The practice of job rotations in the workplace is a popular way to allocate staffing where it is needed most. It also cycles employees through different roles throughout a team, department or organization with the principal objective of cross-training. When you’re considering instituting job rotations within your business, it is essential to understand the pros and cons of this type of program.
Workplace job rotations have been around for a long time and are most commonly utilized within small companies, where employees are asked to “wear multiple hats.” A job rotation is the practice of exposing some or all employees to multiple roles within the organization. That is, in addition to owning and mastering their own role, employees get to experience (and often train in) other positions within the company.
Job rotations are typically lateral, though there may be little to no likeness to the employee’s original role in some cases. These rotations are also temporary, with various lengths of time allocated. Eventually, the employees transition back to their original jobs.
If you are interested in implementing a training program that is more extensive than job rotations, consider starting an apprenticeship program. This is a valuable way to train new workers in job functions they may not be familiar with.
Generally speaking, job rotation practices have two different purposes: job shadowing and cross-training.
The first kind of job rotation allows employees to shadow another team member in a completely different area of the business (typically one with little to no direct relation to the employee’s original job). This job rotation may last for a day or a week.
Example: An employee on the marketing team shadows someone in distribution, the warehouse or research and development. The primary purpose of this job shadowing or job rotation, is for employees to develop a stronger, more informed appreciation for others’ roles in the company. In turn, this fuels an ongoing team-building environment directly and helps colleagues get acquainted with each other. It also provides insights into the challenges and unique perspectives that others have about the rotating employee’s role and how the company’s processes operate from multiple departments’ perspectives.
The purpose of job shadowing is not necessarily training as there is not always a logical fit for this type of cross-training. It is designed to expose the rotating employee to other parts of the business to increase their knowledge and understanding.
The second kind of job rotation is the more widely used one as it carries practical application and functional support for certain positions. Job rotations focusing on cross-pollination of job knowledge tend to be more detailed and time-consuming. Cross-training aims to allow substitutes to step into essential roles when needed. This also fills the need for succession planning in technical or hard-to-fill roles, which must be well-positioned for future personnel changes. Like the first kind, this type of job rotation helps enrich and expand the employee experience while also strengthening the company’s business continuity plans.
Example: An accounting manager cross-trains with the payroll administrator. In this job rotation scenario, there is a much closer affiliation between the two roles. That is, they both may reside within the same department (in this case, accounting). Another example would be for a controller to cross-train in accounts receivable or accounts payable.
Job rotations are common at smaller companies where it is convenient for employees to wear multiple hats. Consider the two types of job rotations and find which works best for your staff.
There are many benefits of job rotations for both employees and their employers. Rarely does a company not find value in the practice. However, the challenge is developing meaningful opportunities with value-added benefits that company leadership can see and plan around.
As you develop a job rotation program, remember that you can’t just do it once or twice with no additional focus on its complexity and importance. Job rotations must be an ongoing, consistent and purposeful training program (or program for employee exposure) that folds into a company’s larger training and development programs.
Benefits for employees
Benefits for employers
It enriches the employee experience.
It develops stronger business continuity (or a backup plan).
It encourages professional development.
It strengthens employee networking.
Skills learned in other areas almost always increases an employee’s usable skill sets.
It gives them a break from their daily duties.
You might uncover hidden or unknown employee skill sets and unthought-of team dynamics that could benefit the company.
It shows them what other roles are like (perhaps for future career planning).
Multiple employees will be ready for various critical functions.
It prevents boredom.
Essential roles of the organization are always filled (if only temporarily).
You’ll need to be mindful of a few drawbacks or obstacles when creating your company’s job rotation program. Many drawbacks are tied directly to inconsistent or short-term job rotation planning.
Potential drawbacks for employees
Potential drawbacks for employers
It may frustrate employees when they learn they cannot immediately change jobs or train full-time for a desired job.
It takes time and effort to implement these practices.
Job shadows or training might not be available for all desired roles within the organization.
It seldom works to move a troubled employee from one department or team to another.
Opportunities may not be equally available to all team members, such as training on essential roles may only be open to select employees.
Cross-training must be done consistently for it to be of any value at all; there are no shortcuts.
Cross-trained employees may not feel confident in their backup roles if job rotations are not frequent or effective enough.
Error rates could increase since the cross-trained employees are not as familiar with their backup duties.
If employees leave their job for another company because they want a different supervisor, larger cultural problems might go unaddressed.
Depending on how it is designed and carried out, you could incur additional expenses from the program.
Job rotations don’t work for every business. Weigh the pros and cons in the tables above to determine if it’s feasible for your company.
There is more than one way to develop and maintain a successful job rotation program. Depending on your company’s size, resources and unique needs, you might take various approaches to create your own program. Here are some tried-and-true methods to incorporate into your planning process, regardless of the direction it takes down the road:
Skye Schooley contributed to this article.