Food Engineering

Annual Job Satisfaction & Salary Survey

March 30, 2003
More work and reduced staffing are creating stress on the manufacturing team, and pay hikes are lagging, but food professionals remain generally upbeat.

Is Everybody Happy?

Money isn't everything, the cynics say, but it's way ahead of whatever's second. But money isn't the only concern of food workers, as Food Engineering's 2000 Salary and Job Satisfaction Survey makes clear, and this year's results offer insight into changes in pay, satisfaction and job security.

Those three measures speak to the quality of work, and respondents to this year's survey made it clear in both their written comments and their quantifiable answers that higher wages are only part of the equation. Challenging assignments and the tools to complete them can be just as important, according to the 261 respondents to the 20th anniversary edition of the Food Engineering survey.

Food Engineering readers who returned questionnaires can't be accused of not having a strong work ethic: while 73.5 percent say their workload increased in the last year, even more indicate they are satisfied in their current position -- up sharply from a year ago (see chart). Seven in 10 rate their jobs as somewhat or very secure, and one in five feel more secure in their jobs than they did a year ago.

This positive outlook exists in an era where wage hikes are barely staying ahead of inflation. When food professionals received raises this year, they averaged 5.75 percent, about the same as two years ago and off two points from Food Engineering's 1999 survey. But 28.6 percent of respondents didn't get any pay increase this year. When those workers are factored in, the average raise was 3.9 percent (see chart). The U.S. Consumer Price Index registered a 3.5 percent increase for the 12 months ending in September.

Nationally, civilian compensation rates increased 4.3 percent for the 12 months ending in September, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics' Employment Cost Index. In manufacturing industries, wages were up 4.6 percent; white-collar workers in goods-producing industries saw a 4.5 percent increase, and their blue-collar counterparts had a 4.4 percent bump.

Those statistics are mirrored in independent surveys, including a poll of 2,621 human resources professionals by WorldatWork (formerly the American Compensation Association). The group's survey puts this year's salary increases in the 4.3-4.8 percent range, depending on employee category, with similar raises expected next year. Three in 10 companies indicated they were having difficulty attracting and retaining engineering talent, making it the second most in-demand job category (behind IT professionals).

Pay hikes that are lower than the norm reflect the makeup of the food industry, which is still characterized by closely-held firms rather than large multinationals. "The major food corporations do pay well, but most of the family-owned companies don't because the margins on food don't allow them," points out compensation expert Mae Lon Ding, president of Personnel Systems Associates, Anaheim Hills, Calif.

Survey results support her point: more than half of workers at companies with fewer than 100 employees reported their salaries didn't increase this year (small-firm respondents skewed toward upper management). People working for firms with 1,000 or more employees, on the other hand, averaged pay raises of 4.1 percent.

Small-company workers also tend to earn less money, with 55 percent of that group below the median salary range of $60,000 to $69,999. They also had lower educational levels and are older, with 40 percent of them having more than 25 years experience in the food industry. When they did get raises, they averaged a relatively generous 6.8 percent. Those workers also are the most secure about their jobs, while those at larger firms are the least secure.

What makes workers happy?

High pay and generous raises presumably correlate with worker contentment, but as the accompanying chart grouping respondents by salary range demonstrates, there is more to work than money. True, the best-paid workers tended to be more satisfied with their jobs. But workers in the lowest income bracket felt the most secure in their positions, and they were the most likely to indicate they feel better about job security than they did a year ago.

Although two-thirds of respondents feel somewhat or very secure, they are more likely to be satisfied than secure. A pay increase doesn't increase security levels, either: respondents who did not receive a pay hike this year were more likely to feel more secure.

Giving employees additional staff management responsibilities correlates with job satisfaction, though simply assigning them more responsibilities has the opposite effect. Adding staff to handle increased production also boosts satisfaction levels; conversely, increasing production without additional staffing produces greater dissatisfaction, as do staff cuts and adding responsibilities without providing any training. If the co mpany is perceived to be innovative, there is a tendency for workers to be more satisfied. Workers at plants with a shrinking workforce are twice as likely to be dissatisfied. Production supervisors and packaging managers form the most disgruntled job categories.

Mergers, acquisitions and consolidation get a lot of attention from the trade press and on Wall Street, but they are largely nonissues for engineers and support personnel. Management is a different story, however: the majority of management respondents involved in M&A or consolidation activities indicated it worsened working conditions. Half of support personnel said consolidation had no impact, and a large segment reported better pay, benefits or working conditions resulted.

The management category includes the job titles president, plant/general manager, purchasing manager, vice president of manufacturing and production supervisor. Support personnel includes technical director, transportation/distribution manager, quality control manager, packaging manager and sanitation/maintenance manager. The engineer category includes the vice president of engineering, engineering manager and process, project and plant engineers.

