Studies support the principle of job rotation, indicating that systematic portfolio swapping could inspire new levels of productivity, creativity and job satisfaction among workers.
Job rotation is based on the ‘change is as good as a holiday’ premise and on the principle that professional skills can be renewed and enlarged by experiencing different roles within a organisation or field of work. It is seen as a solution to skills shortages and employee motivation but involves the need for increased training.
A recent report, based on a Finnish survey conducted among European Union Member States, shows that where job rotation is methodically applied all concerned derive the following benefits:
• increased expertise and motivation among employees;
• valuable work experience and training;
• improved employment possibilities and recruitment allure;
• increased labour market flexibility;
• reduced levels of absenteeism; and
• it supports the idea of lifelong learning.
The report highlights the potential impact of implementing job rotation schemes. It also shows that these strategies can effectively narrow the gap between workers’ capabilities and the demands of technological innovation.
Research was based on feedback from completed job rotation projects and responses to questionnaires sent to people responsible for implementing rotation programmes at numerous organisations in Europe.
“There is no doubt that the movement of employees through a range of jobs within a business can help sustain interest and motivation, and improve multi-skilling,” says Carol Robertson, business development director of Johannesburg-based human resource specialist company, HR Focus.
“SA business, however, seems to see job rotation as an opportunity to fast track individuals to promotion, rather than as a means of developing skills and improving performance. In many cases, management identifies a potential high flyer, decides on a prospective place for that person up the ranks, and then rotates him or her through various jobs within the company over a relatively short period to prepare them for their final position. That is the extent of job rotation in many local organisations.”
Studies from the US and Japan support the findings of the Finnish survey and suggest that SA businesses might be missing out by not establishing more job rotation systems.
A study, prepared by US management consultant Dan MacLeod, adds to the benefits detailed in the Finnish report and says that job rotation can also reduce boredom and work stress and increase innovation and free time activity.
MacLeod’s report also, however, notes the difficulties in implementing job rotation. Most of these problems come from the challenge of changing the work structure and not from the job rotation itself. The following problems are noted:
• experienced workers do not want to learn new types of work;
• operators do not want to ‘lend’ their equipment to others;
• practical problems of physically getting from one job to the next;
• unsuitable wage forms;
• education and training of workers for new jobs;
• difficulties in finding appropriate jobs to rotate to; and
• inappropriate use of job rotation by management.
Another drawback of job rotation is the potential period of inefficiency during the changeover period. There are also indications that ‘reinventing the wheel’ or ‘the new broom sweeping clean’ can slow the process down.
MacLeod says that these problems draw attention to the need for complete training and ‘break-in’ periods before an employer begins a job rotation programme: “This enables the employee to develop the behavioural strategies needed to limit risk factors. Studies also suggest that the number of jobs included in a particular rotation should be kept to a minimum, perhaps two or three, allowing the employees to become ‘experts’ at each task.”
Job rotation is not, says management consultant Aubrey Daniels, a good practice when used as a cure for job burnout or employee performance issues. He says that, where companies need employees to have multiple job skills, job rotation is best used to reward good performance. That way, organisations will achieve not only a more productive workplace, but a happier one as well.
Benefits of job rotation
• Increased interest and motivation
• Advanced skills development
• Valuable work experience
• Supports lifelong learning
• Reduced absenteeism
(First published in Business Day.)