Why Job Rotation Can Drive Engagement – and Improve Your Workplace

You are great at your work, but wouldn’t you be superior if only the departments around you would perform better?

Would it not be fantastic if the boss feels how it is to do your job? If only for one day?

There is a centuries old solution for that: job rotation. You can try the work of somebody else. And somebody else can experience your job.

Is this still valuable in a modern workplace? You bet it is!

Benefits of experiencing another job

Here are the benefits:

  • The No. 1 benefit is seeing the same company through a different lens. A different perspective leads to more mutual respect and understanding. People assume they understand somebody else’s job, but seeing it more closely, and even doing it yourself, can provide a better understanding. It can impact team collaboration and thus impact the company as a whole.
  • This different perspective can result in serendipity, which can lead to unexpected innovation and process efficiency.
  • Establishing connections via job rotation is enhancing networks and breaking down departmental silos.
  • All this will lead to better products and better services.

But wait, there is more;what about the benefits for employees?

  • Employees can improve their skills set.
  • Employees can experience potential new jobs and get a better view of career possibilities.
  • They can step outside their comfort zone and learn.
  • All this leads to reduced turnover and improved mobility.

Start with short job rotation

There are two types of job rotation: short-term rotation and long-term rotation. The latter requires deeper learning, real job change, guidelines, contract changes, concurrent employments and more.

While short-term job rotation can provide all the benefits above. It’s easier to start with, and it’s the first step to longer job rotation program anyway.

So, let’s focus on a short-term job-rotation program and some tips, tricks and suggestions for a successful program.

Crowdsource short job rotation

Depending on the target groups you can start planning job rotation on behalf of your employees, but why not let the employees do the planning themselves, and thus make the job rotation program completely social?

In other words: crowdsource it! If people can share homes via AirBnB, why wouldn’t they be able to share their job for a short period of time? Here’s how:

  1. Formulate the goal (and thus the target groups) and duration of the program.
  2. Create a cool campaign. Posters, social media, graphic design highlighting the benefits.
  3. Bring a transparent online job rotation crowdsourcing program to life.
  4. Keep it simple for employees to propose, select, change and share jobs.
  5. Have HR act as mediator, for example, by creating supporting training plans for employees.
  6. Share success. Let employees see how their colleagues feel about job rotation.

Rotation inspiration

Job rotation is not new, but modern technique gives additional possibilities:

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  • Rotate employees to the reception desk, if only for one day. Let them feel the vibe at the most important door of the company: the entrance.
  • Or, go even further and connect employees with facilitating roles like cleaning to better understand and respect what their contribution is to the company’s success, like the British Airways boss who cleans plane toilets.
  • Put every non client facing role in a client facing position for a couple of days. Let product managers join sales to actually visit clients.
  • And take the other way around by letting sales people see what they are actually selling. Bring office personnel to production sites, etc.
  • Let managers rotate departments to improve general management skills and get deeper understanding of dynamics in different departments.
  • Nothing is too crazy. Even a President of a country can be a farmer at the same time.

How do you measure job rotation success?

You don’t have to measure job rotation because it will lead to employee engagement. And engagement is like being in love. You know it, but you can’t measure it.

But, if you can’t live without measurement, then start thinking about a Social Succession Index (SSI):

Number of employees in job rotation program

Number of employees in total

  • Instant performance feedback should become more positive and more frequent.
  • Reduced recruitment and onboarding cost, because succession fill rates will go up, because internal mobility will go up, because employees will come into contact with more career options.
  • Reduced learning cost, because job rotation can increase the amount of learning from colleagues who otherwise would have paid an external trainer. An example: Would you gain more if you send managers to an expensive management training or will a management rotation do the trick?
  • Improved engagement and cooperation between teams will lead to higher Net Promoter Score, which can lead to more revenue.

Tearing down the walls

If Google can allow their employees to spend 20 percent of their time on creative projects, why wouldn’t you allow your employees to spend 20 percent of their time in another department?

The investment in money is low. The investment in positive energy and positive change is high.

If done right, job rotation tears down walls and makes succession management social.

Patrick Willer has 20 years’ experience in Human Capital Management. After HR line management he specialized in how technology can improve engagement and performance. He became one of the first employees of SuccessFactors in Europe and introduced the concept of Business Execution from the cloud. Today, Patrick works as Workforce Innovation Consultant with SAP and helps large organizations world-wide to improve innovation and performance. Connect with him on LinkedIn.


4 Comments on “Why Job Rotation Can Drive Engagement – and Improve Your Workplace

  1. Incredible list for those who are now ready to look at ways to improve the engagement levels of their people. It may be valuable to look at all the levels to determine where the potential are.

  2. Sounds good in theory, but in the real world there are many employees, who for whatever reason, want nothing to do with job rotation. Some are naturally shy by nature, while others find that being forced out of their comfort zone to be way too stressful and actually impairs their ability and performance. As long as it’s implemented as being purely voluntary, fine, but if you have an employee who suffers from depression, or are very introverted or are going through a stressful time in their life, such as marriage break up, then respect their wishes to not participate. I’ve seen what happens to these people when job rotation is forced on them and trust me, it doesn’t help them or the company one bit. Their usual performance begins to drop as they become unhappier in their job, not to mention higher absenteeism rates on days when job rotation is scheduled.

    1. Job rotation forces a short-term view on the employee. Why develop or improve a process if the success horizon is 2 years? The job remains underdeveloped because its tasks can’t develop and be mapped. This builds inefficiency into the job, as incomers have little training and must simply adopt established practices without knowing if they are correct. Further, there is a strong subconscious pull to launch products/initiatives without top consideration for long term effects. A new initiative loses its champion and its vision when that person leaves the desk. The replacement has some incentive to create an entirely new initiative to replace the failing initiative, when the project’s original creator would fix the initiative with far less effort and with the original vision in mind. Moreover, rotations hamper organizational memory. Nobody knows why things were done a certain way, and mistakes must be repeated. This is stressful for vendors and customers, as they’re forced to re-experience the mistakes too. Finally, rotations are fatiguing after a few of them. Another new boss, another new team, another new way of doing things… it builds a callous over the intimacy between an employee and the firm. The job becomes transactional. “What I signed up for” becomes moot and by 2 or 3 rotations, the employee is doing nothing like what they joined the company for.

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