Should You Be a Lifer at Your Job?

iStock_000001810619XSmallI work for an organization that employs an inordinate amount of “lifers”. They are people who have worked at the company for their entire lives, and will continue to work at the company until retirement age, and possibly past that. Any individual that works for the same company for 15 years or more actually falls into my mental categorization of a “lifer”, because 15 years is an incredibly long time.

This used to be the norm; people would find a job right out of school and stay there for their entire careers. Now it’s practiced far less.

There are several reasons why people become lifers at their jobs, including the proverbial “golden handcuffs” (this is true particularly in government jobs in Canada) and lack of desire to move. Many people don’t feel they have the skill set to move on to another company or job.

In reality, being a lifer at your job isn’t all bad. There are some upsides to staying with the same company for your career, but there are also some bad things about it that you may want to consider before deciding to just stick with the same-old. Here are the pros and cons from my point of view:


In Canada, the longer you’ve been at a company, according to labour law, the more vacation time you get.

You start off with (depending on the province) around two weeks of paid vacation after a year of being with the company, and you gain some time after a threshold (usually around five years) every year; usually the time gained is about a day.

There are some people that work for the company that I work for that have over eight weeks of vacation a year. They could theoretically take the entire summer off.


If you stay in the same department the whole time you are with the company, you are likely going to become an expert on that department and subject matter. With expertise comes power. For instance, you may be in a position to negotiate a raise better, because the company won’t want to lose an expert.

Even if you don’t stay within the same department, you can become an expert on the industry and the company, which can be a good thing.

Job security

The US has much looser labour laws than Canada, but in Canada, if you are going to lay off an employee, the amount of severance pay and/or notice you must provide increases substantially with years of service. Many companies just wont lay off their more senior employees because it’s too costly.

If somebody has worked for 20 years at the same company, the organization isn’t going to want to drop 6 months of their wages on their severance package, so will be more likely to keep them around.

There are, of course, many cons to staying at your job for too long as well:

Loss of competency

If you never move out of the same company, you are losing your competency with other industries. Even if you stay in the same industries with different companies, it’s difficult to transfer to a different industry.

Not challenging yourself

Once you know all there is to know about a company, are you really challenging yourself? Chances are that even if you move up in the corporate ladder with the same organization, it’s not that much of a challenge for you. Feeling challenged is one of the most important factors when it comes to job satisfaction.

Not living up to your potential

If you have never worked for another company, how can you be sure that you’re living up to your potential? Maybe you’d rock at working in tech, or maybe you’d thrive working for a different organization. You just would never know.

There may be something that you’d be ]passionate about out there, but you aren’t giving yourself a chance to explore it

At the end of the day, how long you should stay at an organization is your choice and should be based on personal factors. It’s important to know the pros and cons before making any decisions. Are you a lifer at your company? How long do you think one should stay in the same job or with the same company before moving on?


Should You Be a Lifer at Your Job? — 30 Comments

  1. This is a great article, Daisy! I really did enjoyed reading it, considering how many people in my family are lifers. The hypothetical question that popped into my head was what about the employees’ families? Would you recommend this just for individual goals or also for people with families? It’s very tough in America these days to just give up a steady job to pursue other ambitions, especially when you also have a family to raise. Thanks a ton for the help!

    • Even if you have a family, you are an individual and you need to look at yourself, your goals, and what you want in your career. It all depends on what you’re looking for!

  2. I would certainly stay at a company for “life” if it benefited me. Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem like U.S. companies make that kind of commitment to people anymore!

  3. Great post. I know that I won’t be at my place of employment forever as I want to challenge myself. In my line of work I can move into various roles with my expertise so being a lifer isn’t an option for me as I simply won’t be happy. I think that money keeps people at a job being that security is most important as is vacation and benefits. Since we have no mortgage I’m not bound to our home but I also know that with my skills I will never be without a job. The more we invest in ourselves, the more skills we acquire the better equipped we will be to make decisions based on our confidence to find a job and excel at it.

    • I’m with you – I won’t be at my job forever either, but it’s nice to have the skills and abilities to know that I’m employable.

