UPDATED BY
Matthew Urwin | Feb 02, 2024

Job rotation is the workplace practice of shifting employees to other roles or departments on a temporary basis. The goal is to diversify employees’ skills, expose them to new situations and enhance their knowledge of the organization.

What Is Job Rotation?

Job rotation is a practice of temporarily assigning employees to other roles to teach them new skills, learn about other functions within the team and develop relationships across the business. By investing in employee development, companies can foster internal mobility and develop future leaders. 

Often, job rotation programs are used to give employees practical, on-the-job experience within a specific department or business function. A rotational program might also assign employees across several related departments, giving them a broader perspective on the work of other departments and how they collaborate to reach the organization’s goals.

 

What Is a Job Rotation?

A job rotation program, also known as a rotational program, allows employees to work temporarily in multiple jobs at an organization. This helps employees understand the ins and outs of each job function and how they relate to each other. These programs also provide valuable context about a company’s culture, values and core business model.

“Rotational programs really do help to understand how the organization works overall,” said career coach Ayanna Jackson, who participated in a two-year rotational program that cycled her through three different jobs at GE. “We don’t want people in silos. We want people to work cross-departmentally and cross-divisionally.”

While job rotations are commonly used for recent college graduates, they can also benefit more experienced employees. By walking several weeks or months in the shoes of their coworkers, they can better understand what each department does and how they can best work together. 

Some examples of job rotations include:

  • A software developer moving over to customer service for a short time to understand how product features impact the user experience. 
  • An operations analyst rotating between positions in different departments to learn how departments interact with each other and are affected by various workflows. 
  • A security analyst shifting between different IT roles to study a company’s infrastructure and discover new ways they can apply their cybersecurity skills.     

While the experiences, skills and connections acquired through a job rotation can help accelerate one’s career advancement later down the road, it is not the same thing as receiving a promotion or a raise.

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Job Rotation Advantages

A job rotation can have significant benefits for employees and organizations alike.

 

Improved Employee Learning and Development

A job rotation can help employees learn new skills, enhancing their professional development.

“By working across multiple departments, employees gain versatility through exposure to a diverse range of skills and experiences,” Kelly Scheib, chief people officer at Crunchbase, told Built In. “This not only enhances their professional growth, but also their personal development by providing a broader perspective on their goals and interests, and the various ways they can align with the company’s vision and mission.”

Cross-departmental training opportunities also benefit organizations, as it helps them develop an internal talent pool of employees that could be tapped to help other departments when needed. Also, the leadership skills and organizational knowledge gained from rotational programs creates a talent pipeline for future executive positions, which is why job rotation programs can be helpful in succession planning.

 

Increased Employee Engagement

A job rotation allows employees to have a better understanding of the organization and their usefulness to the organization, which can increase their motivation and engagement

“When you have those experiences across the organization, it becomes clearer how what you do on a day-to-day basis helps the organization overall,” Jackson said.

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Reduced Boredom and Burnout

A job rotation will expose employees to new, challenging tasks, which can stave off boredom. If an employee is feeling bored or burned out, new experiences might pull them out of their rut and revitalize their sense of curiosity and creativity, inspiring them to think of their work in a new light. Or, it could just simply break up the monotony.

 

Stronger Recruitment and Retention

A job rotation helps companies recruit and retain employees. Candidates often leave jobs because they feel stuck, like they aren’t learning new skills or growing their careers. These employees would be attracted to an employer that invests in the learning and development of their employees.

If an employee is curious about another career path, a rotational program could give them the opportunity to try out that career without taking a risk and leaving the company. Once they have developed their skills and experiences within the company, they could pivot internally to a new career path. Or, if it doesn’t work out, they could return to their existing position after the rotational program.

 

Job Rotation Disadvantages

While a job rotation can be hugely beneficial for employees, there are several challenges and downsides that organizations should be aware of before implementing a rotational program.

 

Additional Expenses

A rotational program might not be feasible at smaller or even midsize organizations because of the amount of resources it requires. A well-executed rotational program demands a dedicated staff and a dedicated budget to ensure rotational employees are receiving the learning, mentorship and support they need to be successful in their assignments.

If a company is going to be allocating a budget and staff to a rotational program, they should know what they want out of the program — usually talent development and pipeline for leadership development — and do what it takes to meet those goals.

