Job rotation: What does it mean?

Job rotation is a scheme in which employees move around different jobs in a planned way. Organizations use the method to broaden experience, raise motivation, and other reasons.

woman pointing at chart
Companies may use job rotation to create a pool of talent. Image by unsplash

Merriam Webster define the term as the “assigning of an employee to a variety of tasks in turn to provide diversified experience during training or to counteract boredom.”

The definition at Oxford Learner’s Dictionaries also emphasizes gaining experience. It defines the practice as that of “regularly changing the job that a particular person does so that they become experienced in different areas.”.

The term can also mean to hire a non-permanent worker to cover a temporary vacancy. The temporary vacancy could be due to a permanent employee undergoing further training. This usage is far less common, however.

Rotation by task, role, or location

Schemes can operate by task, role, or location. In task-based schemes, the worker has the same job but rotates tasks. The purpose might be to minimize tasks that can become repetitive and monotonous.

A role-based system is one in which the employee moves from job to job. An example is a sales executive who moves to a marketing position. Organizations might use such a strategy to widen career paths or increase retention.

Location-based job rotation involves moving to other sites and even countries. Multinationals and diplomatic services often assign employees to overseas posts. Foreign service officers of the United States, for example, must be prepared “to go where needed” anywhere in the world.

Reasons for job rotation

Employers use the scheme for many reasons, including to:

  • Reduce boredom and stagnation
  • Alleviate physical fatigue
  • Improve product or service quality
  • Increase workforce flexibility
  • Broaden career prospects

Companies also use rotational programs to create a pool of managerial and leadership talent. Such schemes involve rotating interns and postgraduates through different parts of the company.

In some jobs, rotation is an essential part of professional development. E.g., in the United Kingdom, junior doctors complete a program of rotations after graduating. These expose them to a range of medical specialties. The purpose is to expand skill sets and inform long-term career decisions.

An important part of scheme design is the consultation between all the stakeholders, such as managers, supervisors, experts, and workers. This step also helps to identify the jobs that may or may not benefit from a rotation program.

There may be jobs in which rotation might even increase risk of harm. Some experts suggest that a more effective alternative might be to redesign such jobs.