What Does Organizational Tenure Really Buy You?

Topic: Citizenship BehaviorsCounter-Productive Work BehaviorJob Performance

Publication: Journal of Management (SEP)

ArticleOrganizational tenure and job performance

Authors: T.W.H. Ng and D.C. Feldman

Reviewed By: Benjamin Granger

It is often intuited that employees who remain in an organization longer gain more knowledge of their job and the organization and thus perform at a higher level than employees with less tenure. Indeed, it’s no secret that organizational tenure is common factor considered in administrative decisions such as offering promotions and awarding raises and other fringe benefits (e.g., pensions, vacation days).  For many of us, anecdotal evidence probably confirms the assumption that as tenure within the organization increases, so does performance. But what does the research say?

In a recent meta-analysis of the relationship between organizational tenure and job performance, Ng and Feldman (2010) combined data from 350 studies which included nearly 250,000 research participants.  Not surprisingly, the authors expected that organizational tenure would be favorably related to various forms of job performance.  Their findings generally confirmed that organizational tenure is favorably associated with performance. However, the relationships between tenure and performance was quite weak overall.

While there was modest positive association between organizational tenure and task
performance and organizational citizenship behaviors, the benefit of tenure
appears to drop as tenure increases.

In fact, Ng and Feldman showed that tenure best predicts performance between 3 and 6 years within an organization. After about 14 years, tenure is completely unrelated to task performance. Citizenship behaviors, on the other hand, are best predicted by tenure in the first three years of employment and much like task performance, this relationship drops over time.

Additionally, while increased organizational tenure was associated with fewer unsafe practices and injuries on the job, increased tenure was also associated with increased
workplace aggression (self-rated) and self-rated substance use.  These latter findings were contrary to Ng and Feldman’s expectations but clearly suggest that organizational tenure is not necessarily beneficial across the board.

While the findings of this extensive meta-analysis generally support organizational practices that reward tenure, tenure is clearly NOT “the silver bullet” when it comes to job performance. It is important to stress again that many of the relationships between organizational tenure and performance are quite weak. Indeed, there are numerous other factors that contribute to job performance more so than the amount of time an employee remains in an organization (e.g., cognitive ability, conscientiousness). Nevertheless, tenure does appear to influence performance on the job, especially early on in employees’ careers.

Ng, T.W.H. & Feldman, D.C. (2010). Organizational tenure and job performance.
Journal of Management, 36(5), 1220-1250.

10 Replies to “What Does Organizational Tenure Really Buy You?”

  1. Thanks for your question Bryan!
    Sample size weighted correlation coefficients are presented in paper, but do not control for age which was highly related to organizational tenure (r = .70).
    The authors draw heavily upon the results of regression analyses that controlled for age. The standardized regression weights between tenure and the various performance outcomes are included below:
    Overall, in-role performance (task performance) = .09
    Overall unsafe behaviors = -.15
    Overall Organizational citizenship behaviors = .05
    Overall counterproductive work behaviors = .02
    Self-rated aggression = .13
    self-rated substance use = .08
    It is important to note that there is lots more “meat” in the actual article if this article is of interest to you.

  2. Thanks for your question Bryan!
    Sample size weighted correlation coefficients are presented in paper, but do not control for age which was highly related to organizational tenure (r = .70).
    The authors draw heavily upon the results of regression analyses that controlled for age. The standardized regression weights between tenure and the various performance outcomes are included below:
    Overall, in-role performance (task performance) = .09
    Overall unsafe behaviors = -.15
    Overall Organizational citizenship behaviors = .05
    Overall counterproductive work behaviors = .02
    Self-rated aggression = .13
    self-rated substance use = .08
    It is important to note that there is lots more “meat” in the actual article if this article is of interest to you.

  3. One of the things I’ve seen in data we’ve acquired is that tenure is associated with declining perceptions of fairness in many areas. My sense is that, as one might predict by a referrent cognitions view, increased tenure allows for the accumulation of more counter-examples in the employee’s knowledge base of what the organization/supervisor COULD have done instead in such and such a situation. Basically, the “water cooler talk” adds up over time, such that it becomes harder and harder for any organizational action to meet the individual employee’s criteria for “fair” action.
    We, unfortunately, have not been able to drill down in detail, since the data I speak of was not acquired for this particular purpose, but we generally see a substantive drop in perceived fairness or satisfaction with organizational actions after 3 years tenure.
    The implication is that, while you would think that tenure ought to be associated with steady increments in performance, that may potentially be moderated by decrements in motivation, or even actively withholding optimum effort, in response to declining trust and perceived fairness.
    Of course, not all employees become disaffected over time/tenure, or to the same extent. I guess the next step for Ng and Feldman is to look at perceived fairness and trust over tenure, and see if the anticipated increment in performance occurs only when, or is stronger when, accompanied by higher perceived fairness and trust in management.

  4. One of the things I’ve seen in data we’ve acquired is that tenure is associated with declining perceptions of fairness in many areas. My sense is that, as one might predict by a referrent cognitions view, increased tenure allows for the accumulation of more counter-examples in the employee’s knowledge base of what the organization/supervisor COULD have done instead in such and such a situation. Basically, the “water cooler talk” adds up over time, such that it becomes harder and harder for any organizational action to meet the individual employee’s criteria for “fair” action.
    We, unfortunately, have not been able to drill down in detail, since the data I speak of was not acquired for this particular purpose, but we generally see a substantive drop in perceived fairness or satisfaction with organizational actions after 3 years tenure.
    The implication is that, while you would think that tenure ought to be associated with steady increments in performance, that may potentially be moderated by decrements in motivation, or even actively withholding optimum effort, in response to declining trust and perceived fairness.
    Of course, not all employees become disaffected over time/tenure, or to the same extent. I guess the next step for Ng and Feldman is to look at perceived fairness and trust over tenure, and see if the anticipated increment in performance occurs only when, or is stronger when, accompanied by higher perceived fairness and trust in management.

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