Dos and Don'ts of Job Rotation

A job rotation program on your plant floor promises to build a more flexible, motivated workforce. Do it wrong, however, and youll be disappointed in the results.

You've just been struck by a single brilliant idea to resolve three challenges dogging your companys plant floor. The solution: introduce job rotation. The challenges: unmotivated workers, your desire for a more flexible workforce and chronic ergonomic injuries.

Well, think again. While introducing job rotation may assist in resolving the aforementioned concerns, rarely is it the singular solution.

Job rotation alone is a limited measure that usually obtains limited results, says Gerry Ledford, president of Ledford Consulting Network, Redondo Beach, Calif.

Imagine, for example, the manufacturer that implements job rotation to reduce employees boredom with performing a single rote task over and over again. A poorly thought out job-rotation effort doesn't necessarily fix the problem and here's why: A typical problem is that "companies [then] ask employees to do a variety of poorly designed, unmotivating tasks rather than just one," Ledford says.

He should know. Ledford has more than 30 years of experience in human resource consulting and research, including a lengthy stint at the Center for Effective Organizations at the University of Southern California's Marshall School of Business.

While he doesn't promote job rotation as an easy solution to throw at workforce issues, Ledford says that, done well, it can provide companies with a number of benefits. It is the done well aspect that can get overlooked.

Ideally, job rotation should be part of a larger effort at redesigning work, Ledford suggests. That means it should be used in combination with other job redesign tools, including the creation of work teams where applicable, a leaner management structure, increased information sharing about the business and, most critically, increased employee decision-making responsibility, he says.

In combination, these tools usually drive increased employee productivity and satisfaction, less turnover and absenteeism, and higher quality, he says.

Dont Underestimate the Workload

Any company that believes implementing job rotation is easy likely is underestimating the amount of work involved, Ledford says. He offers these insights:

1. If a goal is to increase workforce flexibility, think carefully about what flexibility you need and what skills are realistic to gain. In a work-team setting, for example, the goal may be job rotation within each team. The rotation provides opportunity for cross-training and reinforces the team concept.

2. Effective training is paramount; otherwise you will be asking employees to perform tasks they dont have the capability to do. Depending on the skills required, training can be a significant cost investment.

3. Companies must implement some means to assure that employees have gained the skills required to perform new jobs.

4. Be prepared to address workforce resistance. While you may be implementing job rotation to help alleviate boredom, there likely will be some workers who are more comfortable staying in a single position.

5. Resistance may also come in the form of demands for more money for doing more jobs. While the current economy typically results in less resistance, sooner or later the economy will turn, Ledford points out. Companies may want to consider systems, such as skill-based pay, that reward job rotation and other means of skills development. A skill-based pay system, Ledford says, takes a lot of care and feeding to build one well. You wouldn't want to back into that.

The use of job rotation in the workplace has gained traction. "Overall, there is a clear trend toward more job rotation in the U.S. economy. In both factories and the service sector, simple-minded button-pushing jobs are disappearing, and those that remain tend to have a higher knowledge and skill content. Job rotation is often a natural practice in modern industry, but it is wisest to think of it as a tool rather than a strategy," Ledford says.

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