2014 Salary Survey Yields A Mixed Bag

Annual survey shows salaries are up but job satisfaction remains unchanged

By Amanda Joshi, Managing Editor

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Despite any anxiety over job security, staffing levels show improvement. While almost half of respondents (45%) say staffing levels haven't changed in 12 months (up just 1% from 2013), nearly 30% note staffing levels are somewhat larger — a 2% rise over last year's results. Downsizing also decreased — only 21% report smaller staffing levels compared to nearly 24% in 2013.
Similar to last year's results, most respondents say they're happy with their job. Just under half (49%) report they're either extremely satisfied or happy in their role. Nearly as many, 41%, just call themselves content. Only 10% report being unsatisfied with their work (Figure 4).

"Compensation and benefits have been handed out using an eyedropper over the last three years. Add to this the downsizing that has reduced this site from 1,300 employees to about 500 in that same time and it is hard to be happy," lamented one survey taker.

What do readers like most about what they do? Just as in previous years, the challenge and stimulation of the job topped the charts (71%) (Figure 5).

"I accepted my current position, not for the compensation, but for the challenges and non-financial rewards," says one participant.

"If you want to be challenged and have different work every day of the week this is the industry for you," counsels another.

Rounding out the list of what they like best about their job: 54% said salary and benefits, and 48% enjoy working with their colleagues. The work environment (39%) and making products that help people (33%) also contributed to a positive perspective.

"It is a rewarding career because you get to see your projects/improvements from start to finish. It is a sense of accomplishment when your project has been commissioned, is operational and is a success," one survey taker comments.

"The pay and benefits are excellent; the work life balance is terrible."

Respondents still grumble about the long hours and lack of recognition; 39% note they'd prefer to be better recognized for their work (Figure 6). Nearly 81% work more than 40 hours a week (Figure 7), with 89% saying it's to get work done. Despite the lack of recognition, 19% say they put in the extra hours to advance their career.

When asked what advice they'd give someone looking to join the chemical engineering field, respondents most warned about the long hours.

"Chemical engineering is a satisfying career but not one that is well recognized nor properly rewarded," laments one.

"Make sure you know what you want to do with your career and be willing to put in the time and effort because you will work more than 40 hours per week if you want to advance," advises another.

"Prepare occasionally to sacrifice your work life balance during plant turnaround, equipment breakdown and project commissioning," warns a third.

27% of respondents also list the work environment as unsatisfactory. Salary and benefits, number three on the list last year, dropped to near the bottom of job dissatisfaction complaints, with only 24% listing it among their dislikes.

A greater number of older respondents chimed in this year, with the average age jumping from 48 in past surveys to 51. In fact, 62% are 50 and older — up from 53% last year. Exactly one quarter of all respondents are at, or nearing, retirement age. In contrast, only 4% are under 30.

Age impacts their job situation, griped some, noting their salaries were capped, and their years on the job restricted their ability to find work elsewhere. Here's what a few had to say:

"I have hit the ceiling for promotions and therefore my salary growth is very limited also. The only reason I am staying with the company is medical benefits and defined pension payments for retirement. The workload is becoming overwhelming and the expectations of corporate people who sit at a desk all day are unrealistic."