: Those concerned about job security dropped a percentage point.Food Industry salaries by job title

Worn down, worn out
Part of that weariness and ennui stems from widespread understaffing and continued long office/plant hours.

"Overworked, understaffed and under-compensated," summed one respondent, capturing three predominant survey themes.

A whopping 57 percent of respondents reported working 41-50 hours per week, while 21 percent said they work 51-60 hours per week and 5 percent claimed to put in 61 hours or more. Almost half (47 percent) are on call 24/7.

Are they paid for overtime? Only 9.6 percent are being paid for hours after 40.

Common were comments like: Too much responsibility; not enough resources to get things done right…Too many duties. Not able to complete each task 100 percent. Just getting by…Too much stress and demands from management…Unrealistic project schedules.

The 'union' factor and gender gap
A new question this year that brought an unsurprising answer involved whether unions raise overall pay levels. Our survey revealed that respondents from companies with unionized plants were paid higher salaries ($99,198 on average) than those with non-unionized facilities ($94,306).

But of our 194 respondents from companies with a union workforce, only 18 were actually union members. (Note: Keep in mind that unionized plants are more common among larger companies.)

The "gender gap" widened as salaries of surveyed women made a retrograde movement. Women averaged nearly 11 percent less than they reported last year – $76,234 compared to $85,290 in the 2011 results. However, two interesting footnotes: We had 2 percent more women return the survey this year (they accounted for 31 perent last year), and the only person in the whole response pool reporting a salary over $500,000 in 2012 was a woman.

For the record, men's pay was down, too, but only 1.6 percent – $104,834 against last year's $106,567.

A degree of advantage
Does education pay? Indeed, it does. Those with an education history ending with a high school diploma or GED averaged only $65,775 compared to $77,527 for those with junior college or vocational schooling; $91,807 for a college bachelor's degree; $105,059 for a master's degree other than an MBA; and $124,643 for a doctorate.

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