The term job rotation is used to describe two different rotation processes. First, job rotation is used to describe the process of workers with high physical demands or highly repetitive tasks alternating or rotating from these highly physically demanding tasks or from repetitive tasks to other tasks. The rotation may take place to expose the worker to less physical strain, or to enhance the motivating potential of the overall job. In addition, this type of job rotation is also meant to reduce boredom, fatigue, and related injuries. Second, job rotation is used to describe an employee’s lateral movement within a company to a different job title or a different department, with the objective of enhancing the employee’s professional development through exposure to a new set of knowledge, a different job, and a different department. Employees on different organizational levels can rotate jobs; however, job rotations are more common among professional employees and managers than among nonprofessional workers. Generally, job rotation does not include promotions or advancements, which are nonlateral movements that come with increased responsibilities and usually with differences in pay grade.
Objectives of the Two Types of Job Rotation
Job rotation as task rotation bears similarities with job enrichment and other job redesign efforts, which are meant to enhance the motivating characteristics of work and reduce biological, psychological, and physiological strain on the employee. The reduction of work-related accidents and injuries related to fatigue and boredom is another objective frequently pursued by organizations implementing job rotation that encompasses employees switching tasks more than they used to. As job rotation is meant to enhance the perceived meaningfulness of work for employees, organizations also expect enhanced internal and external customer satisfaction from implementing job rotation practices that contain task rotation.
Position or Department Rotation
Job rotation as lateral rotation to a different job or department has the objective of advancing the breadth of exposure the employee has to different components of his or her organization. Employees engaged in job rotation are meant to accumulate experiences, business knowledge, and better organizational networks. In addition, job rotation is supposed to contribute to enhanced employee motivation, reduce boredom and fatigue, and lower the likelihood of accidents in monotonous jobs. From an organizational perspective, it has been argued that job rotation can enhance the company’s knowledge about the employee’s potential, knowledge, abilities, and perspectives and can lead to intellectual capital accumulation.
Involvement in Job Rotation
Job rotation that involves task rotation is, in most organizations, limited to manufacturing and low-level administrative positions. The complexity and training requirements for most higher level jobs, as well as the lower monotony, along with the absence of stressors related to physical and mental fatigue and boredom, have precluded most complex jobs (e.g., most professional jobs) from involvement in task rotation processes.
Position or Department Rotation
The number of companies in Western societies using job rotation to laterally move employees into different jobs or organizational divisions has increased in the past decades. Large companies are more likely to have elaborate job rotation programs involving about 50% of their employees, whereas job rotation is less prevalent at organizations with fewer than 50 employees. Individuals engaged in job rotation programs are more likely to be younger, have less tenure, and be more ambitious than employees who are not involved in job rotation. Research also demonstrates that high-performing employees are more likely to obtain placement in a job rotation program than are individuals not performing according to expectations.
Outcomes of Job Rotation
Although organizations expect more benefits than costs from job rotation programs that involve task rotation, research indicates that rotating individuals through several tasks is beneficial to their satisfaction only if the enlargement of the employee’s job through job rotation contains knowledge enlargement rather than just task enlargement. Knowledge enlargement pertains to the addition of job elements that require enhanced understanding of procedures, rules, and policies. Task enlargement is defined as the addition of other simple tasks that do not require deeper under-standing of processes. Longitudinal studies found consequences of mere task enlargement to include lower satisfaction levels, lower chances of error detection, and decreased customer service. In contrast, knowledge enlargement was found to lead to higher satisfaction levels, reduced perceptions of mental underload, and increased likelihood of error detection. Overall, the consequences of job rotation from an employee perspective are more complex than researchers initially expected: Although some job rotation efforts were found to have positive consequences in terms of reducing muscle strain and physiological tension, not all job rotation led to positive outcomes in employee well-being, motivation, and health.
Position or Department Rotation
Overall, both organizations and employees benefit from job rotation that pertains to lateral moves of employees to different job titles or divisions, but both also incur some costs. From an employee perspective, long-term salary growth and promotion are among the desirable outcomes of job rotation. In addition, employees involved in job rotation gain increased knowledge and skills, with job rotation leading to higher skill improvement in the business domain than in areas such as technical or administrative skills. Nonrotating employees in organizations that have job rotation were less satisfied than rotating employees. Employees involved in job rotation had more positive job attitudes than those not engaged in job rotation— they were generally found to be more satisfied, committed, and involved than nonrotating employees at the same company. Costwise, job rotation was found to lead to increased workloads among rotating employees and to add a financial burden for the organization (e.g., necessity of moving employees to different locations).
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