Job-rotation practices have come into vogue recently as employers seek to not only reduce repetitive injury costs, but also enrich the work experience and increase productivity. While generally favorable experiences have been reported, employers should understand certain pitfalls to guard against before undertaking any such program.
Boston-based workers' compensation expert Jon Coppelman says garment-industry employers have long cross-trained workers to alleviate the tedium and concomitant injury risk that day-long concentration on one task brings. Employers have also found other advantages.
"The somewhat hidden benefit in this was that, when the workload increased in one area, or when someone went out sick, they had people who were cross-trained on a variety of machines so they were not short-staffed in one particular area," he says.
"I don't see any downside to people having a wider skill set, other than perhaps increased training costs," he says, adding he knows of no injury data related to job-rotation programs.
Cross-training could also provide greater flexibility for employers dealing with modified-duty requirements for injured employees transitioning back to the workplace, he adds.
Redondo Beach, Calif.-based work- site consultant Gerry Ledford concurs.
Job-rotation programs offer injury-reducing value, he says. "But you have to balance that, at least when people are learning new skills, that if they are not well-trained you might have more exposure to injury."
Ledford says he doubts any employee could be trained to do more than 10 jobs effectively.
Different jobs with different pay levels remain a challenge for such rotation programs.
Ledford says there are several formulas that could be used to reward employees for expanding their skills, such as increasing base pay or setting up bonuses.
But he knows of no company that has set up a system for employees being paid different rates for different jobs during a given day.