What Does Seniority Mean at Work? Structures and Advantages

By Indeed Editorial Team

Updated October 23, 2022 | Published July 26, 2021

Updated October 23, 2022

Published July 26, 2021

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Seniority at work has many advantages for an employee, both on the job and in their personal lives. Remaining loyal to a company may increase the perks you receive or affect how you structure your daily responsibilities. Learning the function of seniority structures can help you decide if gaining seniority with your company is worth pursuing. In this article, we explain what a seniority definition at work is, review its benefits and discuss different industries that use this framework.

What does seniority mean at work?

Seniority is the extended continuous service with a company or organization. This means that people who have worked at a company the longest have the highest level of seniority. Those with more history may be able to get a higher rank or status within their company and may enjoy additional privileges.

Employees with seniority often have the first chance to claim or accept benefits, though people at other levels in the organization may earn the same perks through different strategies or means. The regulations surrounding seniority may differ from company to company, but working in the same organization for several years can earn anyone seniority.

Related: Where Do You See Yourself in 5 Years?

Why is seniority important?

Executives often consider seniority when adjusting the company's reporting structure or responsibilities. They may also take into account job performance, adherence to deadlines, and relationships with coworkers. In situations where two employees have nearly identical credentials, seniority may be used as the deciding factor for which employee receives the benefits or advancement.

Related: Functional Organization Structure: Pros and Cons

What are the types of seniority levels?

You may move through three common types of seniority levels during your career with a specific company or industry. These levels include:

Entry-level

Entry-level positions are usually the lowest level of seniority. These jobs are suitable for people who have just graduated from school, are starting a career in a new field or who choose to work part time. Employees at this level focus on learning and gaining experience in their industry and understanding the operations of their new company. Entry-level employees typically report to a supervisor who directly oversees their work and represents a higher management structure. These employees may also receive mentoring from their supervisors. Some entry-level career choices include:

  • Bank teller

  • Customer service specialist

  • Human resources coordinator

  • Junior accountant

  • Management trainee

  • Payroll clerk

  • Recruiting assistant

  • Training specialist

Related: Understanding Entry-Level Jobs

Mid-level

Mid-level employees typically have established experience and have worked for their current company or industry for five or more years. They may serve as supervisors for entry-level employees but also report to a manager or senior-level executive. Within the mid-level, there is a subsection called the mid-senior level. People with this seniority distinction may have authority over other mid-level employees but also still report to another manager. Some mid-level jobs include:

  • Administrative technician

  • Executive assistant

  • Facilities manager

  • Office manager

  • Operations manager

  • Physician assistant

  • Team leader

  • Ultrasound technician

Senior-level

Senior-level employees may also go by the title of executive-level employees or C-level executives. These positions require a high level of experience in the field, usually eight years or more, and a history of repeated exceptional performance. This seniority level has the most responsibility and often works without supervision. Instead, they may work with peers to decide about certain situations or issues within the company. Some senior-level jobs include:

  • Chief executive officer (CEO)

  • Chief financial officer (CFO)

  • Chief information officer (CIO)

  • Chief marketing officer (CMO)

  • Chief operating officer (COO)

  • Executive director

  • Vice president

Related: Work Experience Levels (Definition, Importance and Tips)

Is a seniority system legal?

Seniority systems within an organization are completely legal. Collective agreements with trade unions or within a particular organization may make the rules about these types of hierarchical structures. With seniority systems, employees are discouraged from competing for perks, such as by doing favours for supervisors. They are also meant to prevent unethical behaviour, such as discrimination or unfair promotion of friends and family members to senior positions.

What are the advantages of having seniority at work?

Using a seniority structure in the workplace can have benefits for both employees and companies. Some of the advantages include:

Employee loyalty

Employees who understand the seniority policy of their companies may be more likely to stay with one organization for a longer period of time rather than switch companies. If they understand the seniority and reward structure based on years of service, they may find that they can get more benefits from being patient than continuously job hunting. This can create less turnover within a company, making it easier to set and achieve efficiency and productivity goals.

Job security

Having more seniority in the workplace may lead to better job security. In situations of staff downsizing and layoffs, companies may choose to keep employees with the most seniority to be objective about deciding who gets to keep their positions. Though every organization differs, working for a company for an extended period may result in you maintaining employment through adverse scenarios.

Overtime

In certain professions, employees with the most seniority may have the first option to request or sign up for overtime shifts. Overtime in most occupations usually comes with additional pay scales, making it an enticing option for people who want to make more money.

Related: What Is Overtime Pay? (Plus How It Works)

Paid time off

Employees with high seniority levels may have the opportunity to receive more paid time off. For some companies, more seniority means more paid vacation, sick days and personal days per year. Increases in paid time off commonly come in three- or five-year increments of service.

Predictability

Depending on the seniority structure at your company, you may be able to predict when you will receive benefits for your years of service. For union-represented industries, a governing board sets the pay and vacation day increase schedule for an entire company or union. Knowing when you will receive more perks may make it more enticing to stay with a company to reach certain milestones.

Preferred jobs

Those with more seniority may be able to choose the jobs they do within their company. In industries like plumbing, construction or electrical work, contractors or labourers with the most seniority may have the choice of which job sites to work at or which calls to take. This may be beneficial for both the employee and the company since the best skills get assigned to the most desired jobs with improved performance as a result.

Promotions

Employees with more seniority may have a better likelihood of receiving a promotion than their coworkers. When management members look to promote internally, they may use seniority as a prerequisite for choosing candidates.

Salary or wages

Employees with more seniority may earn more than entry-level employees. Some companies may give guaranteed wage increases after reaching seniority milestones. Other organizations may offer the possibility of salary increases after a certain period.

Shift choice

For employees that work shift jobs, those with the most seniority may have the first opportunity to set their schedules. Positions like head nurses or construction forepersons may choose shifts before others or have more flexibility to change shifts if necessary. This may mean that more senior employees have a better work-life balance.

Training opportunities

Employees with more seniority may have more options to attend special training sessions than other members of the organization. They also may have the chance to take part in continuing education or training programs funded by the company. This may help employees with seniority prepare to advance their careers even further.

Work hours

Similar to setting their own shifts, employees with seniority that earn an hourly wage may be able to set their own hours before their coworkers. Choosing their own hours may allow senior employees to pick work times that better coordinate with their personal schedules.

Related: Full-Time Hours: Definition and Benefits

Additional perks

Some companies with seniority policies may offer other types of incentives as employees progress through their time with the company. Options such as office or cubicle location, preferred parking stall, choice of technology or discounts for certain services may be offered to more senior staff, helping make employees' lives easier.

What are some industries that use seniority structures?

Seniority structures are more popular in the private sector, skilled trades and union-represented organizations. For union jobs, seniority at work may dictate many of the daily aspects of your job. This is because your union contract agreement sets the terms of employment for those who meet a seniority definition at work. Some industries that use seniority structures include:

  • Aviation

  • Construction

  • Education

  • Electrical

  • Law enforcement

  • Plumbing


Related articles

What Is a Union? (How They Work and Benefits They Provide)

Explore more articles