2013 Salary and Job Satisfaction Survey: The Gloom Index Recedes

Wage increases averaging 2.65 percent and an easing of job-security concerns suggest food professionals and the industry are getting back on track.

By Kevin T. Higgins, Managing Editor

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South of the border, the Great Lakes region was the best for workers who desire health benefits. Respondents in the states of Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio and Wisconsin were 22 percent more likely to receive medical and dental than the average frequency for all food companies. Conversely, food companies in New England lagged the nation, with only an 89 percent fulfillment rate. Overall, 84 percent of respondents work at food companies that provide both medical and dental.

Viewed by product segment, meat & poultry workers were the most likely to receive health benefits, exceeding the national rate by 84 percent. Baked goods manufacturers, on the other hand, were the stingiest, with only 89 percent of the expected fulfillment rate.

Depending on work duties, some benefits are unrealistic for certain job categories. A package that would fit every food professional might include medical, dental, profit sharing and either 401K match or a pension. A solid minority of 17 percent of respondents enjoy such a package, putting them into a category we've dubbed the Truly Blessed.

The Truly Blessed are different from you or me. For one thing, their incomes are higher (average salary: $129,565). But are they happy? Two members of the cadre rated themselves as very dissatisfied with their jobs, with one complaining of nepotism and cronyism and the other grousing, "Company is trying to implement too much change at the same time." However, a third of the Truly Blessed say they are very satisfied, and overall satisfaction levels are well above the norm.

Happy smiling workers

Job Satisfaction
 Job Security
 Hours Worked

Stability is a hallmark of the food industry, with aggregate sales unlikely to decline in the absence of mass starvation. Stability also characterizes the work force, with lifetime employment relatively common, often at the same company.

The survey sample reflects the industry's steady state. Respondents have worked in food & beverage an average of 19.9 years, with median longevity in the 15-25 year range. Many careers are spent at the same firm. Of the 95 participants who have logged 36-plus years in the industry, 22 have spent them at one employer. Those lifers didn't have to stay put: A dozen of them indicated they have been at their current company five years or fewer.

Long term employment hints at job satisfaction, and that also is reflected. Asked to rate their overall level of job satisfaction, from very satisfied (5) to very dissatisfied (1), food professionals gave their positions a solid B+, with an average score of 3.57. Almost two thirds (62 percent) indicated they are very or somewhat satisfied, compared to 22 percent who are somewhat or very dissatisfied.

Despite the sputtering economy, food workers are less concerned about job security than they were a year ago and certainly more secure than the general workforce, where one in seven are concerned they will lose their job in the next three months, according to the recently released Harris Poll job security index. One in five participants in the Food Processing survey say they are less concerned about job security than they were a year ago, down almost three points from 2012's survey.

Job security is particularly strong among workers who say they are very satisfied with their jobs. Almost a third (32 percent) of those people are less concerned about job security now. Similarly, the proportion of highly satisfied workers who feel less secure is half the rate of the overall sample, at 13 percent.

Half of these happy, secure individuals chose challenging work as the factor that best explained why they enjoyed their job. (Conversely, only 15 percent of those who can't get no job satisfaction find their jobs challenging.) Anxiety over job loss is lowest among satisfied workers who cite opportunity for advancement as the most valued aspect of their jobs. Of the six options presented to explain why they were so happy in their work, only 12 percent indicate salary and benefits are most important, behind job security (17 percent) and appreciation (14 percent).

Colleagues, company success and other factors also affect satisfaction, and many are reflected in participants' written comments. "Great company, great people, great owners. Glad to be a part of a growing company," one respondent wrote. "I love my job," another gushed. "No day is ever the same, and working in this industry is very satisfying."

A high correlation between job insecurity and dissatisfaction is evident. Almost half (46 percent) of the very dissatisfied respondents are more concerned about job security than they were a year ago, almost double the ratio in the rest of the population (25 percent). "Our jobs are being outsourced to a management company," complained one administrator. "Company does not care about employees' concerns," remarked another. "New owners (investment group) have taken the company in a whole different direction," wrote a third, "causing chaos and uncertainty."

Global food village

International trade of food products, and not just commodities, is undergoing unprecedented growth. Reflecting the nature of the global food chain, this year's survey drew responses from food professionals in five of the seven continents (no penguins or Aussies, though kiwis are represented). Because the intent is to measure U.S. and Canadian salary and job satisfaction, offshore food professionals are excluded from salary and satisfaction calculations. Nonetheless, their responses provide insight into the global food worker.

At an average age of 43, the universal worker is 14 months younger than her domestic counterpart and more likely to be female, accounting for 36 percent of the international responses (among U.S. and Canadian respondents, 27 percent were women). Foreign workers are highly educated, with two-thirds extending their formal education beyond the baccalaureate level, double the overall ratio. They also are relative newcomers to food & beverage, with an average tenure of 16.4 years in the industry, compared to 19.9 years for domestic respondents.

At 47.68 hours, foreign workers enjoy an average work week that is 20 minutes shorter. And despite their professional positions, they are far more likely to belong to a union (9.4 percent vs. 1.2 percent) and to work in a country with an organized labor culture. Almost half (46 percent) said their facilities are unionized, nearly double the representation at U.S. food plants (25 percent).

The most striking difference may be in the disconnect between job satisfaction and pay increases. These foreign respondents report an average pay boost of 5.4 percent in the last year, double their American counterparts. But on a 5-point scale where 5 represents very satisfied workers, the average score of 3.52 is virtually identical to domestic workers' 3.57. Satisfaction comments provide a perspective, with low base pay a common complaint, along with corruption, nepotism and too many weekends spent working.

Whether they worked in North America or on another continent, sizable numbers of respondents left vacation time on the table as they performed their work duties. In the U.S. and Canada, almost half (47 percent) finished 2012 with unused vacation time. Almost two-thirds had staff supervisory responsibilities, with half of those overseeing 21 or more colleagues.

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