2016 Salary Survey Results: Haves and Have-Nots

Food Processing's 2016 Salary Survey unveils a growing group of professionals being left behind.

By Kevin T. Higgins, Managing Editor

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At first blush, feedback from food and beverage professionals to Food Processing’s 10th annual Salary & Job Satisfaction Survey suggests an industry on the march, with surging performance raising salaries and benefits across the board.

Would that it were true.

Pay hikes averaged 3.26 percent last year, the most bullish bump in at least five years. Compensation levels averaged $93,883, with a median salary of $85,000 — down slightly from last year’s responses due to a younger respondent skew, but still enough to keep the home fires burning and the wolves at bay.

But anyone with a passing familiarity with the food and beverage business knows these are turbulent times. True, some of the largest corporations managed to increase profitability last year, but it came as a consequence of cost cutting that also impacted many employees. Fully one-quarter of survey respondents indicated they did not receive a pay increase, while the top wage gainers — paced by the Three Percenters, with 15 percent-plus hikes — drove up the overall average.

Not surprisingly, pay and job satisfaction levels differ markedly between those getting a double-digit pay increase and those getting bupkis.

Average wages are 18 percent higher in the first group, where more than two-thirds report being somewhat satisfied or very satisfied with their jobs. One quarter of the second group is somewhat dissatisfied or very dissatisfied, and given the opportunity to vent, they did.

“Lack of clear communication from directors and CEO to managers. Lack of communication across departments. No appreciation or regard for hard work done. Doing more than outlined in job description. Company culture lacking in honesty,” one disaffected R&D professional wrote — and she considers herself only somewhat dissatisfied.

“No reviews, and decreased my salary for the same job. Only offered telecommuting and flex time for compensation,” a more disgruntled worker complained. “Removal of benefits, no reviews or pay increases, more project demands,” chipped in a third.

Education levels and job classifications were similar between the two groups, though the Haves were more likely to be engineers and less likely to be in plant operations. Surprisingly, the better-rewarded group tended to feel less secure about their jobs, though they were far more likely to receive stock options, profit sharing or both. What really set the groups apart, however, were new and interesting challenges.

While almost half of the top wage-gainers indicate they are provided new and interesting challenges, only one-fourth of no-raise workers agree. Differences were even more significant when it came to opportunities for advancement and career development.

“Challenge” is a word that comes up repeatedly in comments from the Haves and is notable only in its lack-thereof for the Have-Nots. “The job is challenging and personally rewarding,” a woman who received a 10 percent pay hike wrote. “The pay and incentives could be better, but the lifestyle quality makes it hard to look outside.”

Filling roster spots

Challenging work consistently ranks as the most important factor in job satisfaction in this annual survey, though the gap in importance between work challenges and salary & benefits narrowed considerably this year. Only 3 percent more professionals ranked it above financial aspects, compared to the more typical 11 percentage last year.

The satisfaction trend is subtle but unmistakable: While almost two-thirds two years ago indicated they were somewhat or very satisfied, 60.6 percent put themselves in that category last year and only 58 percent this year. Conversely, the proportion of food professionals who are somewhat or very dissatisfied is trending upward, with almost one quarter  placing themselves in those categories, up from 20.1 percent two years ago.

For corporations, a growing challenge will be recruitment and retention of the talent required to operate a modern food company. Compounding the challenge is the earlier exit of older employees. The proportion of workers 66 and older is slowly dwindling, and the ones who remain in the workforce are earning less. For them, work may be its own reward. A quality assurance professional over 65 with a salary well below the median wrote, “Enjoy what I am doing, and it keeps me mentally active at my age.”

Whether they find work stimulating or drudgery, they are inching toward the exit door. The retirement age population will increase by 31 million over the next 20 years, according to the U.S. Social Security Administration, and more than a few of them will be ex-food professionals. The exodus of millions of baby boomers from the American workforce is creating panic in many quarters over a looming shortage of skilled workers. In the food industry, the reaction is more muted.

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