Enterprise Software

Does seniority equal entitlement?


I was speaking with a colleague the other day about a recent reorganization we were aware of at another company that essentially replaced the head of a department with that person's subordinate. My colleague noted that was a shame because the person demoted (he wasn't let go) had seniority over the person who assumed his duties.

My reaction was "What does seniority have to do with the ability to manage effectively and drive a unit to success?" Seniority is one of those areas in work life that I am really torn on. I believe that hard work, commitment, and loyalty should be rewarded but longevity in a position is not necessarily proof of that. Because of poor management practices, there are times when a person with less than stellar performance remains around for a long time because she's trouble and rather than deal with her, management passes her around. Over time this employee not only remains with the organization but often climbs the ladder as well!

I'm not implying that this was the case with the employee my colleague and I were speaking of, just that when you begin to talk about seniority, the waters can get muddy really fast.

There's no doubt that an employee's longevity in an organization can be beneficial. However, does being around a long time mean that one should be automatically promoted should the opportunity arise?

My answer is no. While I think it should play a factor in the decision making, I don't believe it should be weighted so heavily as to make the outcome inevitable. I stand by the argument that the most qualified person for the position should be in the position - period. This is, of course, ignoring office politics (which is the elephant in the room that I am conveniently ignoring right now).

Those readers who are unionized are probably reading the above and having a conniption fit right about now. Organized labor is often heavily slanted towards seniority and one must "pay his dues" (no pun intended) before getting a shot at a promotion. Perhaps even more importantly, they place a great deal of emphasis on seniority when it comes to reductions in force, with a first-in, last-out type of mentality thta can result in less senior employees "bumped" out of their positions.

While I understand the safeguards this provides (it curtails management from cutting higher-wage employees and replacing them with lower-paid less senior employees), there's an underlying unfairness in it all. Being someplace for a long time should not equate to entitlement at any level of the organization.

Having said all of the above, in a perfect world, the most qualified person for a position would fill a position when it becomes available. However we don't live in that perfect world nor is determining who is best qualified anything close to an exact science. In fact, it's closer to an art than a science.

Now, let's talk about that elephant in the room. Politics can and does encompass everything from personal likes and dislikes, organizational power, organizational and personal values and beliefs, contracts, policy and procedures, just to name a few. These factors add to the complexity of the promotion/retention process. Seniority can and often does fall into the area of organizational and personal beliefs or explicit rules based on a contract.

If the rules are explicit regarding seniority, the process is simplified. But I'll argue that the results are not optimal for the organization.

If the rules are not explicit, then the results vary and can lead to optimal hires for an organization or not, depending on the culture of the organization and the tendency for management to view seniority as an entitlement.

We're all familiar with the Peter Principle, that people rise to their level of incompetence, is strongly rooted in promotion by seniority. Being around for a long time doesn't necessarily equal being best qualified for a position. I will reiterate that there is some value in longevity, but it should not be over emphasized.

It's a problem when employees who haven't been "around long enough" are not even considered for a higher position." That practice can be detrimental for the organization and demoralizing for staff. People don't want to see someone get promoted who is less qualified than they are, no matter how long they've been with the organization.

Obviously this is not clear cut issue, but in the realm of management and leadership, longevity may or may not make you wise and it should not be a guarantee for promotion. Agree or disagree? Have you been passed over for promotion because someone more senior got the position and you felt better qualified? Let me know what you think.

54 comments
adelia333
adelia333

I've been at a job now for 5 months. He hired me because he needed someone to work shifts that others couldn't and I had the experience. Now another girl who has put her other job first has quit her other job and he gave her my hours. She was only working one day a week before that. I had to train her to take over all my duties which she saposedly knew how to do already. I've been doing this for 4 years im just newer at this location. There are simple tasks she should be able to complete that I have had to show her. He says shes been here longer and is more qualified in other fireld I am new to yet these are things I am teaching her. I think its just because one day he yelled at me and he was clearly drunk and I told him I knew he was drunk and if he did it again I'd sue. Im not a trouble employee I just happened to be the first person he saw after his son and him were arguing. It's no secret he's a drunk he does this to many other employees I'm just the one who wont take it.

onenrone
onenrone

The usual winer rag from someone who thinks their worth is far more than the reality of their work place. So not only does the world owe you a living (I'm reminded of the Goofy character in Walts cartoon's) but also you shoot to the top of the senority list because...? If you would embrace longevity/experience/background and knowledge don't you think your world would work better?

