Since we began our annual Salary & Job Satisfaction Survey five years ago, it sometimes seems we've gotten stuck in an endless loop of hand-wringing based on the entropic economy, food safety disasters and pervasive food and beverage doom and gloom. So this year, it's a pleasure to open the window to a ray of hope. Things are looking up. Well, a little bit.
The biggest observation: In nearly every category — job title, age, gender, food category, education -- salaries are up over last year and within a hair of where they were in 2009. The average salary is $99,666. That's up 6.6 percent over last year's $93,537. Which was a 6.3 percent drop from 2009's $99,877 – which, by the way, was the only drop we've seen in the five years of this project.
Women gained more ground in salaries (up nearly $14,000, or 20 percent) than men (up less than $5,000, or 5 percent), but still are way behind men ($85,290 to $106,567).
In age: Those under 29 years old and 30-39 showed growth in salaries, but not back to 2009 levels. The 40-49 and 50-64 age groups grew even beyond what they made in 2009; those over 65 did not.
In job titles: It's no surprise Corporate Management remains on top ($135,651). Marketing & Sales, which took a big hit last year, was back over $100,000. Purchasing also gained ground after being the biggest loser last year.
It's also no surprise there's quite a bit of griping. Such as the comment from this 50-64-year-old man in a Wisconsin dairy products plant:
"Very poor coworker attitudes, cooperation has really declined. No one seems satisfied with extra work (reduced workforce) and lack of pay raises." And he's in Corporate Management.
And while the negatives make for the best quotes, positive comments far outnumbered negative ones. This from a 65-year-old California man in packaging: "Interesting/challenging projects, sense of accomplishment, good working environment, great co-workers, very gratifying being in a small company yet having worldwide acknowledgement."
Perhaps the best balance comes from this 50-64-year-old at a Virginia meat/poultry/seafood company: "Work is challenging, but demands are reasonable. Compensation is reflective of the company's overall profitability, with individual efforts reasonably recognized."
Before we get to the "meat" of money and moans, let's take a closer look at who answered our Salary & Job Satisfaction Survey. There were 1,002 of you in all. Most of the respondents have been in the food & beverage industry for a good chunk of their working lives – an average of 19 years. Only 14 percent have been at it for fewer than five years, and 8.5 percent apparently plan to go out feet first, having been at the job for more than 36 years.
But there is some shuffling between companies. One-third of respondents have been at their present job for only five years or fewer. Another third are in the 6-14 year zone, with a fifth having dug in for the 15-25 year hitch. Just over 12 percent have been at their current company for a quarter century or longer.
While only 4 percent are over 65 and still clocking in every day, 7 percent are at the other end of the spectrum occupying the Millennial category of sub-29. The bulk of processors contributing to this year's survey are 50-64 – 44 percent of you.
You're well-educated. Less than 20 percent do not have at least a four-year college degree. Of that 80 percent with a college diploma, more than a third have gone on to graduate school or a post-graduate certification program. Four in 10 report living in an urban area, and more than three-quarters identify themselves as Caucasian.
While 55 percent work 41-50 hours per week – whether you consider that good or bad – 88 percent are not paid for overtime, and half are "on call" 24/7. Another 11 percent are on call only at certain times of the year.
Nearly 19 percent – the biggest demographic -- work at huge companies of more than 5,000 employees, with another 16 percent right behind in the 1,000-4,999 company size. Forty-three percent supervise one to 10 other people.
Bottom line on the bottom line
So here's the money shot. The biggest percentage of respondents reporting their salary — 31 percent — are in the $101,000-200,000 category. This is almost twice as many as in the next largest category, $66,000-85,000. Seven respondents made more than $501,000 last year.
When we ask about salary, we ask for all compensation: salary, bonuses, stock options and other cash perks.
Almost two thirds of those polled in this survey reported getting a raise every year, and the actual numbers reporting a raise last year hit 77 percent. Of those getting a raise in 2010, 70 percent got a mere 1-3 percent. (Thirteen hardworking and/or fortunate processors reported getting raises above 16 percent of their salary.) More than two-thirds got a bonus, incentive or profit-sharing last year.
In previous surveys, we learned of salary cuts, but never quantified them. Now, maybe we're too late. We asked this year if respondents had their pay cut in 2010 specifically, and only 12 percent did. And of those 118 who did get a reduction, exactly half were in the range of 1-5 percent.
On the other hand, we also asked "If you took a pay cut in the past few years, has it been restored?" Eighteen percent said they had experienced a reduction, and 57 percent of those said it had not been restored at all; 20 percent said it was partially restored.
In addition to salary give-backs, diminishing headcount – meaning those remaining on the job had to do more – was a common complaint in questions that asked for comments.
"Not enough personnel for amount of work to be done," was a common complaint. "Ridiculous deadlines that cannot be met by a human being; more work than one person can do." "More work and responsibilities without the staff to support." "I keep getting promises that I will be given more people in my area, but this never happens."
This increase in workload results in a loss of personal time – 44 percent did not use all their vacation time last year.
Another common complaint was the use of less-experienced – and, we assume lower-paid – workers. "Instead of promoting employees who are qualified to assume the roles left by departing mangers, our company brought in younger, inexperienced and unqualified applicants and placed them in management roles over the more experienced personnel."
Just over 29 percent of our contributors are more concerned about job security than they were in the previous year (that's an improvement over the 34 percent who were worried in our 2010 survey). Although exactly half are just as paranoid.
Actual satisfaction is down slightly. In our 2010 report, 66 percent considered themselves either "somewhat satisfied" or "very satisfied." This year, only 62 percent are in those combined categories. Conversely, 24 percent are either "very dissatisfied" or "somewhat dissatisfied," four percentage points higher than last year.
But positive comments outnumbered negative ones 294 to 174. For every "I'm so pissed I don't know where to begin" (from a 30-39-year-old Ontario man in marketing & sales, making $26,000-$35,000 a year, and he hasn't had a raise in 2-3 years) there was more than one of these:
"I have a great boss, who leaves me alone but is there to support me when I need it. He helped ensure that I recently got a promotion.
Although working very long hours, I am very satisfied with my current (and only) job. As I say to colleagues who gripe: ‘If you think it's bad here, try somewhere else. Based on what I hear, it will probably be much worse."
And it's not all about the Benjamins. Asked "What is most important in providing you with a strong sense of job satisfaction?" "challenging work" beats salary by nearly two to one.
At the end of the day, there appears to be a cautious optimism that has workers, if not putting a down payment on a new car, at least holding out hope that the recovery really will commence soon. And their complaints render their praise as a warning to owners who have turned their companies into giant games of "Jenga," by pulling out more and more staff to preserve unequally shared dividends.
That "compliments with caveats" paradigm is expressed most succinctly by a 40-49-year-old man at a North Carolina meat/poultry/seafood company. "Our company has had declining sales, increasing costs and other hardships the last few years — the same as most everyone else — but management continues to show appreciation for a job well done and communicates how they're working to improve the situation. This attitude makes it easier for everyone to accept lower pay raises and increased workloads versus a few years ago. It's too bad more companies aren't like this."
That, my friends, is a very good question.
All 28 questions -- and responses -- from our fifth annual Salary & Job Satisfaction Survey are in a PDF that you can download by registering via our 2011 Salary Survey Registration link.