 

Lower Productivity

When an employee shifts to a new department, they often experience a learning curve before getting fully up to speed. If those employees aren’t given ample support, their initial lack of productivity could impact other employees. The team’s performance might drop if workflows are disrupted or if employees have to spend too much time onboarding and supporting rotational employees.

 

Employee Frustration

If done wrong, a job rotation program could frustrate some employees. If an employee is forced to participate in a rotation program — which experts don’t recommend — they may question why they are being pulled away from their job. An employee who has a specific career focus may not be interested in learning about other departments that aren’t directly related to their area of expertise. 

Employees might also be frustrated if they participate in a rotational program in hopes of earning a promotion, which often is not guaranteed. Jackson, the career coach who benefited from GE’s rotational program, suggests rotational employees view the program as a learning opportunity and not a promotion opportunity. Rotational programs can lead to career advancement, she said, but the true benefit of the program comes from the skills, experiences and connections that will lead to career growth over time.

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Job Rotation Examples

Many leading companies use rotational programs across a variety of career areas, including finance, HR, IT and business operations.

 

Microsoft 

Microsoft Aspire is a two-year rotational program designed to help recent graduates learn about the company, build their network and explore how their strengths and interests align with job opportunities within the company. The program has one track for recent college graduates and another track for candidates who recently graduated with an MBA.

Students who are enrolled in a Master’s of Human Resources or MBA program can also participate in Microsoft’s HR Rotation program, which consists of a 12-week internship and a three-year rotational program designed to jumpstart their HR career.

 

GE

GE offers rotational leadership programs for recent graduates interested in operations management, digital technology, financial management and other concentrations. The two-year programs consist of rotational assignments, coaching and exposure to company leadership. The HR leadership program, for example, rotates employees through three actual open HR roles for eight months at a time.

 

Deloitte 

Deloitte’s SHINE program is aimed at recent college graduates who majored in marketing or communications. The rotational program assigns participants to several three-month rotations across the client and market growth team. Associates gain experience in a variety of marketing projects, including social media campaigns, supporting business expansion initiatives and developing promotional marketing and sales tools, among other responsibilities. They also benefit from educational sessions, workshops and Q&A sessions with Deloitte’s marketing and communications professionals.

 

Job Rotation Best Practices

Many of the challenges of a job rotation can be alleviated by developing clear goals, building support for participants, creating transparent processes and continually evaluating the effectiveness of the program.

  

Have a Clear Goal and Timeline

A job rotation should have a stated purpose, guiding principles and clearly defined selection criteria. Joan Goodwin, managing director in Deloitte Consulting’s Human Capital practice, told Built In that the program should be based around the needs of the business, and that the program’s selection criteria are based around the skills the company desires.

Employees participating in a job rotation should also be given a timeline, so they know how long they’ll be in their new role before returning to their regular position or transitioning to another role. 

 

Provide Training and Support  

Organizations should design a program that provides a well-rounded experience while offering the training and support necessary for participants to succeed.

Rotational employees should receive the training they need before entering into a rotational assignment. As for the assignments themselves, organizations should integrate skills-based, hands-on experience into each role. Participants should also have access to coaching and mentoring to guide their growth and answer any questions they may develop along the way.

 

Strive for Transparency

Employers should be transparent with employees about the selection criteria, nomination process and expected outcomes of the program, Goodwin said.

When it comes to selecting candidates for the rotational program, Jackson recommends leaders create an application process instead of an appointment process, which helps avoid “playing favorites.”

 

Measure the Program’s Success

A job rotation should be continuously evaluated to ensure it is offering a valuable employee experience and achieving organizational goals. The program managers should hold regular feedback sessions with department leaders to learn how the participants are performing and how the program can be improved.

The success of the program can be evaluated by measuring employees’ time-to-proficiency, employee retention rate and employees’ overall success in the role. Companies can also compare the engagement levels of employees who went through the job rotation program versus those who didn’t go through the program, Goodwin said.

 

Frequently Asked Questions

What is job rotation?

Job rotation is an organizational development practice of assigning employees to temporary assignments in other roles or departments. It can be used to orient new employees to the organization or to expose existing employees to the work of other business functions.

What is a real example of job rotation?

A job rotation aimed at early-career HR professionals might offer a series of eight-month assignments as an HR generalist, recruiter and compensation and benefits professional. The variety of hands-on experiences, as well as the educational sessions and mentoring support, would help the recent grad gain valuable work experience and determine where they might best fit within the organization.

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