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2012 Salary Survey: Salaries Move Ahead -- Slowly

April 3, 2012
Annual salary survey indicates respondents are content with current pace.

Salaries, bonuses and raises are on the rise, but the average pay raise percentage fell slightly, according to the results of Chemical Processing's 2012 Salary and Job Satisfaction Survey. Much else remains the same compared to last year's poll.

The number of chemical processing professionals that received a salary increase within the past 12 months rose to 58% (907) — a 2% rise from 2011 results. (Figure 1).

But unlike last year, when many respondents griped that the pay raise then wasn't enough to make up for past pay cuts or wage freezes, most readers appear content with their current pay and benefits.

"I feel I am fairly compensated for the work I do. I also am happy with the benefits provided by my company given my salary," says one survey participant.

2012 Salary Survey Charts

"I make a good salary, but you always hear about someone else making more money or a better benefits package at other companies. But that is what makes a free market wonderful. It gives you options," notes another.

"I feel I am under-compensated, at least partly due to the dearth of engineering jobs in this area. Benefits are substandard (6 holidays a year, no matching 401k contributions unless they feel like it, which is rare), but better than nothing, I guess," declares another respondent.

Since 2010, when Chemical Processing first reported a drop in wages, salaries have been slowly on the rise. The average salary of full-time respondents edged up from $101,553 in 2011 to $103,340 for 2012. (Responses from those appearing to be unemployed, retired or working part-time were excluded from the salary calculation.) Despite the steady climb, numbers still haven't reached the level seen in 2009, when the average salary stood at $107,804.

While salaries rose, the average pay raise shifted downward from 4.34% last year to 4.15%. This reflects fewer pay raises of 10% or higher. Last year, 7.44% of respondents received pay increases exceeding 10%. In 2011, that number fell to 6.3%. Most salary adjustments fall between 2.5% and 5%, according to 47% (735) of participants.

"The difference in merit raises of poor performers and outstanding performers is only one percent. If you 'walk on water' you receive 3%. If you are marginal you receive 2%," comments one reader.

Despite the lower pay raise average, the average bonus increased to $6,310 compared to $6,102 in 2011.

Echoing last year's responses, most readers (59%) believe they're adequately compensated, and those that aren't happy with their current salaries believe that will only change when they find another job, versus receiving a promotion.

"In the past four years, our company has given raises once, our 401K matching was cut 40%, other retirement benefits have been eliminated, and the annual employee cost for healthcare has risen approximately $3,000. As the economy starts to improve, I expect to see colleagues looking around for other employment opportunities if our company does not restore at least some of its compensation cuts," warns one participant.

"I'm in a large company under cost controls. Compensation is set to be as low as possible without actually losing people to the competition. The only way to significantly increase it is to change companies, which I have not done. It's like the proverbial frog in water heating on the stove," cautions another.

On balance, staffing levels have gone up compared to 12 months ago. Almost 29% of respondents say levels have increased somewhat and nearly 5% note significant increases, versus 16% who cite somewhat smaller levels and almost 5% who report significant reductions. Nearly half, 46% (711), say staff levels haven't changed in the last 12 months. Perhaps reflecting an uptick, only 1.3% of respondents say they are unemployed, while 2.4% work part-time.

Only 8% (124) of respondents employed full time work as contractors compared to the 92% (1419) that work directly for an employer. Most contract positions (43%) have no fixed term. Nearly 30% indicate their work would last over one year and 21% said their contracts ran between six months and a year.

Job security concerns remain evenly split (Figure 2). In fact, one reader noted the "The biggest problem is the low job security, which in contract R&D is subject to government funding and its ups and downs," while another argued that the industry is "demanding with little recognition, but job security is above average."

Nearly 49% feel there's only a very slight chance they'd be laid off or fired within the next two years, and about 27% believe there's a moderate chance their job is in jeopardy (Figure 3). These results echo past surveys.

As in previous years, the top frustration for most respondents (40% or 577) is the lack of recognition (Figure 4).

"It's a lot of work, [but] not much recognition for the hours spent on the job. Besides doing the job, you also have to be a mentor and trainer, plus peacemaker at times," says one survey participant.

The work environment nabbed the #2 spot, with 27% (389) of readers conveying their dissatisfaction.

"Be aware of the culture of the industry. The chemical industry is very conservative and traditional. It's not like Google, Intel, et al. that receive much press about the work environment," griped one reader.

Another warned, "Be prepared for long working hours and a tough working environment."

The hours and workload, as well as salary and benefits also topped the list of complaints, noted by 26% (374), and 25% (356) of respondents, respectively.

