What Is a Tenured Employee?
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Tenure is a term most commonly associated with academia, used by universities and colleges to describe an academic awarded an indefinite professional appointment.
However, it is also used in public and private employment sectors as a reference to the length of service an employee has given to an employer.
In this context, tenure can be classified as either short or long:
- Short tenure – an employee has been with an organization for a relatively brief period of time, typically two years or less.
- Long tenure – an employee has served five or more years with a single employer.
Whether one is better than the other depends on individual circumstance.
For example, short tenure may suggest an employee is unable to make a long-term commitment, or they may be eager to climb the career ladder, and feel that opportunity is not available in their current employment.
When it comes to long tenure, however, it tends to be looked on favorably, with multiple benefits from both an employee and employer perspective.
Rightly or wrongly, millennial workers have been classified as a generation of job hoppers.
Unlike generations before them – that tended to spend their entire working life at just one or two organizations – it’s estimated that this younger workforce spends an average of just three years in any given role.
From an employer perspective, this continual movement can prove disruptive, costly and detrimental to business operations.
As such, employers usually value longer tenured employees for the benefits they bring:
Loyalty – Employees who have been with an organization for a long period of time often become part of the business itself. They have a vested interest in, and are loyal in their commitment to, its success.
Stability – Long-tenure employees are well versed in their employer’s corporate culture, practices and procedures, bringing continuity and stability to the working environment.
Experience – When new hires are welcomed into the company, long-tenured employees can be relied upon to act as mentors, imparting their knowledge and expertise on entry-level staff.
Company reputation – A company that retains its workforce builds a reputation for employee satisfaction. This gives it a strong standing in the eyes of its customers and helps to attract future talent.
Productivity – Recruitment is a lengthy process, not to mention costly, and continually training new staff can seriously dent productivity. The more long-tenured employees a company has, the more it can focus on output rather than onboarding.
Long tenure can also be valued from a recruitment point of view. It indicates a candidate willing to commit, giving the employer a level of security in their hiring decision.
That’s not to say that long tenure automatically makes you a strong candidate, though, or indeed that short tenure will hinder your chances when seeking new employment.
In fact, long tenure may be more detrimental than its short counterpart if not accompanied by a level of career development.
Generally speaking, if you’ve been doing the same job with the same company for three to five years with no prospect of promotion on the horizon, you have little to gain from extending your tenure further.
Data from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that in 2020, median tenure was around 4.1 years, but what’s right for you depends on the field you work in, the opportunities available to you and your long-term career goals.
For you as an employee, there are various benefits to long tenure that may align with your personal goals. For example, it may lead to a better work-life balance, increased financial stability or career progression.
The main benefits of long tenure include:
With the right employer, long tenure should give you the chance to develop a deep-rooted understanding of your particular field and broaden your expertise.
This is something you may struggle to do if you’re constantly moving from job to job, as you’ll spend more time learning how to do the same things in a different way, as opposed to building on your existing skills.
When offered the right opportunities, long tenure will give you the confidence and capability to achieve more, making you more employable as a result.
Generally speaking, the longer you stay at an organization, the more loyalty grows on both sides of the working relationship. You show a commitment to your employer and are shown a similar commitment in return, giving you greater confidence in the security of your position.
This might not be a top consideration for everyone, but if you have financial commitments or a family dependent on your income, better job security is certainly a major draw.
As well as increased loyalty, long tenure brings with it greater trust that allows for a level of flexibility in your working lifestyle. You may have more opportunity to work remotely, or take an extended period of leave, for example.
Some employers offer sabbaticals to those who have served a certain number of years within the company.
Sabbaticals may last for any length of time from a couple of months to an entire year. They may give you a chance to travel, pursue a new qualification or undertake voluntary work, while knowing you have a job to go back to.
Provided you continue to grow in your role throughout your tenure and contribute to business success, it should lead to recognition of this fact.
Long-tenured employees are usually offered more responsibilities over time, and are prime candidates when promotional opportunities become available. If promotion isn’t on the cards, and if justified, you may seek a pay rise in your current position.
Rewards and recognition of tenure may also come in other forms, such as employer-subsidized training, and adding further skills, knowledge and qualifications to your resume.
While there are valuable benefits to being a long-tenured employee, there are also downsides to longevity of service with a single employer.