  4. Awesome post. I understand why people decide to become lifers, because even though the job becomes boring, most of us want to have the stability of staying in one company and getting all the benefits of being a long time employee, but we must also consider that with today’s economy we must always be ready to market ourselves not just in the industry we belong to, so we must find ways to learn new things.

  5. The title of this made my heart palpitate! I lifer??? I have changed jobs quite a bit in my life and for great reason. People who do the same thing day out and in for 30 years perplex me…but to each their own!

  6. I like how you present both the benefits and drawbacks, Daisy! I was headed for a life sentence as a teacher. It seems, to many, to be a pretty set profession. I actually thought, What else could I do? (Even though I’d been in the social work field previously, and I also had a degree in psychology.) I just couldn’t do it anymore and left, and I’m happier than ever. I’ve grown more in the last six years than I did in in all my years as a teacher. I even went back for a master’s in education! Funny how life works sometimes!

  7. If the company you work for is giving you what you want out of your career, why not stay? I once met someone who worked for Exxon who was fulfilled and recognized for his contributions. I would love to be able to say that after 30-40 years.

  8. I am aiming to be a “lifer” with Alberta Health Services. At twenty years, I’ll be eligible for full pension and benefits. Luckily, AHS is a huge health service with diverse career options and numerous opportunities for social workers. I don’t think I’ll be bored anytime soon.

    I have other options to pursue outside of AHS, like private practice (therapist), research, and teaching. So if I’m going through a dry spell in one aspect of my career, I’ll still have options in other aspects. Cheers!

    • It’s great that you have options! If your happy at your job then there’s no point in planning a move 🙂

  9. There are pros and cons to everything. I think it’s not such a bad idea to stay at the same place of work for a while. You get seniority, more benefits, 401k match, pension plan, more opportunities for advancement and some sort of job stability because you are an expert in your area.
    There are a lot of people who hop from one place to another all the time, cash in their 401ks and pay 30% tax for nothing, sometimes to find more challenge than they can ever deal with.

    • True (depending on the job). At my job you get the option to take no penalty and roll your retirement contributions into an RRSP or pension.

  10. My wife and I would both meet your definition of lifers. I have been with the company for 28 years, my wife, 15 years. The pay and benefits are great. Our company performs consulting service with all the major US aerospace firms. We design and build lots of prototype flight hardware. We have to stay on top of our game to land new contracts. It is very interesting and fulfilling work.

    • Yes. My wife and I do work for the same company. It started as a small company, and I sometimes felt there was a possibility that we would be in trouble if the company folded. But it was bought out several years ago by a large company, which let us keep some of our autonomy. Our small company has become the Vibrations Group of the larger company. The buyout assured that we would have a good place to work for as long as we want, plus it was good for our bank accounts.

  11. Good article, Daisy. But do you think it may be different if one works at a university? I’ve been in a university for a long time but don’t fit your description of a lifer – I do different research and have a number of progressive research lines; I have developed a number of very different programmes and cources and I work mostly with people outside the university, the country and the continent.

    • Hey, I never said being a lifer was a bad thing! If you have diversity in your job and you enjoy it and work with different people, why not!

  12. I am a lifer. I hate that I am a lifer! But at 53 and 14 years in to a company, it would be crazy to try to find something else. The bennies are good and it looks as if I only have maybe 12 to 15 to go. So as much as I feel it is the end of my life and that this is all there is, it is a good paycheck and a good a place as any to retire. I never went out and set the world on fire, so I have to just make the best, enjoy my job (which most of the time I do, thankfully) and get thru this.
    If I were 30, I would be out there pounding the pavment looking for that corner office, but I got sucked in and stayed. If you are young, take your chance now!

    • Good insight. Life isn’t all about the job, so even if you aren’t happy about being a lifer, at least you have other things!

  13. Interesting to see the contrast in labor laws between Canada and the US. Personally, I think the US has been tightening its laws over the last 20 years, which has led to higher overall unemployment. I think because of this individuals are finding it more beneficial to them, to change from job to job, or even better…Start their own thing, like a blog for instance!!

    • I can’t really comment on the US since every state has different labour laws, but tighter labour laws doesn’t lead to unemployment, generally. However, I guess it depends on what the law is about.

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