"Compensation and benefits are good and would be even better if the hours, workload and stress involved were a bit less," notes one participant.

"As for benefits, my employer pays a lot of lip service to work-life balance, but the reality is more representative of the 70's or 80's. Over 50% of what I do can be done remotely, but my boss won't allow me to work unless I'm physically at the plant. We all have laptops and Cisco VPN, but telecommuting is expressly prohibited. As a single mom with a toddler, telecommuting is essential, so of course I do it anyway (as does everyone else, including my boss) but it doesn't count toward my 40 hr/week. VERY FRUSTRATING," complains one reader.

"I would like more time off. Working 50 hours a week and only taking two weeks vacation does not allow me to be with my family enough," laments another respondent.

Long work hours are typical, as nearly 60% (921) of readers say they average 41-50 hours a week, and 18% (283) clock 51-60 hours.

Despite long work hours and other frustrations, the majority of respondents — 41% (645) call themselves satisfied and nearly 12% (186) are extremely satisfied (Figure 5) with their jobs. About 36% (556) rate their job satisfaction as just "okay." Only 9% (134) report a low level of job satisfaction and 2% (35) said they're not at all content.

As in the previous year, the challenge and stimulation of the work lead to a high degree of satisfaction, according to 71% (1,103) of respondents (Figure 6). Salary and benefits follows at 57% (891). Other factors readers say contribute to a highly satisfying job include: colleagues, 45% (692); the work environment, 37% (579); and making products that help people, 32% (498).

"If you're working just for salary and not job satisfaction, suggest moving on, even at lower salary. I view job satisfaction above all else, as you're spending 40+ hours a week at your job, and doing something you enjoy will only make you want to succeed more," comments a reader.

Another respondent also recognized the long work hours, but says "the rewards are great."

"The benefits are above average and are okay. I am paid hourly which works better for me than salary. But I would feel better if I was making about 15% more, based on my experience and contributions. However, this does not impact my appreciation of this position and my enjoyment of it," says another.

Many companies have been working to preserve their knowledge base as more engineers retire (see, "Retirement: Companies Keep Know-how in Place"). It's a good thing too, as the number of seasoned workers continues to rise versus younger chemical engineers entering the work force. Survey results show seniority is prevalent across the board — a combined 60% of respondents have worked in the field 21 years or more, 53% of those surveyed are more than 50 years old, and the largest number of respondents (345) noted salaries of $125,000+, indicating senior-level positions and years of experience.

Another noticeable trend is the slight shift in the number of female engineers. Nearly 12% of the chemical engineering professionals we surveyed are female — up 3% from 2011. This rise can also be seen in other areas of the chemical processing field (see, "Who's the Odd Man Out?")

Like previous years, respondents remain split on the public's negative opinion of the industry (Figure 7). Nearly 38% are somewhat concerned about public opinion but another 38% remain unconcerned. Only 12% (188) are very concerned about public opinion and 11% (172) say they aren't at all concerned.

"The best that industry can do is effectively communicate the facts and educate citizens, and hope that perceptions may change. Really, there would need to be a public cultural change to greatly improve perceptions. I have been working for many months in Germany. Here, there is a greater respect of and appreciation for science and engineering within the general public than there is in the U.S. The difference? The culture here (a long, distinguished history of science/engineering in which people take pride) and less bias in the media," believes one respondent.

How the Data Were Gathered
A total of 1,564 respondents participated in this year's survey.

From January through March, respondents accessed the survey questionnaire via a link listed on the Web site, in e-newsletters and in e-mail blasts sent to readers. Additionally, those who follow Chemical Processing on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn also were encouraged to participate.

Congratulations to our iPod Touch Winner!
Mausa Simpson, process engineer at O'Neal Inc, Greenville, SC, was randomly selected as the winner of an 8-GB iPod Touch offered by Chemical Processing as an incentive for participating in the survey.

We appreciate the answers and comments we received from all of this year's survey participants.

About the Author

Amanda Joshi | Managing Editor

Amanda Joshi has more than 18 years of experience in business-to-business publishing for both print and digital content. Before joining Chemical Processing, she worked with and Electrical Contracting Products. She’s a versatile, award-winning editor with experience in writing and editing technical content, executing marketing strategy, developing new products, attending industry events and developing customer relationships. 

Amanda graduated from Northern Illinois University in 2001 with a B.A. in English and has been an English teacher. She lives in the Chicago suburbs with her husband and daughter, and their mini Aussiedoodle, Riley. In her rare spare time, she enjoys reading, tackling DIY projects, and horseback riding.

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