SObaldrick
SObaldrick

These are two words I avoid in the workplace. I do not work for my manager, I work for my company, so does my manager. If we exchange jobs it is because it has been decided that my manager is better at my job than I am or that I am better at my managers job than she is or even both. All that matters is job satisfaction and pay. People who spend their working lives trying to climb a corporate ladder in order to obtain some sort of power trip are people I want nothing to do with. Les.

trambo
trambo

This is some of the most cogent writing on this topic I have read for awhile. I would say you have made your argument Mr. Man. The old homily goes: "The cream always rises to the top." In the best organizations this is true. If you're not rising to the top you need to stop deluding yourself...or vote with your feet. The market does still work...in a very convoluted way. It gives me hope when I see a well written piece like this with a beginning, a middle and an end. This is an example of someone who can analyze, have an opinion and support that opinion. I'm an old timer (47) in this business. I started working in a main frame environment at the age of 22. I had to adapt to survive. I had to make a career move every five to ten years throughout my career. NO ONE can manage your career, except you. Can you imagine if IT workers formed a union? I don't want to envision a world where IT is dominated by "seniors" and the young guns are held back. Please consider a man's track record, everyone has and needs one. Time invested should be rewarded. Okay, now that I've argued both sides: Go get em', tiger!!!

long2
long2

"People do not want to see someone get promoted who is less qualified than they are, no matter how long they have been with the organization" - This is one of the ironies of corporate life. Yes people do not want to see a less qualified employee being promoted due to seniority but if they are the ones being bypassed by a less tenured candidate who is better than him- then the feeling would be different. And when these two candidates have sets of supporters, then there you go- the making of another elephant. Its like the ironies of a policeman and traffic violator. We seemed to despise people who bribe policemen during traffic violation apprehensions when we see/suspect one but when we are the violator, its the most convenient thing for us- to negotiate our way out...in short on most, if not all traffic incidents- we hate the offender unless we are the one doing it.

C_Hyskell
C_Hyskell

In my opinion, as one who has been in my organization for close to 30 years and in management for the last 8, seniority should never translate to entitlement. Unfortunately, senior people seem to develop this entitlement attitude and approach. I've seen senior people voice complaints about the order that vacations or shifts are picked, when it changed from favoring the most senior people to a fairer method. Some of our most problematic people are our most senior people. It seems to stem from their feeling that they are more important or valuable because they have "hung around" the longest. Seniority should be one method of evaluating an employee, but certainly not the most important tool.

joseph.r.piazza
joseph.r.piazza

I believed it should for the following reasons: (1) Perks or entitlements were also considered one of the reasons for someone to obtain senority; (2) Continunity is important for insuring that works is done its normal rate (3) it shows loyalty which is still a desirable trait in an employee and in a company. And if it does not have any sense of entitlement..then have arachy.......change jobs every year...there is NO point in stability.

Dr_Zinj
Dr_Zinj

The big question to ask is, why was the person demoted? Was the person demoted for cause? (Might not have been a career killer, but not suited for the position) Did the person request removal from the position? (Health, family, fit, or other reasons) Does the company have, or is implementing, a rotating leadership concept, or does it have a specific period of tenure in any position? (I'm a Boy Scout leader and just because a boy leaves the position of Senior Patrol Leader of a troop doesn't mean we kick him out! We deliberately rotate the position every 6 months and a boy can be reselected/reelected for a second term. Some shine and stay for 2 terms, some are mediocre, and occasionally some suck and are replaced at the earliest opportunity, but they all get their chance to run the troop the way they see fit.)

been there, done that now going downhill fast
been there, done that now going downhill fast

Welcome to the peter principal. Middle management in most medium to large organisations is populated largely by people who have been promoted above their level of competence. Sadly organisations don't often have what it takes to undo a bad decision. This usually puts these individuals in a position to influence where the axe falls in the event that reorganisation is needed. Hence a in worst case a whole & vital level within the org that survives primarily to preserve their existence rather than benefit the orgs best interests.

addicted2speed
addicted2speed

Ahh Yes... the ever evolving Black Art of management and leadership... There was a simpler time when seniority automatically equated to respect and skill... what happened to that place? In the modern workplace, these topics continue to be related but are no longer the direct correlation that they used to represent. Because technology and business changes so quickly, "time in the game" (seniority) does not necessarily mean you understand what's going-on anymore (skills). That leads me to "respect". In my opinion, promotion by RESPECT seems to work better than promotion by seniority or skill. Management is really a measure of how well someone can motivate and lead a group of disparate people towards a common purpose. Depending on the group, a younger guy may do a better job, or may not. If you have a group of 20-something coders, they may not be willing to follow a 60-something with plenty of seniority but with whom they have trouble identify-with or follow because they feel his ideas are antiquated or that he is an "old fart"... or maybe too much like a parent. What would happen if there was a clear leader in that group of 20-somethings? He/She is the best programmer in the group, and consistently coordinates his teammates so they all produce cohesive work. This person is already leading the group from the inside. Would you promote this person to be an official team lead? What if there was a 40-something in this group who's been with the company for ages? Would you promote this 40-something even if you knew he lacked leadership skills? What would happen with the 20-something who clearly leads from the inside? Will the 30-something have the leadership charisma/skills to lead other leaders? The essence becomes whether the group will respect that manager. If you bring in a person with seniority but no leadership skills and cannot garner the respect of his/her team, then they will fail as a manager. This may sound a bit utopian, but the group itself provides great insight into who will be a strong manager. I am not advocating promotion by democracy by any means... that could lead to chaos - what I am suggesting is that if you plan to promote from within the group, there may already be a strong leader in the group who maybe hasn't been there that long. Bringing in someone from the outside to manage an existing group adds another detriment, because the respect does not exist - the group knows nothing about the capabilities of that person. What else can they use to judge the person's potential leadership skills other than his age/looks/persona? Resume? Those can be works of fiction. Maybe he/she looks good on paper but not so much in practice. Once that initial impression has been made that belief will be hard to change. The lines are not so clearly defined anymore. Black Art...