Almost a third of respondents were affected by M&As or consolidation in the last year. Those respondents were the most likely to receive formal in-house training to help them deal with new responsibilities, and there was a greater likelihood that their employers were creating new jobs.

As the accompanying chart suggests, engineers tended to get higher raises this year and are slightly more secure in their positions. They also were the best-educated respondent group and had two fewer years of experience in the food industry than support personnel and three less than management.

Today's food plant employee

Overall, respondents were well educated, seasoned workers (see respondent profile). Almost three in 10 have worked in the food industry for more than a quarter century. Almost three in four work for a company with multiple locations.

While the food industry's workforce includes more women than in years past, women remain a small part of the plant operations staff, particularly in engineering. Only 9.2 percent of survey respondents were women, and although they fared well in terms of average and median pay increases, their gross salaries lagged the men's by a significant amount (see chart).

The discrepancy doesn't necessarily reflect gender bias, however. While two-thirds of the men had at least 16 years experience in the food industry, two-thirds of female respondents had 10 years or less. Additionally, 21 percent of the women had not advanced beyond a high school education, whereas 91.5 percent of the men attended college. Other survey findings:

  • Work teams are gaining favor. A third of respondents are involved with work teams at their firms, and they give those teams more positive reviews compared to last year.
    The survey presented respondents with a list of nine attributes and asked them to check all that apply at their companies. The percent agreeing with five positive statements -- improve efficiencies, save money, improve moral, boost employee pride and increase profits -- was higher this year in all cases, with the financial benefits of work teams showing the greatest rating improvement.
    Less than one in 10 indicated work teams decrease morale or create management conflicts. Although 10.2 percent suggest they cause confusion, that figure is down sharply from last year, when 30 percent found work teams to be a source of confusion.
  • Most food companies get high marks from their employees for innovation, with 54.1 percent of respondents indicating innovation has increased in the last year and only 7.3 percent noting a decrease. Process system improvements were the most frequently cited innovations, followed by packaging line improvements.
    When innovation declined, budget cuts usually were blamed, followed by personnel cuts, time pressures and a lack of training or support from upper management.
  • Only one in five respondents say their firms have formal rewards and recognition programs to acknowledge a job well done. That's down from last year, as were other tangible perks for outstanding performance, including time off, event tickets and travel to industry events.
Many respondents included commentary on their firms' recognition programs, and a prevalent view was that there is room for improvement. "Very little recognition," groused one, while another offered, "We are working on changes here based on performance in 2001."

Wanted: better benefits

The survey concluded with two open-ended questions, and almost everyone had something to say about what their companies can do (besides raising salaries) to increase employee satisfaction and to help workers become more efficient.

Better benefits were cited repeatedly. Specific areas included higher employer matching of 401K contributions, improved health benefits, bonuses tied to company profitability and stock options. Additional staffing is a pressing need for many, with the comment, "an assistant and more recognition" reflective of many respondents' sentiments.

A better balance between work and life is a growing concern, whether it involves vacations, flex time or sick days. With the single-income household on the wane, employers are introducing conveniences such as on-site banking, dry-cleaning pickup and moderately priced cafeteria meals that can be taken home for family dinner by time-stressed workers.

Such amenities would be appreciated by respondents clamoring for a shorter workweek. "More time off or less hours. I'm on 24/7," wrote one worker. "Make it so that my department doesn't have to work seven days and all holidays," complained another. One respondent would appreciate a 50-hour workweek instead of his current 65.

Overtime is emerging as a contentious labor issue. Mervyn's department stores and Perdue Farms settled six- to eight-figure lawsuits this year involving O-T for managers and hourly employees. , Mervyn's agreed to pay $11.3 million in overtime to 1,600 salaried employees.

Retailers are more at risk of such litigation, but manufacturers also can become targets, consultant Lon Ding warns. "There is a whole checklist you have to follow, but the first thing to remember is that the law requires overtime for entry level workers and some supervisors," she says. Rule of thumb: first-line supervisors who oversee hourly workers but no supervisors must be paid.

Better staffing was a frequent comment to the employee efficiency question, though training and better communication were the most frequently mentioned needs. A tongue was believed to be in the cheek of the respondent who wrote, "Reduce my salary."

The comments provided a chance to vent on personal issues. The other responses helped profile a well-experienced work force that sees room for improvement but remains satisfied with their decision to make a career in the food industry.

Makin' More Bacon

Table #1

Comparing Pay and Security

Table #2

Comparing Engineers with Other Workers

Table #3

Bridging the Gender Gap

Table #4

Respondent Composite

Table #5

The Bonus Effect on Top Management

Table #6