Careers and Workforce

2018 Salary and Job Satisfaction Survey Results: In Job Satisfaction, Food Goes Bland

Salaries and satisfaction among food and beverage employees are sliding a little, according to our annual survey.

By Pan Demetrakakes, Senior Editor

Salaries are edging downward, so is job satisfaction, and people are evenly divided on President Trump.

Those are some of the key takeaways from Food Processing’s 12th annual Salary & Job Satisfaction Survey. The online poll probed nearly 400 employees in the food and beverage sector on both salaries and attitudes.

Salaries averaged out to $97,259, a drop of 3.2 percent from our 2017 survey. The median salary did go up a level, reaching $87,500, compared with $85,000 in 2016—perhaps a reflection of higher salaries clustering slightly at the top.

Job satisfaction also seems to be down slightly, or at least leveling off, depending on how you look at it. Only 16 percent of respondents report being “very satisfied” with their jobs, a drop of more than half from 2017. Dissatisfaction was up: 19 percent reported being “somewhat dissatisfied,” compared with 15 percent last year; 9 percent said they were “very dissatisfied,” versus 6.3 percent last year.

On the other hand, 43 percent reported being “somewhat satisfied” with their jobs, up considerably from the 26 percent of 2017. Add those to the “very satisfied” group and the combined 59 percent is within two points of last year’s combined “satisfied” number.

This trend roughly parallels the U.S workplace as a whole: Over the past couple of years, employees have gone from happy with their jobs to just OK with them, with a strong undercurrent of resentment, according to other national surveys. The Conference Board (www.conference-board.org) reported in 2016 that almost 51 percent of American workers were satisfied. But last year, Gallup found that 51 percent of employees considered themselves “not engaged” at work, and another 16 percent said they were “actively disengaged.”

Employment experts say that, even though wages have been stagnant for more than a decade, compensation isn’t the leading cause of job dissatisfaction. While it’s certainly a contributing factor, employees are more likely to resent what they perceive as bad management and lack of respect. The Peter Principle is to blame: Many bosses tend to get promoted due to long service to the company and success in previous roles, where they had little or no supervisory duties.

“When companies promote a worker to management on the basis of prior performance, they lose a job expert and obtain a manager who often times has no talent for people management,” Fabian Schumann, a business development managing consultant at Gallup, wrote in an article in Business Journal.

On our survey’s list of what might offer job satisfaction (with multiple choices allowed), the most popular choice, at 49 percent, was “salary and benefits.” But close behind were “challenging work” (46 percent) and “appreciation” (40 percent). Respondents who provided written comments about their jobs often emphasized appreciation—or the lack thereof—nearly as much as compensation.

“Bad management, low job security, horrible benefits, extreme demands by upper management, no appreciation,” said one dissatisfied employee. Others cited similar factors: “micromanaging CEO, very volatile”; “my boss is very discouraging and challenging to work with”; “management is a very bad at communication”; “upper administration cares little about how well we do our work.”

Conversely, those who explained why they liked their jobs often cite what they see as positive, supportive management: “The new owners have this a great place to work at”; “good work environment, fun atmosphere, understand leadership”; “good leadership and great working atmosphere”; “I have owners that care about employees and the company. They reward a job well done and don’t give up on workers that need guidance.”

Help wanted

Another macro trend that seems to be affecting the food industry is a shortage of qualified workers. As the economy maintains its momentum, companies in all employment sectors are having problems finding enough workers.

With the U.S. unemployment rate at a near-record low of 3.9 percent, employers across the country are struggling to fill a record 6.7 million job openings, according to a report released this summer by ADP and Moody’s Analytics. The problem is of course more intense in certain industries, but it’s a nationwide challenge for companies of all types and sizes.

“Business’ number one problem is finding qualified workers,” Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody’s Analytics, said in a statement quoted by CNBC. “At the current pace of job growth, if sustained, this problem is set to get much worse.”

The food industry is no exception, according to our survey: More than three-quarters of respondents said the worker shortage is real. This breaks down to 56 percent who see positions going unfilled, and another 21 percent who not only see that, but think “unfilled positions are constraining our capacity or preventing us from expanding.”

Several of our respondents mentioned the worker shortage, and its consequent unfilled positions, as contributing to job dissatisfaction by increasing their workload.

“Required to handle more than one person can handle,” one employee wrote; “too much to do with underqualified staff,” said another.

One man said the so-called worker shortage was simply a matter of his company being cheap. “When we do find a very well-qualified person, we are not allowed to hire them because of money restrictions,” he wrote. “The only shortage is the number of qualified people willing to work for entry-level pay, after spending a career working and perfecting their skills, only to be told they are not worth it. It has become ridiculous!”

Paradoxically, a couple of people found advantages in the worker shortage. One listed “I do many jobs besides my current title” as something she likes. Another credits the worker crunch with inspiring better treatment: “Company has lost people and the competition for new employees has made them take a new approach to the way we are treated.”

Another contemporary issue that has an impact on the food industry is the administration of President Donald Trump. Businesses of all sorts have the potential to be affected by his aggressive approach to global trade. The food industry has special reason for concern, since much of the retaliation from U.S. trading partners has taken the form of tariffs on food, both farm commodities and processed products.

Our survey shows respondents as evenly split on President Trump as it’s possible to get. Exactly as many people say “he’s improved the business climate” as “he’s made things worse”: 23 percent. The remaining 53 percent chose “no change/no opinion/I can't really tell.”

Several respondents mentioned tariffs: “They are hurting us and have already led to lower margins and may have influenced recent layoffs,” one said. However, the poll was taken before finalization of the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) on trade, a replacement for the North American Free Trade Agreement. If ratified by the legislatures of all three nations, USMCA would mostly preserve, and in some cases expand, America’s access to its neighbors’ food markets.

Trump came in for praise from one respondent: “President Trump has done a lot of great things for our country, including pushing Congress to lower our taxes.”

No time for time off

Of course, some concerns are eternal. One of them is getting enough time off—or, more accurately, getting to take the time off that you’re ostensibly entitled to.

Less than half of our respondents could. Asked if they took all the vacation days they were allotted, only 44 percent said yes. Another 29 percent said “most of my allotment”; 15 percent said about half; 7.0 percent said less than half; and an unfortunate 5.4 percent said they took none.

Perceptions of job security have been consistent for the last few years and, in fact, were nearly unchanged in 2018 vs. 2017. Asked about their level of concern over job security compared with last year at this time, 31 percent said they were more concerned, 21 percent said less concerned, and 48 percent said it was about the same.

For some commenters, job security concerns were bound up with age issues. “The one thing everyone in my age group fears the most is being laid off,” said a man identifying himself as between 58 and 65. “From 45 and up it is extremely difficult to find a job. From 60 and up it is nearly impossible.” Another saw two “big hurdles” as age-based: “The young are starting to enter the workforce later in life, and the older generation will have to work longer in life without pensions and health care.”

On the other hand, experienced, long-tenured workers can be especially grateful—if they experience security.

Said one man, who has been with his company between 26 and 35 years: “I have been here for a long time. My job is challenging and secure. It pays well and it beats working for a living.”