At one of my previous workplaces, we had a little ceremony each year honouring employees who had worked there for five, ten, or fifteen years. I used to go. (There was free pizza.) But then I stopped. (After three years, I could afford my own pizza.)
It’s a curious thing, this esteem we have for longevity. Why is an anniversary cause for celebration? I can see it in some Purple Heart sense – congratulations for surviving – but that doesn’t seem to be the spirit in which such celebrations are intended. (Then again…)
So what’s the big deal about being married to the same person, or working for the same company, for so many years? Is it supposed to be some expression of loyalty, which is then rewarded? What’s loyalty? And why is it good? Is it trust? In a person, or company, no matter what they do? Excuse me, but the day my partner or my employer starts making weapons or selling unsafe products, I’m outta there.
Let’s admit it, ‘seniority’ rewards quantity rather than quality. I mean, what if it were a shitty marriage? Why applaud someone for staying in it? (Do you want fries with that?)
And what if the person’s a mediocre employee? We give them a raise every year just because they’ve been there one more year. But we don’t give a raise to the guy who’s doing a good job. Is it any wonder then that so many employees develop a clock-punching mentality, that they figure just being there, just putting in time, is enough? Because apparently, it is. If they put in enough time, they get a wage increase, extra holidays, protection from lay-off, and eventually, so very appropriately, a gold watch.
Granted, sometimes there’s a connection between quantity and quality: the longer you work at it, the better you get, the more you know. Sometimes. (So why not just reward that increase in quality – directly.) But unless you get moved to a different position, the level of mastery is often achieved before five years, certainly usually before ten or fifteen years. So seniority means stagnation, complacency. It could also mean cowardice, fear of trying something new. (Or simply the lack of other opportunities.) And of course, if one hangs on because of the rewards, it means self-interestedness.
My guess is that after a certain point, performance declines, rather than inclines, with seniority. You know you can’t be easily fired, you feel secure, you feel comfortable. So you don’t try as hard, you get a little lazy. And you get a little bored, you get a little dull.
So seniority should not be rewarded. And rather than penalizing the person who’s changed jobs every few years, we should be recruiting them.