Study Clarifies Job-Rotation Benefits

By Cheraskin, Lisa; Campion, Michael A. | Personnel Journal, November 1996 | Go to article overview

Study Clarifies Job-Rotation Benefits


Cheraskin, Lisa, Campion, Michael A., Personnel Journal


Finally, here's hard data on why it's a good corporate strategy to rotate people from job to job. A study of Eli Lilly and Company's financial workforce not only shows us what the training and career-development advantages of job rotation are, but also what its pitfalls areand how to avoid them.

For years, companies have been using job rotation, the systematic movement of employees from job to job within an organization, as a way to achieve many different human resources objectives-for simply staffing jobs, for orienting new employees, for preventing job boredom, and, finally, for training employees and enhancing their career development.

Up until now, we've intuitively known that it's good for both employees and employers to move people around an organization. It gets workers-especially management and pre-management employees -new skills and work experiences, it creates openings for newcomers and last, but not least, it increases the knowledge base of an organization which usually translates directly into a more competitive company.

Until now, however, little objective data has been collected about how rotating individuals' work experiences contribute specifically to employees' training and development. But now there's more than intuition on which to build our knowledge about the benefits of job rotation. In 1989 and 1990, we conducted a study using Eli Lilly and Company as a test case to find out exactly what relationships there were between moving people to different jobs and their overall training and development. As the director of executive development for Indianapolis, Indiana-based Eli Lilly and Company and the professor of HR management at West Lafayette-based Purdue University, we both have a strong interest in the theory, practice and effect of job rotation on today's workforce.

The study confirmed that job rotation can-and should-be used as a proactive means of enhancing the value of work experience for the goals of training and development. Following is the data-and reasoning-to prove why it can be a valuable tool in helping employees gain the right skills and experience for today's competitive business environment.

Lilly has used job rotation for years. Eli Lilly and Company uses job rotation more than most other large organizations. While job rotation isn't a formal "program" at Lilly, rotating employees from job to job has, for many years, been viewed as an integral part of the company's culture of professional development. In fact, one of Lilly's strongest points in recruiting potential employees is its reputation for job rotation. And while job rotation is seen as a development benefit, moving people around the organization isn't required of every employee. But, as with all organizations, providing attractive employment options tends to increase overall employee satisfaction. This is definitely true at Lilly.

Studying job rotation in Lilly's finance department. Although job rotation has occurred throughout the company for years, we focused our study in one particular division of the organization-the financial component (department), which includes such areas as treasury, accounting and payroll. Basically, the study consisted of executive interviews, a training-needs assessment, a survey study of the costs and benefits of rotation and an analysis of employee work histories. (Please see the end of this article to obtain more information about how the survey was conducted.)

At the time of the study, the financial component consisted of approximately 500 workers. Most (84 percent) of these Lilly employees started in the financial component, although approximately 30 percent of the workers had had a nonfinancial assignment at one time or another -depending on their development needs and the organization's requirements. The study uncovered the fact that employees in the financial division take an average of one nonfinancial assignment during their careers, and that assignment usually lasts 1. …

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