The practice of job rotation in the workplace is a popular way to allocate staffing where it is needed most. Additionally, this cycles employees through different roles throughout a team, department, or an organization with the principal objective of cross-training. When you're considering instituting job rotation within your business, it is important to understand the pros and cons of this type of program.
What is job rotation?
Workplace job rotation has been around for a long time and is most commonly utilized within small companies, where employees are asked to "wear multiple hats." 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 roles 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.
Examples of job rotations
Generally speaking, there are two different purposes for job rotation practices. The first kind simply allows employees to shadow another employee in a completely different area of the business (typically one that has 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 R&D. 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 directly fuels an ongoing team-building environment and helps colleagues get acquainted with each other. It also provides insights as to the challenges and unique perspectives that others have about the rotating employee's role, as well as 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 with the goal of increasing 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 that focus on the cross-pollination of job knowledge tend to be more detailed and time-consuming. The goal for cross-training is to allow substitutes to step into essential roles when needed. This also fills needs for succession planning in technical or hard-to-fill roles, which need to be well positioned for future personnel changes. This type of job rotation, like the first kind, 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.
Benefits of employee job rotation
There are many benefits of job rotation for both employees and their employers. The hiccup here is rarely a company not finding value in the practice; it is the challenge of 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 rotation needs to 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 of job rotation
Benefits of job rotation
|It enriches the employee experience.||It develops stronger business continuity (or a backup plan).|
|It encourages professional development.||It makes for more dynamic personnel management (i.e., you can move employees around to match need or workflow, which reduces overload, burnout, and turnover).|
|It strengthens employee networking.||Skills learned in other areas almost always increase 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 at the ready for various critical functions.|
|It prevents boredom.||Essential roles of the organization are always filled (if only temporarily).|
Potential drawbacks of job rotation
There are a few drawbacks, or obstacles really, that you'll need to be mindful of when creating your company's job rotation program. Many of the drawbacks are tied directly to inconsistent or merely short-term job rotation planning.
|Potential drawbacks of job rotation for employees|
Potential drawbacks of job rotation
|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 (e.g., 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 an employee leaves their job for another in the company because they want a different supervisor, larger cultural problems throughout the company might go unaddressed.||You could incur some additional expenses from the program, depending on how it is designed and carried out.|
How to develop a job rotation program
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:
- Get signoff and backing from all company leaders. Without solid leadership support and joint investment, job rotation programs never last long. Every member of your company leadership must truly believe in its value and relevance.
- Communicate with the whole company about the job cross-training program. For there to be less mystery as to what the organization is doing, it is wise to share a detailed explanation, complete with Q&A sessions, with everyone in the company. Explain the what, how, when and why of it all.
- Develop a (flexible) company policy. We recommend maintaining a company policy in your employee handbook about job rotation. It can be somewhat vague, allowing the organization to flex one way or another, but it's critical that the overall practice of job rotation is as equitable and fair as possible.
- Identify all essential roles and each role's critical needs. One of the most common early steps in this process is identifying which roles are the most important ones to get backup alignment for ASAP. A PEO can help you identify these gaps in staffing.
- Conduct job analysis for similar positions within the company. When cross-training employees to be backups, it is a good idea to seek out people in roles that are closest to or have some technical overlap with the role that needs the backup.
- Create (or update) job descriptions. If your organization has not yet done so, you need to create job descriptions that the cross-trained employee can reference. Keep these descriptions current as job roles evolve, as they will be the employees' compass in the cross-training and backup experience.
- Determine the ideal "bench strength" for each role. Knowing which roles to attack first and the critical duties within those jobs is important, but you also need to determine when a cross-trained employee is ready to step into the role if necessary. The finish line for the training is different for each role.
- Develop a training or shadowing schedule. It's important to create a program for training. Do not wing it. For each position that your organization wants to cross-train team members for, develop a written program (or plan) to ensure that all critical aspects of the job are adequately covered.
- Agree on a selection process (related to the highest level of need) for the program. Once you've created the bones of the program, you will inevitably identify the most qualified or desired candidates to cross-train. This is important, but you should still create and follow a formal selection process.
- Before cross-training, orient and prepare receiving employees and/or teams. Give some setup and prep time to each employee you are asking to cross-train another. For some people, having another employee peeking over their shoulder, asking questions all day, and impeding their space is extremely taxing. Make sure you have laid the groundwork so the process is smooth and enjoyable for all.
- Evaluate the process, particularly with each cross-training event. Always evaluate your methods and practices in real time. Make improvements and capitalize on what is working well.
- Assess annually. Your team should review the program on an annual basis. Are the company's needs being met? Is the desired concept and purpose of cross-training being fulfilled?
- Reward, acknowledge, and measure progress and success. Encourage all who participate in the program by measuring progress – this is the fun part of job rotation programs. If you make it a desirable practice or opportunity, the job rotation program will draw its own attention from employees who are eager to cross-train in other roles within your organization.