Wage stagnation continues to challenge most U.S. households, but not those with a professional working in food or beverage processing. Average compensation increases of 3 percent over 2014 were reported by respondents to Food Processing’s ninth annual Salary & Job Satisfaction Survey, well above the 12-month inflation rate and only slightly off from the prior year’s 3.16 percent bump.
This year’s average salary of $101,698 actually is 4.5 percent higher than the figure reported by last year’s sample, and the median wage of $87,500 is up from 2014’s $85,000 median. Annual compensation ranged from $17,000 to $1.47 million.
Over the past three years, average pay increases have almost doubled the inflation rate, helping food professionals make up for some of the losses they experienced during the Great Recession.
Not everyone was lifted by the rising wage tide. Three in 10 survey participants did not see an increase. Hourly workers, who accounted for one in 10 respondents, took home 3.75 percent more money than they did the previous year. Static wages, including bonuses and other incentives, were more common among salaried workers, although those who are getting more saw pay swell by 4.3 percent.
Readers of Food Processing account for the bulk of responses to the online survey, which was conducted in May and June. Results reflect feedback from 610 U.S. professionals. Another 128 food employees from Canada, Mexico and other countries completed the survey.
Dissatisfaction with pay is the leading reason for changing jobs, a fact reflected in comments from professionals indicating they are very dissatisfied in their current position. “I would walk out the door for close to the same salary without looking back,” commented a quality assurance worker who lamented a total $10 weekly raise over eight years.
“No annual raise, and medical benefits have gone down,” complained another QA professional with 30-plus years in the industry. “We are not properly compensated for the job we do and the revenue we drive,” added a sales and marketing manager.
Dislike of a supervisor is the second most common reason to jump ship, and comments from the very dissatisfied support that. “Autocratic, power hungry, micro-managing, self-serving boss who is not a leader,” griped a seasoned engineer, whose assessment came despite a six-figure salary. He said his relationship with his direct report was “tense.”
Asked to characterize their relationships with their supervisors, most people indicated it was collaborative. Many also ascribed other positive attributes to the relationship, including “given opportunities for advancement, “given opportunities for career development” and “provided new and interesting challenges.”
Those indicating two or more positive characterizations were among the most satisfied employees. Almost four in five indicated they were very satisfied or somewhat satisfied, compared to three out of five respondents overall. Good relations with a supervisor were a much better predictor of satisfaction than pay level.
Strained relations, on the other hand, correlate closely with job dissatisfaction. Among those who checked “tense” or “command and control” or both, three in five were either very or somewhat dissatisfied with their jobs. On a five-point scale, with five being “very satisfied” and one “very dissatisfied,” those respondents’ average score of 1.73 contrasts with the overall average of 3.56.
Benefit packages that could be described as good are getting better. By five measures – health insurance, dental insurance, 401(k) match, tuition reimbursement and stock options – this year’s survey found a higher proportion of employees receiving fringe benefits than last year. Profit sharing plans dipped a few points to one in five respondents.
Much of the four-point increase in health insurance coverage to 93.4 percent can be attributable to full implementation of the Affordable Care Act in 2014. Asked about the impact of Obamacare in their organizations, almost half (45.4 percent) indicated the legislation has not had an effect. One in 10 respondents work at companies with fewer than 50 employees. Those businesses are exempt from mandates to provide health insurance. Those individuals didn’t have insurance before 2014 and still don’t.
Barely one in 100 survey participants (1.4 percent) indicated a company health insurance plan was offered for the first time last year. Almost half (45.2 percent) of all respondents report higher monthly premiums for employee health insurance, and 34.5 percent indicate deductibles now are higher.
Two score of respondents offered additional comments on the law’s impact. A roughly even split existed between those complaining of higher costs and reduced coverage and those citing positive outcomes. “Diabetes medication, full coverage of contraceptives,” wrote a woman in her 40s. “Child received coverage to 26,” pointed out an engineer in his 50, who apparently is not yet an empty nester.
Asked what additional benefits they would like their employers to offer, more than half had suggestions. A new or enhanced 401(k) program was the most frequently mentioned desire, closely followed by flex time and other flexible working arrangements. A fitness program, either through a health club or in-house facilities, closely followed. Other frequent mentions included a pension plan, profit sharing, stock options and tuition reimbursement.
“What we have is great,” wrote a plant operations professional. “Four day workweek, better health coverage,” another middle-aged professional optimistically suggested.
Why go to night school?
Stability characterizes the industry workforce. That’s reflected in the survey results, with almost two-thirds indicating they have worked 15 years or more in the industry. Mobility within the industry is higher, with two-thirds having worked fewer than 15 years at their current company.
Education is a good predictor of income, and people with doctorate degrees held the top spot in average income in prior salary surveys. This year, however, Ph.D.s slid to the third spot in average pay, behind holders of MBA degrees and those with post-graduate education. It may be a reflection of a limited sample size or under-representation in corporate management. Or it could indicate it is more profitable to crunch numbers than to split atoms.
Despite the slippage in economic status, food Ph.D.s express higher satisfaction than professionals with lower education levels. Almost two-thirds are somewhat satisfied, and smaller proportions are somewhat or very dissatisfied. “I work for an excellent company that appreciates and supports me,” offered one product development specialist, the most frequently cited job description for Ph.D.s and the category with the higher satisfaction levels. “Great working environment, great incentive and profit-sharing plans,” wrote a specialist in quality assurance, the next most-frequent job responsibility for Ph.D.s.
Those professionals are more sanguine about the security of their jobs. Almost five in six feel job security hasn’t changed, and this group is less uncertain about their prospects than the general population. In fact, professionals across the board indicate job security is less a concern than at any time since the recession.
Women account for one-third of this year’s responses, up from a quarter two years ago. The gender pay gap narrowed slightly, though female respondents reported earning 74.2 cents for every dollar of their male colleagues.
It’s difficult to generalize about salary, satisfaction and security levels on the basis of product category. Nonetheless, beverage company professionals once again had the highest job satisfaction scores for 11 product categories, as well as the second highest job security score. Satisfaction scores dropped sharply for dairy and meat, poultry & seafood workers. Confection employees were the most insecure about their jobs, but they also had the highest average compensation level.
As in prior years’ surveys, challenging work ranked as the most important factor in a satisfying work experience, followed by salary & benefits and appreciation. A safe work environment was the least important consideration; interestingly, managers and company executives are more focused on work safety, with only one hourly employee among those who rated it the most important satisfaction consideration.
Beginning with last year’s salary & satisfaction study, participants were asked to either provide their total compensation or indicate a range. Approximately half of this year’s and last’s provided a precise salary figure, improving the accuracy of the data. Because of the change, last year’s results showed a smaller average salary than the prior year, though the figure was more precise, and individual wages of respondents increased.