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Seniority Based Progression - a weight on high performers? Image Credit: <orlandobankruptcy.wordpress.com

Seniority Based Progression – a weight on high performers?

Really quick post today because I am absolutely wiped and have to be up at 4:30 am tomorrow.

Today was my first in my new role. I’ve relocated to Milwaukee, and will be working out of a plant. The work seems like it will be fundamentally different than 1. In both my compensation and labor roles my work was much more focused on strategy – here the focus is much more on implementation. what I did back at corporate HQ, 1 which should make for both an interesting change of pace and wonderful learning / development opportunity.

With that said, I’m working at a union site. There are a lot of things I’m excited to explore here from both a business and HR perspective, but one thing that I’ve been absolutely fascinated by for years now (and will be able to explore here) is seniority based promotions (often prevalent at sites where an employee population is in a union) and their impact on employee engagement.

The concept is fascinating to me on two counts.

A. Personally, I can’t wrap my mind all the way around it. Not in the sense that I can’t understand the concept of seniority based progression… but rather, I can’t imagine willingly working at a place where opportunity for career progression is based not on performance, but rather how long one 2. I’m not being naive here – performance measurement is still in its infancy and even in non-union environments being promoted often has as much to do with who one knows as what one can do – but to step into a role where one’s performance has almost no bearing whatsoever on progression opportunities simply blows my mind. has been with their given organization / site. Employees in union populations with this promotion / comp structure (the two are often linked) are not only working in this environment, but a plurality of the population has willingly opted into this system.

B. Theoretically this should lead to terrible site productivity. If wages and progression are not tied to performance then what is the incentive to perform at a high level? One doesn’t exist on the surface, and yet there are countless examples of high performing union facilities (relative to their non-union counterparts) around the world. There are obviously some powerful intrinsic rewards at play in sites with unionized employee populations with high productivity. I’m excited to understand what these are.

I’m going to revisit this topic again in a few months as the picture takes shape and I read more literature. In the interim, if you have any insights into what drives employee engagement in these sorts of environments please share your thoughts in the comments section below.



If you have questions about something you’ve read here (or simply want to connect) you can reach me at any of the following addresses: 

SomethingDifferentHR@gmail.com OR rorytrotter86@gmail.com