Good News? We'll Take It

Factory Orders Drop ... Employment Falls Again ... Manufacturing Shrinks ... Companies Continue Layoffs To Cut Costs. The daily headlines serve as grim reminders that the economy is still struggling out of recession and many people fear for their jobs.

Given the dismal state of affairs, the results of QP's annual salary survey (p. 29 and online for members at www.asqnet.org) present a pleasant surprise. U.S. respondents--at nearly 8,200, a record--saw at least small gains in average salary for every job title. The increases ranged from 1.8% for software quality engineers to 9.8% for quality associates. This contrasts with recent years, when the average salary for some titles decreased.

Other results add to this year's rosy picture. The 2002 survey offered two new choices for job status besides regular employee or self-employed consultant, full-time or part-time: unemployed, retired or laid off in the last six months and unemployed, retired or laid off longer than six months. Only 86 respondents selected the former category and 59 the latter--just 145 out of the total of almost 9,000 respondents (including Canada).

Though the salary survey creates a vast amount of data, there's no magic number or formula for determining why this year's results are generally so positive, especially in relation to the economy. Perhaps some quality professionals who have lost their jobs or seen their salaries remain flat (or, worse, decline) in the past year elected not to respond.

Another possible explanation lies in the criticism we often hear from HR professionals and compensation experts that surveys like QP's are unreliable because individuals, rather than HR departments, report the salaries. The belief is people tend to inflate the numbers to bolster their case when bargaining for a raise or starting a new position.

No doubt that argument has merit, but I'm not sure it plays a big role in the QP salary survey, for these reasons:

  • The declines in average salaries for some categories in past years would seem much less likely if a significant number of respondents were inflating their compensation numbers.

  • The large respondent pool should dilute the effect of those who may choose to give themselves raises (on paper).

  • Quality professionals are typically so precise  and exact--could you actually, intentionally introduce variation into this process?

Whatever the reasons behind the upbeat news--and I'm sure readers can suggest many more valid ones--I think we'll all take it.

Debbie Phillips-Donaldson

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