Worried about attrition? You should let employees rotate jobs


By Lauren Valente

For so long, career paths were generally thought of as linear: Get trained, build expertise, and work hard to advance in your chosen field until retirement. However, because of a global pandemic, challenging socio-economic crosswinds, and a tightening labor market, it’s no surprise that the way we view work and our careers is vastly different than even just a few years ago.

In pursuit of a more dynamic career, many people are seeking out employers who invest in their personal and professional development. This is even more prominent in younger generations, who, according to a recent Deloitte study, rank learning and development opportunities as a top consideration when deciding where to work.

Employers need to be able to respond to this shift by embracing development through rotation—encouraging people to move around the organization, explore distinct functions, identify new passions, and find additional ways to both contribute and grow. When a spirit of career exploration is embedded in an organization’s culture, and married with open opportunities and formalized rotational programs, both companies and their employees can experience real and lasting benefits.

Job rotation leads to engaged employees

Motivated, engaged employees are the driving force behind a company’s mission.

As someone who has spent two decades at the same mission-driven company, I know this to be true. I can still recall the energy rush when I “posted” for and earned my first internal job rotation after encouragement from a manager—I called my Mom to tell her, “I got it!” This memory sticks with me; I can distinctly recall the way I felt at that moment and how it paved the way for me to rotate 12 times (so far) across four skill domains at Vanguard. 

I am but one of many who has experienced the benefits of job rotation at Vanguard. I likely have an atypical background—a CHRO who majored and started my career in IT. However, my rotations over the years across information technology, client services, project management, and operations, provided me with invaluable exposure to different facets of the business, enhanced my skillset and perspective, and provided me with a deeper understanding of Vanguard’s operations and strategy.

This practice of moving “around”—instead of simply “up”— empowers employees to expand their networks and build deep and impactful relationships that stimulate diversity of thought, fuel creativity and innovation, and increase career advancement opportunities. None of us advance in our career on our own; building a supportive network is key. Additionally, and perhaps most importantly, interests and passions change. Rotating into different roles allows people to explore and embrace those new interests, keeping them challenged and engaged, and leads to a more fulfilling career.

Business benefits to rotation

As an HR leader, I know all too well the importance of attracting and retaining premium talent. When companies can keep employees andempower them to explore new interests internally, they’re more likely to foster greater job satisfaction. That engagement can lead to decreased burnout, increased productivity, and lower turnover.

Further, when employees are making connections, sharing ideas, and bringing best practices with them from their prior role to a new role, it’s a win-win. A talented base of people who can see the big picture creates a more versatile, agile, and resilient workforce.

Studies also find that teams with diversity of thought and perspectives perform better and, at Vanguard, we’ve seen that rotation strengthens our teams, improves problem solving, unleashes innovation and creativity, and produces better results for our clients. At the end of the day, the more engaged employees are, the greater their performance and productivity, leading to better client outcomes.

Worried about attrition? You should let employees rotate jobs

Approach matters

To reap the benefits of job rotation, it’s paramount that companies of all sizes ensure their approach prioritizes an organizational commitment to encouraging professional development through rotation. For companies with the resources, a two-pronged approach is particularly powerful—organizational commitment in combination with carefully constructed, targeted, formal rotational programs to foster a culture of continuous learning. 

It’s not often that people leaders are willing to “give away” their top performers. However, organizations need to foster an environment in which leaders commit to encouraging their direct reports to explore rotation for the sake of employees’ professional development and in support of the future success of the broader organization. Organizations can cultivate this type of environment by ensuring a robust developmental infrastructure exists where employees take part in frequent career checkpoints with their leader throughout the year to reflect on strengths and opportunities, discuss professional aspirations, and determine entry points to different areas of the company.

The unyielding support and encouragement I received from my former managers to explore new opportunities was often the push I needed. It also showed me that effective people leaders need to adopt a growth mindset for their teams, getting to know each of their team member’s goals, spotting what opportunities would be best for them, and encouraging them to explore these opportunities—even if they’re in a different domain.

Complementary to this organic rotational culture are formalized programs that are specifically designed to advance development for talent at every stage of their career. A formative part of my career was my participation in an IT specialty program offering exposure to various departments and targeted skill development. Companies should explore formalized programs that range from nurturing new professionals, to supporting mid-career talent taking on new challenges, all the way to developing the next generation of senior leadership. Formalized specialty and development programs at all levels give employees both depth and breadth of experience and help them advance in their careers with new passions, a broader network, and a deep sense of fulfillment in and investment from the firm.

Supporting the winding career path

As the future of work continues to evolve, the traditional career progression “ladder” is no longer the only route people envision for their futures. Instead, talent is embracing unexpected opportunities and pursuing significant detours as a means to expand their skillsets, gain diverse experiences, and, ultimately, feel more fulfilled. At Vanguard, we’ve seen this take shape with many employees proactively seeking opportunities to expand their competencies and contribute to our mission in a new, yet equally meaningful way—be it earning a certification in a new skill, enlisting in one of our internship or rotational programs, or exploring a new career pathway by “posting” for a role outside of their domain.   

Employers need to respond to employees’ newfound priorities by advocating for a multidimensional approach to career advancement that helps their employees thrive. A two-pronged strategy, bringing together both organic and programmatic approaches, is an increasingly valuable means through which employers can meet the desires of today’s talent while simultaneously helping their businesses flourish.

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