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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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.

Job Satisfaction in Food Industry"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."

Survey demographicsWhen 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.

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