The lack of job satisfaction felt by many employees is a widespread phenomenon that is weakening both individual companies and the economy as a whole. According to Gallup’s latest engagement index, a third of the more than 40 million people in gainful employment in Germany are unhappy and have already quit their job in their head. Experts estimate that the resulting economic damage totals between 96 and 114 billion euros. The effects of ‘boreout syndrome’ are even more disastrous. Around 10 percent of Germany’s working population claims to suffer from boredom on the job, with the subsequent costs thought to exceed 200 billion euros.
What is Job rotation?
Making jobs more appealing
A tried-and-tested means of combating boredom at work is variation – and that’s exactly what job rotation, among other things, provides. As the name suggests, this is where employees alternate between different job positions within their company for set periods of time. This change of workplace and responsibilities can diversify a person’s day-to-day routine and make it more interesting.
The principle of job rotation was first described back in 1951 by British social psychologist Eric Lansdown Trist. There is still no standard definition of the term, however. Many online definitions of job rotation talk about the practice of employees systematically changing workplace and/or task. The key word here is “systematically”, with two crucial aspects being that the concept of job rotation should be thoroughly planned and employees properly prepared.
How HR managers set out the finer details depends on the type of work and tasks involved. Where monotonous, physically demanding activities are concerned, job enlargement is a sensible option. In this form of job rotation, staff are assigned additional duties linked to the jobs they would usually do. The defining feature of this particular model is frequent rotations, which are intended to reduce the strain on employees and stop monotony from setting in. If the main objective is to delve deeper into more mentally challenging areas of work, then job enrichment is a good option. This is where staff take on assignments involving even greater responsibility. In this case, it makes sense to allow for longer periods between job changes. Whether it’s job enlargement or job enrichment, all forms of job rotation offer human resource management (HRM) the opportunity to upgrade employees’ jobs and responsibilities – in such a way that the individual is not merely seen as a production factor, but as a human being.
That’s because one of the goals of job rotation is to support employees’ personal development. They are involved in business processes from start to finish, enhance their understanding of internal workflows, find it easier to identify with the company, and feel more like a member of the team. This enhances the appeal of the workplace, job satisfaction and thus productivity in general. In truth, job rotation therefore serves the interests of both employers and employees. Yet although more than two thirds of employees are keen to regularly rotate between jobs, a Bitkom survey from 2019 on the topic of New Work revealed that the reality in the free economy is entirely different. To date, only a handful of German companies offer a model for systematically switching between jobs. Moreover, those that do often only focus on interns, trainees and career starters.
Where does this cautious and sometimes even dismissive attitude come from? Is the situation the same in all countries? A quick comparison shows that different cultures have their own take on job rotation. In Japan, for example, the principle of rotation is considered the key to staff development. Since the 1950s, this method has served as the basis for lean production operations. New recruits pass through various workstations along a production process, meaning they get to know how everything functions and become well-rounded generalists who can be flexibly deployed.
Western companies organize work in an entirely different manner, breaking up jobs and encouraging staff to specialize in certain areas or skills. This concept is increasingly being called into question, however. A growing number of managers are recognizing the potential of job rotation and its important role in making companies more appealing to the workers of tomorrow. At a time when skilled professionals are in such short supply, this is absolutely vital – not least because the younger generation has entirely different desires and expectations.
Job rotation offers huge opportunities – for both employees and the companies themselves.
Opportunities for the staff
- Variation: Systematically changing jobs not only keeps staff mentally fit, it can also stop them placing uneven strain on certain areas of their body and thus prevent postural and health problems.
- Additional skills: Since they are constantly faced with new challenges, employees develop new hard and soft skills and thus evolve into valuable all-rounders.
- Appreciation: Job rotation fosters a better understanding of workflows, processes and how things generally fit together. Staff develop an instinct for the value of their work. At the same time, they come to appreciate what other departments do and internalize a genuine team spirit.
- Foresight and a sense of responsibility: Job rotation enables staff to get to know different departments. They broaden their horizons and are encouraged to act with greater foresight and responsibility.
- Motivation and organizational commitment: Employees who take part in job rotation can tap into progression opportunities by taking on new duties, which gives them fresh motivation and boosts their overall organizational commitment.
Opportunities for the company
- Flexibility: The workforce can be deployed with greater flexibility, while extra work during peaks in production can be shared out more effectively.
- More room for maneuver: Companies benefit from know-how and skills being passed on and shared, as this makes them less reliant on specialists. If there is ever a shortage of staff, say because someone falls ill, goes on maternity leave or quits their job, vacant positions can be quickly refilled.
- Uncovering organizational blind spots: Mistakes can be avoided and a high standard of quality maintained.
- An ability to innovate: Employees bring fresh ideas, impetus and suggestions for improvement into their new job positions, meaning the overall process undergoes continuous improvement.
- Staff retention: Employees who are assigned different duties every so often are happier and more motivated. They become more productive as their team spirit is strengthened, which in turn has a positive impact on the general atmosphere.
- Knowledge culture: Since in-house knowledge and skills are passed on, a new knowledge culture can be established.
- Overcoming silo mentalities: Job rotation puts a stop to silo mentalities, as staff have a broader understanding of internal processes and become better acquainted with the company as a whole.
Despite all the benefits it offers, there are still limits and potential disadvantages to job rotation, just as there are to any method. Highly specialized tasks and technical departments that require experienced personnel can pose certain issues, for example. That is why it is crucial to first conduct a review, then plan and only then implement a job rotation program. Taking shortcuts will likely bring about the following disadvantages:
Potential disadvantages for the employee
- Frustration: Employees on rotation who are thrown in at the deep end and left to fend for themselves in their new position will quickly become disgruntled or frustrated.
- Stress: Changing job positions too frequently creates stress and causes employees to lose motivation and become less productive. If, however, the rate of rotation is kept too low, boredom, absent-mindedness and therefore mistakes will creep in.
Potential disadvantages for the employer
- Rejection: If staff are not kept sufficiently in the loop or involved in decisions, they will be less open to the concept and only change job positions reluctantly.
- Organizational outlay: Job rotation requires a fair bit of forethought and planning, and many companies are put off by the amount of organizational outlay required.