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Job shadowing: Definition, best practices & benefits for teams

6 min read

Job shadowing is a practice that many companies use to provide employees with in-demand skill sets. When practiced properly, it has the potential to increase employee satisfaction and encourage internal mobility. Ultimately, it can set up companies for long-term growth and success. Although having a job shadowing program is advantageous for employers in many ways, it can be confusing to initially start.

In this article, we’ll cover what is job shadowing and its benefits for employers. Then, we’ll provide different models of job shadowing and discuss how they work. Lastly, we’ll discuss how to implement a job shadowing program in your company step-by-step.

What is job shadowing? A definition

Job shadowing is a technique in which employees learn from each other through observation. Normally, employees who are learning spend time following more experienced employees as they complete their daily responsibilities. Then, they try to imitate what they’ve observed and adopt new skill sets.

When many hear the term “job shadowing”, they might immediately think that it is used for new hires. Or perhaps, a practice used to train interns who are starting their careers. While it works well in these instances, the job shadowing definition is extensive and it can be practiced under many circumstances.

Similar to peer mentorship programs, job shadowing programs give employees a chance to learn from their colleagues. And like other employee learning and development programs, job shadowing gives employees the opportunity to upskill, or reskill and learn skillsets that go beyond the requirements of their current role.

Advantages of job shadowing for employers

It’s an extra benefit for employees

In many ways, job shadowing sends the right message to employees and potential hires. It shows that the company is generally concerned about career development and growth.

Whether you are trying to recruit top talent or retain key team players, job shadowing and training programs are widely valued across the board, and are particularly valued by millennial employees and Gen Z employees. In fact, according to a recent Gallup survey, 87% of millennials consider professional or career growth programs to be an important factor in their job. The study also indicates that “opportunities to learn and grow” is one of the top three factors in retaining millennial employees.

A similar pattern can be seen in other studies, including LinkedIn’s Workplace Learning Report. According to this study, 76% of Gen Z employees consider learning to be key to their professional success.

In many ways, having learning programs such as job shadowing give employees the opportunity to grow within the company. It equips employees with new tools and opens up the possibility of internal mobility. All of which are crucial for diversifying your talent pool and attracting different generations of employees. 

Closes skill gaps

Job shadowing facilitates communication between departments and teams. It’s a great way to fill in skill gaps and share information, without investing in expensive training and learning programs. 

For example, someone who works in marketing that wishes to better understand the roles and responsibilities of someone who works on the sales team. With a job shadow program, they have the opportunity to share and learn from each other. As a result, they can develop a more holistic understanding of how their roles fit within the company. 

In other words, job shadowing can help them to perform better in their current position. Also, they will be able to better understand the needs of different departments and communicate more effectively. In this way, job shadowing allows businesses to make the most out of their resources and talent.

It fosters a learning culture

As previously mentioned, employees are increasingly valuing learning and development opportunities. Not only do L&D efforts, like job shadowing, lead to increased retention but also, they are known to heighten productivity levels, increase profit, and transform the workplace environment.

By allowing employees to learn from one another, you stimulate curiosity and nurture a dynamic learning culture. Employees will feel a sense of ownership, which will make them excited about their responsibilities. Additionally, they will have the chance to develop problem-solving abilities that will make them eager to take on new challenges. 

By emphasizing employee growth and development, you are maintaining your team’s interest in the company. It’s essentially a win-win for employers and employees alike.

How job shadowing works

Every organization’s needs are different, and job shadowing programs change from company to company. 

In certain situations, it might be advantageous for employers to take a hands-on approach. Perhaps in which employees complete specific assignments and receive evaluations from the employee that they are shadowing. In other circumstances, employers might prefer for employees to just observe one another without any practical assessments. 

Here are some of the most common ways that job shadowing works within companies:

  • Learn through observation- With this approach, employees simply follow and observe each other as they go through their daily tasks. For employers who wish to provide their team with a better understanding of how the company works, this might be the best option. Employees can spend as little as one day observing each other, so there’s little upfront commitment or investment.
  • Organized training sessions- If an employee wishes to learn a specific skill set from another team member, it might be best to dedicate a couple of hours every week to job shadowing sessions. For example, let’s say someone in sales wishes to increase their social media fluency and shadow someone working in marketing. They might arrange to meet for two hours every week for two months to observe and put new skills to use.
  • Planned evaluation- If employees wish to learn a range of skillsets to develop professionally, and their growth is valuable for the company as a whole, having a more structured shadowing program might be a worthwhile effort. Rather than simply observing each other, in this model, employees are provided with tools, and instructions and asked to complete tasks. This approach requires more planning and is more of an investment. However, in certain situations, it can also lead to a larger payoff.

How to implement job shadowing

Now that we’ve answered “what is job shadowing”, let’s take a closer look at how to create an effective job shadowing program in your company. Since employees are investing time shadowing one another, ideally, the process should be as efficient as possible. Here’s a step-by-step plan to help you get started:

Step 1: Define your goals

While job shadowing programs are great for helping to improve internal communication and encourage learning practically speaking, they’re not worth the investment if there are no clear overarching goals. 

Before deciding how your company’s job shadowing program will work, define exactly what you hope to get out of this program. Have employees recently retired and now there are certain skill gaps that you are trying to fill? Are you trying to help new employees feel adapted to their position faster?

Whatever the case may be, it’s best to narrow your objectives down to a few key metrics that you can keep track of on a training dashboard. If you are unsure of where to begin, or which skill gaps exist in your company, try conducting a training needs analysis to gain insight.

Step 2: Lay down the groundwork

After you’ve determined the specific outcomes that you wish to see as a result of your job shadowing program, it’s time to start building the program. Here are some of the key factors that you will need to consider:

  • Which employees are eligible to participate
  • How long the shadowing sessions should last
  • The job shadowing model your company will adopt
  • Virtual job shadow adjustments for remote team members
  • How you will measure employee progress or skill growth

Once you have a rough idea as to the type of job shadowing program that your company would like to adopt, be sure to include the details in an employee training agreement. Before committing to participate, employees should have a clear understanding of the timeframes, expectations, and goals of the program.

Step 3: Solicit feedback and track progress

Often, when adopting new measures, like job shadowing programs, it takes a little bit of tweaking to ensure they’re as efficient and effective as possible. You’ll want to be sure to ask participants questions about the program through surveys and keep an eye on key metrics to ensure that the company’s goals are being fulfilled. 

Through continual feedback and careful adjustments, it’s possible to find the right balance and drive a successful program. However, it requires the right strategic decisions, and the right tools to keep track of data and analytics. 

Many teams opt to keep track of employee progress and development with all-in-one HR software, like Factorial. Not only will HR software help you to smoothen daily operations, like time tracking and payroll, but it can also help you to make better data-driven decisions that impact your company’s success.

With Factorial’s tools, you can improve your communication, and the employee experience, and reveal your team’s full potential. Book a demo to learn more about what Factorial can do for you.

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