delaaguilerae
delaaguilerae

First I work for Miami-Dade County and yes we do have a Union,AFSCME Local 199, Mr.Padilla, but our definition of Seniority does not apply to Upper Management. Your example describes the case of a "Department Head". Lets not mix apples with bananas. Heads of departments in Dade County can be demoted or dismissed at will by the County Manager or the Mayor who directs the Manager. Those positions are considered to be Job basis and Exempt. Seniority by our Collective Bargaining Agreement covers layoffs, locations vacations and shift assigments. The IT classifications covered by or Contract are mostly Technical in nature and a few programers.

mgordon
mgordon

"There???s no doubt that an employee???s longevity in an organization can be beneficial..." How is that benefit recognized and obtained? Does the fresh-out-of-college guy on the job for two weeks suddenly become the manager? Yes indeed, and the outcome is somewhat predictable. The less experienced manager might even have good character, but how can he manage skills he doesn't even know exists? This type of talk sounds a lot like the young buck that wants to kick aside the old bulls; good for the young buck, not so good for the herd 'cause the young buck doesn't know where the water and wolves are located. Most problems repeat. The person that has already seen most problems is equipped to very quickly solve them when they repeat. A balance can be achieved somewhat by changing the "culture" of a company so that "promotion" is not such a big deal; jobs are *different*, not stacked in a hierarchy. If you have a CCIE (Cisco Certified Internetworking Expert), should he or she be a manager? Probably not, but whoever IS the manager of that person had better dang well be skilled at diplomacy and management, not the more common "do as I say, not as I do" style of management. A good technical manager "manages" the product of the department; in the case of I.T. this is often information resources, helpdesk and so on. The manager needs to know *enough* of *every* technology to make prioritization decisions, the manager must be a diplomat and excellent communicator. It is NOT a promotion, or at least it should not be. Management is a job that conceivably pays less than your technical experts. People must be trained to programming, network engineering and web design; why does anyone suppose a person can be "promoted" without training to management?

wrlang
wrlang

The best person for the job is a very nebulous thought with no basis in reality. Who is the best person for a job? You'll get all kinds of meaningless buzz phrases as an answer. The best and the brightest. The go getters. High energy individuals. And my personal favorite - people who can excel in a highly dynamic environment ??? translation: people who live to be overworked, underpaid, with no backup staff to take over for vacations. In many a unionized shop the best person for the job is the most senior person. This concept carried over from our original manual labor agrarian and infant industrial society where longevity gave you dexterity and strength and intimate knowledge about a relatively simply process. In most cases, longevity is a good thing unless your business model includes keeping costs down by terminating the older more expensive human beings so they wind up on welfare as someone else's problem. The definition of the best person for the job used to be called a job description, but that has morphed into a meaningless document that only gets used to tempt people to hire on. After that, the job description and requirements are quickly buried in a shallow grave. Every business should define what makes a person the best person for a job and stick to it. It is that simple. The title of the post would be better as ??? How much should seniority be valued?

wmlundine
wmlundine

Clear out the deadwood. Seriously, I think all bosses should be promoted to the point where they are harmless.

DaPearls
DaPearls

What good is having someone with all that knowledge if they are not contributing?! I had someone who felt they deserved a promotion over another peer simply by the fact that they had been in the company for x number of years. Never mind the fact that they were not completing their projects or being a productive team member. Senority does not equal promotion/raise. You cannot document # of years on an end of year evaluation and no manager is going to write "I feel that deserves a bonus because of their years of service." That is what the 10,15,20,25 year watches are for, not promotions.

