Job rotation is a technique used to increase employee learning and motivation. In this article, we will explain what job rotation is, list its benefits and drawbacks, and give 5 examples of companies who successfully apply job rotation in their activities.
What is job rotation? A definition
Job rotation is the practice of moving employees between jobs in an organization. These rotations are predominantly lateral, meaning that they happen between jobs on the same level and are not considered promotions. They are also often temporary with people moving back to their original job after a certain time.
Rotating jobs has a number of key benefits that we will cover later in more detail, think for instance of; starting a new job is exciting and challenging, it reduces boredom, stimulates motivation, helps to assess person-job fit, and it’s a great way to acquire new knowledge and competencies through practicing different jobs.
Job rotation is a well-known organizational development technique. It is an essential part of job (re)design, together with job simplification, job enrichment, and job enlargement. Let’s take a closer look at the benefits of job rotation.
Job rotation benefits
Rotating jobs has a long list of benefits for both the employer and the employee. Although there is some overlap between the two, let’s first focus on the benefits of job rotation for the employer:
- Learning. Job rotation is an excellent way to transfer specific skills, knowledge, and competencies, leading to human capital accumulation. For example, an employee may learn the full production process because they have served in different roles that provide them with a holistic perspective. Similarly, managers may need to experience different departments before they’re ready for a senior leadership position in which they need this experience.
Another example is that many HR professionals lack business skills. A good way to build these skills is by rotating HR professionals outside the HR department – and having people from the business rotate in the HR department. This is a practice recommended by John Boudreau and Ed Lawler.
- Flexibility. Rotation allows employees to do different jobs leading to a more flexible workforce. If people can be deployed into two or three roles, your total available workforce will be larger and much more flexible to fill any of the available roles.
- Employee replacement. When a critical employee suddenly leaves, their role will have to be replaced by someone in the company. Here, job rotation can play a role. By (temporarily) deploying a peer who is somewhat familiar with the role and very familiar with the company, the critical role can be filled quickly.
- Orientation and placement. An area where rotation is often applied is in traineeships. During a traineeship, a graduate usually works four different roles in the timespan of two years. This enables the graduate to explore hidden talents and identify the roles that they like and are good at.
At the same time, it enables the organization to explore where in the organization the new hire can add the most value, which is also referred to as job-employee matching. This is a great way to ensure that new talent will be optimally deployed. Similarly, when someone desires a different role, they can be rotated in the company to try this new role. If it does not work, the person is free to come back. This may prevent a talented employee from leaving.
- Satisfaction & attrition. When someone is stuck in a job for 4 or 5 years, they may be at a high risk of leaving. Job rotation offers the opportunity for a change of scenery and challenge people, leading to increased satisfaction and lower employee attrition.
Similarly, job rotation also has benefits for the employee:
- Motivation. One of the drawbacks of staying in a role for too long is a loss of motivation. Job rotation ensures a change of scenery with new responsibilities that challenge the employee to learn and adapt. This is a great way to reduce boredom, motivate employees, and increase their personal agility.
- Learning. Learning is not only a benefit for the employer but also to the employee. Especially people who entered the workforce recently have a strong need for learning and development. Job rotation – for instance in combination with peer coaching – can offer these opportunities.
Disadvantages of job rotation
We cannot conclude this article without briefly mentioning the disadvantages of job rotation.
- Inefficiencies. When an employee joins a new role, they need to learn the ropes before reaching their optimum productivity level. Because of this, rotation can lead to frequent interruptions in work and corresponding inefficiencies
- Misunderstanding. Another disadvantage is that the person who rotates out of a role may still have superior (tacit) knowledge and connections. This may result in this person staying (partially) involved in the role, leading to role unclarity. One way to tackle this issue is by having a peer mentoring program in place.
- Disgruntled employee. Rotating people out of a job they like, may reduce their motivation. A potential disadvantage is disgruntled employees who will not like the new job, lack motivation, and may even consider leaving the organization.
- Lack of opportunity. Job rotation is often horizontal, meaning that people will not get a promotion but rather a different role on the same level. This may feel like a sidestep instead of a next step, throwing people off their envisioned career path. Assessing their level of ambition and framing the rotation as an opportunity to learn more diverse skills that will benefit them later in their career is a best practice here.
Job rotation best practices
As you have now realized, it is absolutely possible to ‘rotate the wrong way’. Let’s go over a series of best practices on how to create a more positive impact while reducing negative effects.
- A means to an end. Rotation can be used for many different purposes. What is important to keep in mind is that the goal of job rotation should be clear from the beginning. Mindlessly rotating employees into different jobs creates inefficiencies, role unclarity, and interrupts work. These inefficiencies can only be justified when there is a clear goal, or benefit, to this practice of job rotation.
