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Swapping, Shadowing and Co. – The different types of job rotation

Job rotation can help to turn young employees into managers, offer long-term colleagues a change in their daily work and promote internal knowledge transfer. Job rotations are not all the same, however. There are different types. What exactly is shadowing? And what is the difference between swapping and observing? Here, we’ll shed some light on the darkness.

There are good reasons for a job rotation

Employees & companies can…

  • get a view of the big picture, and be fully educated
  • further develop their experience and expertise in various areas
  • specifically promote young talent
  • promote the flexibility of employees
  • prevent the development of monotony and occupational diseases
  • reduce unilateral physical and mental strain on employees
  • close parental leave & sabbatical gaps without complication
  • assist expats in coordinating their operations across borders
  • encourage junior staff (such as apprentices or trainees) to independently search for observation session opportunities in the organization
  • allow for changes in perspective and silo removal
  • increase employee motivation and retention

But what types of job rotation are there, and which is suitable for which situation?


Swapping is a collective term for all forms of workplace swaps. Thus, a role change takes place in which the employees take over each other’s tasks. Swapping can take place within your own company, but also between different (non-competitive) companies. It is limited in time, with each period being between one month and one year. An exchange between different countries is also useful when swapping.

Observation sessions

During observation sessions, the period is usually much shorter than when swapping. The observation of work processes in other areas/departments/locations is of course the main goal here. In practice, for example, observation sessions can be carried out in such a way that employees get to know another work area within the company for one day, exchange ideas with colleagues and share knowledge and experience.


If you are looking over colleagues’ shoulders to learn, then you are talking about job shadowing. As the name implies, this type of job rotation is a kind of “following.” In practice, for example, students or job starters can accompany experienced workers for a while. The term originally comes from the USA. Shadowing is mainly used there to give high school students their first professional experience. Shadowing is often defined as a form of observation.

Other types

In fact, there are other types and forms of job rotations:

  • Rotation system: Here employees go through several stations, similar to a trainee program
  • Project work: Project work can also be counted as job rotation. In this process, employees are assigned other tasks for a defined period of time
  • Job visiting: Employees can, for example, take on up to 70% of a new task and retain 30% of their original job
  • Job rotation generally differentiates between job enlargement (horizontal restructuring) and job enrichment (vertical restructuring). An expansion of the tasks at the same level of requirements is considered job enlargement. Job enrichment, on the other hand, is a change in the quality of the tasks (for example, larger areas of responsibility).

Satisfaction, motivation and commitment

Job rotations should be implemented in a way that suits the company and its employees. Due to the different types of job rotation, there are countless possibilities.

However, despite the many benefits that job rotations bring, they are implemented only in a small percentage of companies. This is often due to the fear of the required effort and the uncertainty in implementation. However, it is worth tackling the issue because it can offer huge potential: job rotation not only increases the quality of the employees, but at best also their satisfaction, motivation and commitment to the company. Job rotations are also a smart and, above all, concrete tool for dismantling silos, fostering innovation, and facilitating internal knowledge transfer in the digital age.


How-to: How job rotation works

“Silo-free work at eye level” – HASPA relies on networking

Study on knowlegde transfer in companies: Employees want to – but are prevented from doing so by structures