jclements
jclements

Welp let me comment from the position of the good and bad of it as i see it.. While longevity does in many cases, allow for streamlining some processes, it is still based on prejudices of the organization to maintain that "seniority prevails at any cost" The comments that were raised about the quality of knowledge that a seasoned person could bring to the position is wonderful and should be a quality well considered in the replacement process. But the more qualified less tenured person can create growth and take the organization in a whole new vein of growth and exposure.. You can look at companies such as Google that thrive on new ideas, and new concepts and see how they flourish. or you can look at the evil of all evils.. Government organizations (state government especially) that chokes out newer and more beneficial processes and continues to starve out and actually deter motivational and new ideas by the overhanging gloom of "old school" Processes... I worked for a state agency that did exactly that.. brought in inventive personnel that worked with and complimented the work place and was still shot down by tradition and "Seniority's Crippling processes" within 5 years the entire staff was flushed out due to that seniority process and each of that staff is on to bigger and better (and great things) while the "seniority" process continues to squander away tax dollars and unfortunately is a place that many stay for 20 - 35 years and serves no benefit to the employee or the employer.... Just my 2 cents worth..

Canuckster
Canuckster

I see one response where the writer says he is so worthless to the organization that junior members pass him by. He must be part of the deadweight that is grandfathered into the organization. Ok maybe that wasn't deserved but his only defense is that he does contribute to the company and he can prove it. How? With his work record. Can someone younger do a better job in a newly available position? The only thing that can be said is a qualified "maybe" because the new guy has less of a record to go by. Maybe he is a genious programmer and maybe he's the next deadweight. But with the more senior employee you know what you are getting and maybe its time to reward them instead of finding excuses to deny them. The person who said that deadweight hanging on is the fault of management is bang on. Find them constructive work or find out why they hang on. I ask the question again, what are your career plans for after 30? A dead end job working for a company that prefers young guns to established expertise or being the next boss? I'd like to think that promotion is earned and not arbitrarily awarded.

Chaz Chance#
Chaz Chance#

People who have been with the company longer, tend to know more about how the company works, where it comes from, and where its going. It's not about age, it's about experience and empirical knowledge. You can't buy that, no matter how much salary you are willing to pay. I have seen recent promotes loose customers, disorganize production, and make the staff who know how to make the product redundant, all because they don't understand the company culture the way longer serving staff do. I have seen low margin jobs turned down, resulting in the same customer taking their million pound order elsewhere, because inexperienced promotes don't understand that that is how the business works. Longer serving staff usually have a network of contacts within the company, that allow them to get jobs done that would fail if left to following procedure. Time and again, when a job is facing failure, or missing its deadline, I have seen an experienced manager make a phone call, or go for a cup of tea with an old friend, and almost miraculously the job will get back on track, with parts getting done without any resources having been officially assigned to them. People who hop from job to job don't understand this, and that makes them blind to the value of long serving staff. I recognise the value of new blood being able to see things that others have gotten so used, to that they no long see. To be successful an organisation has to find the right balance.

TonytheTiger
TonytheTiger

all (and I mean ALL) other things are equal.

reggbin99
reggbin99

In your article you have mentioned that longevity has some value. What is the value? If you think the person who served in the organization for a longer period since he is passinative to that role or he has been there for his personal gains? If the employee has a passion to his work then being longevity.........He should be promoted to the highest post in the organization? At time he will be your reference and the most loyal person. So, I cannot fully agree to your logic. Regards..............Reggie Mathew

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

When I were a yound lad, watching some complete eejit make a mess of a job I could do, but he'd been screwing up longer used to drive me wild. So now of course in order to avoid being a complete hypocrite,if some young gun out shoots me I take it on the chin. Most seniority moves are management based not tech based anyway. Experience gives you a lot of things, ability isn't one of them though. In the job twenty years, I'm 44

jideomoba
jideomoba

Really I quite agree with you but certain factors like godfatherism and politcs will not always allow this except in an organisation where brilliance and hardwork is appreciated. the saying that Methusellah lived longer than Solomon doesn't make him wiser or richer than Solomon. Age or longevity in a place is not a yardstick for promotion or robust entitlement but performance, merit, hardwork and all the vitures one is expected to exhibit on a job.

Canuckster
Canuckster

When assessing candidates for a position within any organization, creating a standard shortlist of those qualified, from the list of potential/interested candidates, is usually the first step. So then "qualifications to do the job" are taken care of. So what constitutes the best candidate from that short list? The ones who have been around and have a history that you can judge and those that have not yet shown whether they can tie their shoes without their mother's help. Of course if there is someone you want to have an office affair with, or maybe with their spouse, then you have a reason for not choosing someone else who has already contributed to the success of the company. Maybe you feel uncomfortable having a report who knows more about what's happening on the "shop floor" than you, in which case you have a good reason to promote someone who you hope will remain as naive as you. On the other hand, there are candidates who are "qualified to the do the job" who will be discriminated against solely because of their age. After all this is IT, new, cutting edge technology that requires fresh young minds to manage. So what are your career plans after you turn 30?

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