- Employee buy-in. Another potential disadvantage is that rotation may lead to disgruntled employees. It is, therefore, crucial to create buy-in. This can be done by clearly explaining the benefits of job rotation for the employee and convincing the employee rather than coercing them. Creating employee buy-in can turn something perceived as a bad situation into an opportunity.
- Training. Third, ensure that people are properly trained before they are rotated into a different job. Entering a job while lacking the required knowledge and skills to perform well will decrease motivation and increase the time required to reach optimum productivity level. As mentioned above, both peer coaching and peer mentoring can be very valuable here.
- Monitoring and feedback. Once someone has rotated into a role, ensure you monitor them closely, and provide ample feedback. Over time, people will become more independent and require less structure. In addition, create clear success criteria for the job and communicate these. This helps the employee understand what is expected of them.
- Planned job rotation. A more formalized approach to job rotation is called job pathing or career pathing. Here, a specific sequence of jobs is lined up to reach a career objective.
Five job rotation program examples
Let’s now go over five real-life job rotation examples.
- The Slumber Yard
- Traineeships where people rotate
- Job rotation in factories
- The effect of rotation on nurses
1. The Slumber Yard
Our first job rotation example comes from a company named The Slumber Yard, which is the biggest online resource for mattress reviews. The main reason for The Slumber Yard to launch a rotation program was to try and reduce the company’s turnover. As Matthew Ross, co-owner and COO puts it: “By training employees to be competent in multiple disciplines, we’re able to reduce the negative effects associated with employee turnover. If an employee leaves, we have other employees who can easily slide in and assume the role.”
Naturally, different jobs take different amounts of time to learn. This implies that it’s important to determine accurate training times and the corresponding length of the rotation program. At The Slumber Yard, people rotate once every quarter.
2. Heineken’s Technologist Program
Our second job rotation example comes from Dutch beer brewer Heineken. The company has several traineeships for graduates, including a Technologist Program. Selected trainees will get several assignments and each assignment lasts 6 months. As such, they’ll be rotating in various departments such as Packaging, Product development, Brewing, Quality Assurance, and Packaging development.
Projects Technologist trainees could be working on include:
- Safeguarding product safety and assessing quality risks;
- Developing new beers or packaging;
- Tackling day-to-day production issues through thorough analysis and elimination;
- Coming up with creative solutions for new problems.
Once they’ve completed the program, trainees are equipped to start as a Technologist in various Heineken departments. This traineeship is a good example of how rotation enables people to obtain different skills and competencies, leading to a more flexible workforce in which people are able to do more than one job.
3. Job rotation in factories
In factories and on plant floors, there can be an important additional reason for job rotation: providing physical injuries and chronic work-related musculoskeletal issues. While rotating jobs can indeed help with this (and also to cope with boredom), it’s no miracle solution and should ideally be part of a larger effort of redesigning work.
4. The effect of rotation on nurses
A study among nurses in the US investigated whether or not a rotation system would encourage nurses to understand, relate to and share the vision of the organization, consequently increasing their job satisfaction and stimulating them to willingly remain in their jobs and commit themselves to the organization.
According to the nurses themselves, job rotation inspired them to achieve higher performance, allowed for continuous growth at work, extended knowledge and skill, and increasing clinic patient care-taking quality. They agreed that it could help employees to acquire multiple capabilities and expand vision and that it could be an approach to reduce job burnout.
There are many different job rotation programs. At Edelman, an American PR and marketing consultancy firm, they have a rotation program for their high-performing, high-potential employees. Employees who are selected are sent to an international location to work, live, and learn for up to 18 months.
The idea behind Edelman’s program is to give people the opportunity to learn from varying perspectives around the world and to diversify their work experience (to ultimately better serve the company’s clients).
Before you go
As you know by now, rotating jobs can have many benefits for both the organization and the employee. However, when done randomly, it will reduce efficiency, introduce errors, and lead to role unclarity. It is therefore key to clearly specify the reason why rotation should be leveraged. These and (many) more tips about job rotation, job design, and organizational development can be found in our upcoming certificate program about organizational development!
Job rotation is the practice of moving employees between jobs in an organization. These rotations are often temporary and predominantly lateral, meaning that they happen between jobs on the same level and are not considered promotions.
One of the main benefits of job rotation is the fact that it is an excellent way to transfer specific skills, knowledge, and competencies, leading to human capital accumulation and a more flexible workforce.
One of the disadvantages of job rotation lies in the fact that it can lead to disgruntled employees if they are rotated out of a job they enjoy.
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