The days of employees spending decades at a company -- and receiving a gold watch in gratitude -- are long gone. Workers today are constantly on the move, a fact of life that will only accelerate as job growth picks up. But the turnover poses particular challenges for companies looking to hold onto their best and brightest.
In response, innovative companies are embracing a promising new retention strategy: employee rotation. Instead of locking workers into a single job category with a specific career trajectory, companies are moving workers through a variety of positions within departments or teams. Job rotation is seen as a way to motivate key employees, broaden their skill sets and, most important, hold onto them. It also gives employers the comfort of knowing there's someone who can quickly fill an ailing or departing coworker's shoes.
"I can't think of a single industry that wouldn't benefit from job rotation," says Susan Heathfield, a human resources consultant who's been in the business for 30 years. "It helps employees spread their wings and extend their boundaries" and, she says, it helps employers engage and motivate their staff.
The Payoff for You and Your Staff
So where to start? First, recognize that employee rotation programs should be implemented with careful consideration. Every company should establish clear guidelines with each internal team so employees know what the rotation will entail and managers have a set of of best practices. Otherwise, the rotation will fall apart as employees wander from job to job without clear guidance or oversight. Have a purpose, have a plan and have a way to measure if the rotation is successful, Heathfield said. The programs can often be costly in terms of time spent training workers for their new jobs, she says, but the benefits can far outweigh the expense.
Take, for instance, human resources. In a large company, an employee who typically handles employee health insurance can be shifted into a position that tends to job referrals. "So many employees come to human resources for a multitude of reasons and it makes more sense if their questions can all be answered by their first point of contact," explained Heathfield. "I want everyone in HR cross-trained so that you can serve employees immediately."
The same logic applies to sales teams. Since sales hinge on relationships, it's crucial for everyone on the team to be familiar with one another's clients. "Normally people have dedicated customers, but having someone else available if the (primary point of contact) is out to serve your customers is key," Heathfield said. Sales folks are always reticent to share their clients, but will if given the right incentives.
A Motivated Worker Is a Happy Worker
It happens -- a lot. You have a valued employee whose skills have grown beyond her current duties and, yet, a promotion isn't an option. In any organization -- flat or hierarchical -- the opportunities to move up the ladder get smaller the higher up you go, notes Heathfield. Then, too, the employee may not want a promotion to the next rung. She'd rather stay an individual contributor than move into management.
For these folks, job rotation can be a key retention strategy to keep them within your company. Whether an employee wants to be promoted or not, job rotation improves their skills and gives them a broader understanding of the inner workings of a company.
Sometimes, a valued employee's career path isn't the right one for her. But that doesn't mean she needs to pack up and leave. Quite the opposite. Too often we follow the old adage "If it ain't broke, don't fix it" and are happy to have employees do what they've shown they can do best. But a lot of workers might be happier facing different challenges and learning new skills. The Society of Human Resources Management reports that self-growth and career development are among the top five most important considerations for workers.
If employees don't feel like they're growing, they'll head for the exits, warns Heathfield. So if you've got a great employee who has expressed interest in trying out new roles within your company, work with them to create a job rotation plan or test phase -- it could be the difference between losing a stellar employee and helping them find a new passion that, in the end, bolsters your bottom line.
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