What are seniority levels in the workplace? (Plus benefits)

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published 21 November 2022

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.

Most successful organisations include an internal hierarchy, with experienced, qualified and highly skilled individuals occupying the most senior roles. This structure ensures that individuals may establish experience before advancing to more responsible and better-paid jobs. It also creates a clear chain of command, making it easier for internal stakeholders to communicate with one another. In this article, we define the concept of seniority levels in the workplace, list two types of seniority systems, detail the advantages of work hierarchies and list six professions that use these structures.

What are seniority levels in the workplace?

Seniority levels in the workplace are internal hierarchies that reward longstanding colleagues for their loyalty, experience and hard work. By creating such hierarchies, organisations acknowledge loyal individuals' support over an extended period, regardless of their professional responsibilities. Organisations could recognise loyal colleagues' seniority by providing benefits packages not awarded to recent recruits, such as further time off or financial bonuses. Loyal individuals may also have an outsized influence on decision-making relative to their colleagues, with recent recruits seeking their advice before making major business decisions.

Types of seniority-based workplace hierarchies

This section below lists two types of seniority-based workplace hierarchies:

Benefits-based seniority

Benefits-based seniority involves providing further perks to long-serving colleagues, such as salary increases, shop discounts or Christmas bonuses. Organisations often activate seniority benefits when you meet certain employment milestones, such as working for them for at least five years. These benefits can also reflect your current rank and responsibilities at work, though they usually don't account for your actual performance. For example, if you've managed a regional office for several years, senior managers can increase your salary as a reward for rejecting other job opportunities. Employers could also improve benefits packages as you secure further career progression.

Related: Reward systems that help motivate and retain employees

Competitive seniority

Competitive seniority involves promoting the most senior candidate to a more responsible position within their organisation. Firms may use this strategy if they want to replace a departing or retiring colleague with minimal disruption. In this scenario, organisations reward loyal colleagues by prioritising them for future career advancement rather than creating an open recruitment process. As professionals build up experience at their organisation, they can transition into more responsible jobs, with the cycle continuing over time. This recruitment model ensures business continuity and reassures colleagues that managers might reward their efforts.

Related: What is a job promotion? (Plus types and how to get one)

Benefits of workplace hierarchies

Four benefits of seniority-based workplace hierarchies include:

Reduce staff turnover

One benefit of workplace hierarchies is that they might reduce staff turnover, cutting organisations' spending on recruitment campaigns. If colleagues feel they could realistically achieve professional development at their current organisation, they're more likely to remain in post for many years. You might also limit turnover by using benefits-based seniority systems to cut the risk that rival firms headhunt experienced colleagues by offering more lucrative wages. By cutting turnover, your organisation can avoid lasting staff shortages, letting it focus on improving its commercial offerings to attract new customers.

Related: What is staff turnover? (And what it means for you)

Spread technical knowledge

Another advantage of seniority-based workplace hierarchies is that they make it easier for you to spread and retain technical knowledge within an organisation. If you delegate leadership responsibilities to experienced colleagues who understand the firm's organisational culture, they may teach new recruits about its key goals, values and internal processes. This might increase new recruits' engagement with their work responsibilities as your organisation makes them feel valued by investing in their professional development. They could also build stronger relationships with colleagues, enabling further idea-sharing in the future.

Related: Knowledge vs skills vs abilities: what's the difference?

Increase job satisfaction

Seniority-based workplace hierarchies can also boost job satisfaction by reassuring individuals that they may receive compensation for their hard work. As benefits-based seniority rewards loyalty, you might expect to earn pay rises or additional benefits as you accrue experience. Employers may also tailor these benefits to suit your personal circumstances, further proving the value of hard work. As these systems require continuity to work properly, you can also expect to achieve good job security, which may further boost job satisfaction.

Related: What is job satisfaction? (Plus tips on how to increase it)

Encourage high productivity

Although seniority-based workplace hierarchies don't directly account for performance, they may encourage high productivity by providing certainty. As considerate colleagues may expect to achieve professional growth in due course, they're more likely to feel content with their work-life balance, cutting their anxiety levels. They could then approach work tasks with a positive mindset, enabling them to work more efficiently as they stop worrying about making costly mistakes.

Examples of hierarchical careers

This section lists six examples of careers that include hierarchies based on seniority, along with their national average salary data:

1. Primary school teacher

National average salary: £26,367 per year

Primary duties: Primary school teachers create and lead lessons for young school children. They often teach various subjects, though they may specialise in certain topics, such as mathematics or PE. They might also assign and mark homework or in-class tests. As most teachers work in the public sector, they can spend their entire careers working for a single organisation or school. Even if they find employment at a new school, they retain the knowledge of syllabuses or safe-guarding rules enforced by the government. After accruing multiple years of experience, they could use their seniority to secure work as a headteacher.

Related: How to become a primary school teacher in 6 steps

2. Detective

National average salary: £29,280 per year

Primary duties: Detectives lead police investigations into more severe crimes, such as drug trafficking, fraud or suspicious deaths. They may use witness statements or DNA evidence to explore different lines of enquiry, carrying out house raids or arrests if their evidence implicates a certain suspect. They're also responsible for writing case reports and filing them with relevant authorities. As police officers work in the public sector, they follow a standard career pathway to become lead detectives. New recruits begin work as police constables, progressing to more senior roles as they build up experience investigating crimes.

Related: What does a detective do? (With career and skill info)

3. Transport planner

National average salary: £28,608 per year

Primary duties: Transport planners use transport survey data, cost figures and accident records to plan new or improved road schemes. They can also use mathematical models to project the safety consequences or congestion caused by new road or public transport schemes. After commissioning transport plans, they might consult public stakeholders to outline the scheme's benefits and answer questions. Organisations may use competitive seniority systems to regulate professionals' career progression, with long-serving junior individuals progressing to project management roles.

Related: How to become a transport planner in the UK

4. Registered nurse

National average salary: £30,116 per year

Primary duties: Registered nurses provide routine patient care during hospital stays, such as monitoring vital signs, reporting symptom changes or helping lead surgeons during operations. They may also write and update treatment plans for patients receiving long-term care. Depending on their experience, they could also specialise in specific fields of nursing, such as mental health or paediatric care. Medical institutions might use benefits-based seniority to reward long-term colleagues, such as extra days of annual leave as compensation for their long and stressful shifts. More experienced nurses may also secure higher bands of pay.

Related: 17 types of nurses (with job descriptions and salary info)

5. Investment banker

National average salary: £31,496 per year

Primary duties: Investment bankers raise liquid capital to help businesses to fund major business decisions, such as mergers, acquisitions or new equipment purchases. To secure adequate funding, they may issue new company stock or bonds on financial markets. Given the high-risk nature of this process, lenders may wish to retain experienced investment staff for an extended period, using their niche knowledge to minimise the risk of investment mistakes. Lenders can offer extra financial or lifestyle perks to avoid losing high-value talent to rival banks. They can also consider loyalty when awarding promotions to minimise staff turnover.

6. Airline pilot

National average salary: £37,604 per year

Primary duties: An airline pilot transports passengers or freight between domestic or international airports. They could use weather reports to decide which route to take to reach their intended destination quickly and without risking passengers' safety. They may then use these plans to judge how much fuel the plane requires to complete the journey. They can also communicate with air traffic control during take-off. Airlines often use competitive seniority systems by training new recruits as co-pilots and promoting them later. They might also offer lucrative benefits packages to prevent experienced pilots from joining another airline.

Salary figures reflect data listed on Indeed Salaries at time of writing. Salaries may vary depending on the hiring organisation and a candidate's experience, academic background and location.

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