Salary Survey 2011: Half Full or Half Empty?

In Spite of Relatively Steady Conditions, Respondents to Our 2011 Salary Survey Don't Feel the Love, and They're Grumpy About it

By Nancy Bartels

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Nancy BartelsNancy Bartels is Control's managing editor. You can her at nbartels@putman.net or check out her Google+ profile.

This year is the twenty-first time we've surveyed our readers about their salary, benefits, working conditions and the state of the process automation industry as they see it. In many respects, the responses are remarkably similar from year to year. In spite of economic turbulence, salary numbers, bonuses paid, hours worked and general conditions have remained steady or slightly improved. Even many of the complaints seem the same from year to year.

How Big a Piece of the Pie?

In spite of economic anxiety and some frustration, process automation is still, comparatively speaking, a well-paying gig. Seventy-six percent of our respondents have a gross annual salary of more than $60,000 a year, about the same as last year. A little more than half of those (35%) earn more than $100,000. That's up 8% over last year (Figure 1). This seeming anomaly may be explained by the fact that every year, the age of our respondents goes up, meaning they get higher on the seniority level. This year, 60% of our respondents were over 45. Last year, only 53% were there.

Raises—or lack thereof—are a pain point for many of our respondents. A whopping 83% reported a raise of $4000 or less this year, and 36% said they got less than $1000—if they got a raise at all. That's better than last year, when 88% reported small raises, 54% of them less than $1000. On the other hand, a fortunate few took home raises of anywhere from $11,000 to $25,000 (Figure 2).

If the improving economy is ending up in our responders' paychecks anywhere, it's in a bonus. Sixty-six percent got bonuses in addition to salary (up from 57% last year), ranging from under 2% of their salary (24%) to the lucky 18% who got more than 15% of their salary as an extra check (Figure 3).

The type of benefits offered remains pretty much unchanged (Figure 4). Eighty-nine percent of our respondents say they get medical benefits; last year 90% said they did. Dental insurance is actually up to 73% this year, from 71% last year. Company-provided life insurance coverage remains at 75%, and both disability insurance and pension plans are a little better; the number receiving a pension plan is up to 48% this year compared to last (44%), and those with disability insurance also increased four percentage points from 58% last year to 62% this year.

So What's the Problem?

Things are looking a bit better than last year on the overall compensation front—or at least no worse. So what's the problem? A recurring complaint is that pension and 401K plans aren't providing the kind of long-term security people would like, and that health care is costing individuals more and providing less in return. As of last year, many complain that increasing costs eat up any raises they may have earned. As one of our respondents said, "There seems to be downward pressure on wages, and benefits are costing more and/or decreasing. Despite a 6% raise last year, my medical insurance costs increased 4%, and the coverage was not as good."

There's also the sense that, even as the economy is improving, none of that improvement is showing up in respondents' paychecks. As one respondent says, "Employers seemed to take advantage of the recession to lower their bottom lines. Now that jobs and profits are coming back, the wages and benefits aren't."

The lack of pension plans or 401K co-contributions is a sore point on its own, but it's exacerbated by a general anxiety about any alternative safety net. One of our respondents put it this way: "I don't like loosing my pension contribution from the company. With the government failure in Social Security, I am depending on company retirement and 401K more."

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