Today’s employees want to learn. They are dedicated to advancing their professional development, and successful organizations help them do so. One way to support employees’ desire to learn and grow is with job rotation programs, which offer “in-depth experiences, ongoing mentorship, and targeted training across a range of business areas within a company,” according to Columbia University’s Career Education Center. Rotation programs help new hires understand an organization’s many moving parts and determine where their skills best fit in. They also help employees develop skills across organizational functions.
Job rotation benefits employees in myriad ways, from satisfying their desire to learn to broadening their skill sets … but how do they benefit the bottom line? Let’s evaluate the business benefit of rotation programs and some key best practices for implementing them and driving change.
The Benefits of Job Rotation
In today’s corporate environment, employees and job candidates largely consider a lack of professional development opportunities to be a deal-breaker: LinkedIn’s 2019 Workforce Learning Report found that 94% of employees would stay with an employer longer if it invested in helping them learn. Rotation programs can help retain talent by offering employees numerous learning opportunities, whether it’s improving their soft skills during a communications rotation or tackling a new coding language during a data science rotation.
Nicole Rogers, who completed Blue Cross NC’s rotational development program and now works as a program manager associate at the organization, says the program helped her better understand business operations and grew her network. “I was able to meet a bunch of different people [during the program],” she says. “I was able to experience different management styles and work on different-sized teams.” After completing rotations in human resources (HR), community relations and operations, Rogers says she was better able to determine the type of work environment she thrived in and the type of role she could see herself in long-term. She says the program also made her a “stronger and more committed” team member.
Matthew Ross, co-owner and chief operating officer of The Slumber Yard, has seen firsthand how job rotation can reduce turnover. In fact, reducing turnover costs was one of the main reasons The Slumber Yard decided to launch a rotation program in the first place. “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,” he explains. “We don’t even miss a beat.”
In an article for The Balance Careers, Susan Heathfield, an HR management consultant, writes that rotation programs are a continuing commitment from employers that enable employees to develop and grow in their roles and pursue a “desirable career path.” This commitment may be one of the most impactful ways job rotations can reduce turnover: When organizations commit to their employees’ career development, employees are more likely to commit to their organizations as well.
Job rotation can also improve employee engagement, which can have a major impact on business results. Nate Masterson, business consultant and HR manager at Maple Holistics, says, “Many employees begin to feel bored and less engaged in their position, and, as a result, either their performance levels drop or they decide to leave the position altogether.” Job rotation can keep employees engaged by “switching up” their position and tasks; it also keeps them feeling valued and appreciated, which helps them perform “at the top of their game.”
Ross agrees that job rotation programs can improve engagement, as they prevent employees from “doing the same old boring tasks day after day.” They offer employees the chance to learn new skills, collaborate on projects across departments, and expand their network and influence — which, for today’s professional development-hungry employees, is very engaging.
3 Best Practices to Follow
Although rotation programs can yield major business results, organizations must implement them strategically. Following these three best practices can help rotation programs achieve business impact:
1. Determine the Right Duration
“Different jobs will take different amounts of time to learn,” says Rich Franklin, founder and president of KBC Staffing. Learning leaders should consult subject matter experts (SMEs) in each rotation area to determine accurate training times and then plan out the length of the program accordingly. Of course, training times are largely depend on the organization. After all, Masterson says, “Every company is different and will take to a job rotation program according to [its] office environment and company culture.”
At The Slumber Yard, employees rotate positions once per quarter, and Rogers rotated positions every seven or eight months during Blue Cross NC’s program. What works for one organization may not work for another. By consulting with SMEs and considering organizational dynamics, learning leaders can determine the best length for each rotation.
2. Start Small
When launching a rotation program, Masterson recommends rotating employees through different roles within a single department before rotating them through different departments. “This is the best way to be sure this major change doesn’t cause major chaos and upheaval in the company,” he says. After test-driving the program in single department, learning leaders can make any necessary changes before expanding its reach.
3. Offer Support
Job rotation isn’t a walk in the park. It requires employees to constantly navigate change. When going through a rotation program, Rogers says, “You start to get used to a team. You start to get used to your work, and then, before you know it, it’s time to move on to the next thing.”
There are numerous ways organizations can offer support to participants. For example, Blue Cross NC established a cohort of employees going through its rotational development program, which acted as a key support system for Rogers. With the cohort, she says, “Even though we were working on different teams, or with different parts of the company, I still felt like there was someone I could talk to.” Open, consistent communication with managers also helped ease the transition from one rotation to the next, Rogers says.
Further, learning leaders should ensure that each team member on the teams through which employees are rotating understands the program and how they can best support their “temporary team member,” Franklin says. Whether through a formal cohort or regular check-ins with managers, it’s critical that employees have the support they need to thrive in each and every rotation.
When learning leaders determine the right training duration, pilot the program within a single department, and provide managerial and collegial support, rotation programs can improve engagement, productivity and retention. Ultimately, they create a workforce that understands the role each organizational function has in reaching key business goals.