Q&A: What Is Seniority in the Workplace?

By Indeed Editorial Team

February 11, 2021

Seniority systems can be valuable tools that make promotion decisions transparent and predictable in the workplace. With a seniority system in place, you can maintain a clear understanding of when it is your turn for a salary increase, promotion or other advancements. The requirements to increase your seniority are often straightforward and objective. In this article, we discuss what seniority is, its benefits to your professional growth and some industries that commonly employ seniority systems.

What is seniority?

Seniority is a privileged rank based on your continuous employment with a company. In a seniority-based system, people who stay at the same company for long periods of time are rewarded for their loyalty. You can distinguish seniority from merit-based advancement because seniority is based only on a person's employment duration without considering other factors, such as accomplishments.

A company may use seniority to make certain decisions and merit-based systems for other decisions. In most cases, companies use seniority along with other qualifying factors. 

Related: Documentation in the Workplace

Types of seniority

Some companies employ seniority for specific situations. Your company may use one or both of the two basic types of seniority:

Competitive seniority

Companies use competitive seniority for hiring or promotion opportunities. These decisions may be competitive in nature because the company must decide between multiple candidates. If your company uses a competitive seniority system, you earn a promotion when you are the candidate with the most seniority.

Benefits seniority

Companies use benefits seniority to distribute perks such as training opportunities, salary increases or benefits increases. Benefits seniority does not depend on your seniority compared to others. If your company has a benefits seniority policy, you may receive increased paid time off, salary and training opportunities as you approach employment milestones, like five or ten years of employment.

Advantages of seniority in the workplace

One of the major benefits of a seniority system is that it prevents hiring and promotion bias. Your employer documents your start date, which ensures a record of your seniority so you receive those benefits on time. As you gain seniority in your workplace, you may also gain the following advantages:

Benefits

You may earn increased paid time off, better health care packages, additional personal days or matching 401(k) contributions as you stay with a company for longer periods of time.

Training and education opportunities

Your company may offer attractive training opportunities to people who have more seniority. These trainings may assist your career advancement because you will be certified to complete tasks that may be necessary to complete projects. 

Leadership opportunities

As a senior employee, your company may offer you leadership opportunities first. When your company requires a team leader or project manager, the company chooses an employee who has the longest consecutive employment history with the organization if it follows a seniority system.

Job security

Some companies follow a predictable pattern when providing seniority-based job security increases. For example, you may begin as an apprentice or entry-level position before gaining enough experience and seniority to rise to the level of project manager.

As your skill set becomes more specialized and valuable to your company, you become increasingly indispensable

Shift preference

As your seniority increases, your company may offer you the first choices for shifts. You may be able to choose when you want to work or when you want to work from home if remote work is an option in your workplace.

Overtime opportunities

If your workplace offers overtime opportunities, you may be eligible for more frequent overtime based on your seniority.

Promotions

Depending on your seniority level, you can earn a promotion sooner than a coworker with less seniority. This benefit rewards your loyalty with professional advancement that can help you further the company's success.

Salary increases

Seniority-based salary increases also mean that you earn a raise sooner than a coworker with less seniority. This benefit rewards your continued loyalty to the company.

Assignment opportunities

Your seniority level may grant you access to sought-after assignments. In some cases, your company may offer you business travel opportunities or opportunities that are more important to the company.

Careers that use seniority systems

Seniority is used in a variety of industries in both the private and public sectors. Here are some careers that commonly use seniority systems:

1. Teacher

National average salary: $46,745 per year

Primary duties: A teacher is responsible for preparing materials for lectures and presentations. Teachers assign, correct and grade work and tests. People who work in the education field often work for organizations that use tenure or seniority systems. Tenure is an achievement for teachers that may award competitive or benefit seniority privileges.

2. Police officer

National average salary: $50,279 per year

Primary duties: Police officers are responsible for identifying and responding to criminal activity. They respond to citizen calls for assistance and maintain a presence in the community that helps to deter crime. Police organizations often use competitive seniority methods for promotion decisions.

3. Plumber

National average salary: $25.07 per hour

Primary duties: Plumbers are responsible for installing new plumbing systems, responding to service calls and performing maintenance in residential and commercial plumbing systems. Skilled-trade professions like plumbing often follow a competitive seniority system for career advancement.

4.  Electrician

National average salary: $25.26 per hour

Primary duties: Electricians are responsible for inspecting and testing electrical system components. They install, maintain, modify and repair electrical systems in commercial and residential settings. Like other skilled trades, an electrician can often gain seniority and advanced training by maintaining continuous employment with a company.

5. Commercial pilot

National average salary: $73,553 per year

Primary duties: Commercial pilots are responsible for flying and navigating planes and other aircraft. Many commercial airlines use competitive seniority systems for pilots to encourage company loyalty.

6. Construction project manager

National average salary: $85,705 per year

Primary duties: Construction project managers are responsible for working with clients to maintain a project's scope and vision. They create project estimates and schedules, collaborate with the architect and construction crew and negotiate with vendors, suppliers and subcontractors. People who work in the construction industry, including project managers, often operate in companies that use seniority systems.

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