Growing Potential

Foodservice and Hospitality, November 2003. David Lipton

Between SARS, BSE, the war in Iraq and general economic uncertainty, this has not been the best summer for the hospitality sector. However, these challenges have opened doors for many ambitious foodservice staff. With less summer staff hired this year, existing employees had the opportunity to participate in on-the-job training through job rotation.

A key component of most leadership programs, job rotation is designed as a strategy to retain high-quality employees. In theory, by providing new opportunities for learning and development, employee career aspirations become more defined and accessible.

According to the Ottawa-based Canadian Policy Research Networks (CPRN), Canadians want work that is interesting, meaningful, and allows for skill development. The CPRN Web site ( reports 15 per cent of Canadians “occasionally” participate in job rotation for cross-training and only six per cent surveyed do so on a “frequent” basis. Large firms, employing 500 people or more, implement such programs most often (26 per cent of workers participate at least “occasionally”) Businesses with less than 20 workers are least likely to offer job rotation (20 per cent participate at least “occasionally”).

Job rotation offers many benefits for large and small businesses alike:

BACK UP Once job rotation practices are in place, employees can fill empty shoes without hesitation, eliminating a cause for alarm should, for example, the regularly scheduled bartender call in sick.

ELIMINATING REDUNDANCY Job rotation stimulates interest and renews energy in workers by preventing some of the boredom associated with repetitive tasks. Rotating employees get a better sense of the business as a whole.

SELF-EXPLORATION/DISCOVERY Employees acquire new skills that help them advance their careers. Plus they are more likely to stay at the workplace where they feel there is an opportunity for growth. Job rotation enables employees to explore their own strengths and weaknesses. After experiencing the workplace from a different perspective, they may find new appreciation for their usual job, or discover a job they prefer and excel at.

BRIDGE THE GAPS Understanding the importance of each role within the organization fosters mutual respect and admiration among co-workers.

FRESHNESS Whenever a new person steps into an old role they bring a new perspective. They may be able to see errors in efficiency that those who normally do the job have gotten used to or overlooked.

INCREASED INTEREST When compared to classroom learning, on-the-job training lasts longer and has a greater impact on productivity since workers are able to see the payoff and receive immediate feedback. Managers who are explaining the procedure are then able to analyze it’s effectiveness.

PLANNING FOR THE FUTURE Testing the waters allows management to see whether workers are realizing their full potential or whether they would be better off elsewhere, It also makes high-potential employees easier to spot.

Like most labour strategies, job rotation is not always easy. At first, it may be difficult for employees to step out of their comfort zone. Management must stand by the idea and be patient even if it doesn’t appear to be working initially—over time the adjustment gets easier. Cost is another factor. When someone first undertakes a new task they must be trained so they may learn how it is done correctly – that takes time and money. Keep in mind when one worker steps out of his/her role, someone else must be trained to do his/her job as well. This could result in a short-term loss of productivity. However, in the long run, having additional staff to fill a particular role will be both cost-effective and result in a seamless turnover.

Finally, it’s important to ensure job rotation is not used as a reward for poor productivity or for bad workplace behavior. Using job rotation as a reward for good performance facilitates a more productive workplace, and a happier working environment. Trying times like these clearly show how a multi-skilled workforce can easily adapt to the ever-changing business landscape.

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