Is 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.
Ambivalence 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.
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.
But MBA's still earn top dollar, averaging $130,776.
The salary averages of respondents shifted significantly within several titles.
Plant Operations folks enjoyed the only significant increase, their collective salary averaging $97,655 compared to $88,654 for the 2011 report. R&D/Product Development also climbed to a $102,327 average vs. $98,304 last year. Marketing/Sales dropped to $97,961 from $104,899. Even management dipped slightly.
Satisfaction, as in 'I can't get no…'
Reasons for dissatisfaction with job and/or work conditions ranged from personal conflict, frustration or befuddlement with management ("dumb boss," "boss is a cowboy," "manager willing to step over bodies to make himself look good") to endemic problems in work culture and communications.
For years, the industry has feared it's losing top talent to higher tech industries. And, indeed, psychic reward may be in limited supply in some industry segments and positions.
"Under-challenged" was an evident even if subordinate theme to diminished time, money and resources. "Fast track" employees in "slow tracking" organizations are hitting their share of institutional speed bumps, as evidenced by responses like: "Lack of technical challenges"; "Nothing new to learn"; "Little room to advance"; "Very high achiever; no promotions"; And "Just dead-ended."
There also were concerns for the vitality or viability of their companies. "Concerned by our outsourcing"; "Lack of strategic direction"; "Plant hasn't kept up with newest methods and equipment"; "Lack of senior leadership support and empowerment"; "Corporate cash flow is so low it is causing difficulty keeping company afloat"; "I'm on my third manager in the past two years." "Trying to perform under the pressure of being eliminated at any time."
Budgetary and personnel cutbacks are having an effect on job satisfaction, productivity and quality of work life: "Lack of (department) money…budgetary cuts"; "Grossly understaffed in quality and number"; "Not enough resources to get everything done right"; "We are so lean that at times I wear too many hats"; "I've been doing two positions for well over a year."
The challenge is not just in the plant but in the field, too, as salespeople feel the squeeze. "Required to wear multiple hats and cover an increased sales territory for both sales and technical support," said one.
Those same work demands have cut into family time and quality of life. "An average work week is 72 hours, if I am lucky," said one.
Responses indicating perceived lack of corporate vision, leadership or direction surpassed the threshold of common complaint. Among the comments: "Knee jerk reaction to lower sales." "Lost trust in top management." "Managing for short term results." "Less focus on the future." "Can't make decisions." "Lack of management commitment to the quality program." "Unrealistic expectations, change of scope, unnecessary barriers to execute." "Goals and strategy are not aligned." "Profit doesn't get rolled into the business." "Parental managing."
And, of course, you can expect such responses when management rewards come in tandem with labor and salary cuts. "Had a RECORD year, yet bonuses were cut due to corporate greed and overcompensated management." "Constant layoffs to pay for bad decisions or golden parachutes for bad decision-makers."
"I was reassigned to a more challenging brand, causing my workload to increase in volume and complexity," said another. "However, this move came with no commensurate advancement in title or compensation, despite the fact that I replaced someone two levels above my title."
When it's good, it's good!
Each year, the negative comments make for a fun read. But to be fair, the numbers don't back up all the grousing.
It's not all gripes and groans and storm and strife in the food & beverage industry. Despite the challenging times, many respondents expressed satisfaction – and in some cases even exhilaration – with their jobs.
"Challenge," "opportunity," "recognition" and "appreciation" frequently led off the comments of the satisfied.
It's always nice when the work itself brings satisfaction. "I work in Capital installs and Systems improvement, which is both challenging and rewarding," said one. "Being able to overcome the challenges is what I find rewarding."
Being able to feed one's curiosity and delve into areas of interest adds a dimension of experiential reward and, perhaps, a sense of ownership.
"My company is a dynamic co-manufacturer for some of the snack industry's biggest names and products," said one happy camper. "This has given me an amazing cross-section of experiences. Also, as we are a medium-sized company, I am able to overcome the lack of degree by demonstrating my intellect and skill (something I think all companies should open their eyes to)."
One respondent credited the company for keeping him through a bankruptcy and change of ownership; others appreciated flex-time options; and others were happy just to be working with good, professional people.
And, yes, working for a "company that cares" makes a difference.
How true are the numbers?
While this year's statistics and comments reflect continued hard times for the U.S. economy and the food industry, it's only fair to point out a few facts about this year's survey that might skew year-to-year comparison.
Big numbers bulk up the averages, and this year we have fewer huge paychecks. Our 2011 survey found seven respondents reporting salaries in excess of $500,000 per year. This year, only one reported a salary in that category, and we had no one reporting a salary between $401,000 and $500,000.
Also, the total number of responses to our 2012 survey declined more than 20 percent – down to 881 from last year's 1,002. A smaller study group is likely to yield a less accurate projection of actual industry averages.