These may not apply in all circumstances, but the disadvantages of tenure can include the following.
Employee engagement is typically at its highest in the first year of service – essentially the ‘honeymoon period’ of a new job. In this phase, you meet new people, learn new ways of working and are fueled by optimism for the opportunities ahead.
Once you’re settled in, however, this novelty wears off and your progression plateaus. The longer you remain at the same level, without new challenges or experiences to drive you, the less motivated you become in your work.
Decreased motivation, combined with the sense of security that comes with long tenure, can lead to complacency.
Feeling safe and uninspired in equal measure, you begin to take shortcuts, see minimal effort as enough and fail to spot potentially disastrous errors in your work.
This level of complacency can have serious consequences for both your current role and any future employment opportunities.
As a long-tenured employee, it’s easy to become overly comfortable with the status quo. You’re settled into a predictable routine, comfortable with your colleagues and fairly confident your job is safe.
As a result, your career plan and any aspirations you once had are pushed aside in favor of the norm, and your professional life becomes stagnant.
Work burnout is typically associated with demanding or stressful circumstances, but it can also come about from monotony or unfulfillment, both of which can occur as a result of long tenure.
Burnout brings a sense of hopelessness, impacting your physical and emotional wellbeing. It’s important to spot the signs of burnout early on, so you can take appropriate steps to mitigate its effects.
It’s not just you as an employee who can suffer from long tenure; it can also have an impact on the success of the company you work for.
Having held a position for a long period of time, you may be hesitant to adopt new technologies or ways of working that have proved effective for your employer’s competitors.
This stunts innovation, and prevents the company from adapting to change. If it starts to suffer financially as a result, the job security you associate with long tenure may no longer apply.
Tips for Tenured Employees
As we’ve seen, there are both pros and cons attached to long tenure. The key to making the most of its advantages and sidestepping its downsides is to keep yourself engaged and focused on continual development.
You don’t have to wait for a promotion to take on more responsibility. In fact, you’re more likely to be considered for advancement if you've taken the initiative to prove your worth.
Volunteer your skills to a project you wouldn’t normally be involved in, offer assistance to other teams when needed or explore new and improved ways of fulfilling your own duties.
To broaden your horizons, you could ask your employer for a secondment to another department.
However you approach it, expanding your responsibilities will keep you on your toes, engaged and motivated.
As a long-tenured employee, you have a wealth of knowledge that’s highly valuable to anyone entering the business. By putting yourself forward as a mentor, you harness the opportunity to use this knowledge to help others reach their full potential.
This in itself is rewarding enough, but there’s an added benefit to mentorship. By sharing in the experience of a new employee, you’ll be reminded of the energy and enthusiasm you had at the start of your own tenure, restoring motivation that may have been lost over the years.
Leadership skills are highly sought after by employers, and if you can prove these as a long-tenured employee, you’re giving yourself the best possible chance of progression within the company.
Ask to take the lead on a new project, or initiate one of your own that requires you to build a small team. It could even be something as simple as guiding a coworker through a particular challenge.
Leadership qualities display themselves in various ways, and a good employer will take note of those who demonstrate them. If progression isn’t an option where you currently work, you’ll have leadership experience to share with any prospective employer.
To stay engaged, employees need to be continually challenged, and the best way to challenge yourself is to learn something new.
Your employer may allow you to allocate working hours to take a relevant online course, for example. In some cases, they may even contribute towards, or pay for, a professional qualification.
Provided you can justify it, there’s no reason why your employer shouldn’t encourage you to develop new skills, since the company stands to benefit from them too.
Long-tenured employees can easily become insulated, concerned only with what’s happening in their own organization. This can contribute to the downsides of tenure, like resistance to change and complacency.
To avoid this, stay engaged with your industry as a whole by growing a strong professional network. This will keep you up to date, inspired and driven by the success of others.
It will also give you a pool of useful contacts in case you decide your current tenure has run its course.
When it comes to tenure, it’s not a straightforward case of the longer the better.
There are certainly benefits to staying with a single employer for an extended period of time, and length of service is often a consideration in recruitment, but it all has to be viewed in context.
What you take from your tenure is more important than duration. If you’re fulfilled, happy and motivated, there’s really no need to seek alternative employment. If you feel longevity is damaging your career prospects, however, it's time to move on.