Organizational Wellness

How to Build a Successful Job Shadowing Program

Jan 6, 2023
Last Updated Jan 4, 2024

Let’s face it: everyone’s human. Even in amazing roles, we all experience moments of boredom and the urge to develop new skills.

Job shadowing is a powerful tool in your arsenal for helping employees indulge these feelings in a way that’s productive and useful. It’s a way to explore just how green the grass is in other roles within your company, while increasing employee engagement: 89% of workers say PD is important to keeping them more engaged at work. This helps minimize the risk of needless (and expensive) employee turnover

When set up effectively, your job shadowing program can become a source of deep personal and professional satisfaction for everyone involved. It can even help you identify potential internal candidates for jobs that open up in the future.

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What Is Job Shadowing?

Job shadowing is a hands-on learning opportunity that allows employees to learn about different job roles and work environments within your organization. It allows them to experience firsthand what it’s like to work in a particular position.

Job shadowing is often associated with college students and interns, but it can be a valuable tool for professionals at all stages of their careers — not just during internships. This type of mentorship provides a low-risk mechanism for valued team members to explore new skills and interests. Shadowing is an opportunity to network with the wider organization and explore future career development paths.

The Benefits of Job Shadowing Beneficial — for Employees and Employers

The benefits of job shadowing accrue to both the employees participating, but also the wider organization.

For employers, job shadowing makes it possible to:

  • Reduce the risk of losing unhappy employees. Job shadowing can help employees feel more engaged and invested in their roles, reducing the risk of job dissatisfaction or turnover.
  • Develop a greater understanding of an employee’s strengths and interests. By observing employees in action, you can more easily identify their areas of expertise and zones of genius.
  • Elevate your team. By allowing employees to job shadow mentors or more senior colleagues, experienced team members can share their experience with the wider organization.

For employees, job shadowing helps:

  • Explore new roles in a low-risk way. Committing to a new role can be a risky and stressful process, particularly when making a jump to a different field. Job shadowing can reduce this risk by providing a small—and temporary—taste of what the full-time role will entail.
  • Build their professional network. Job shadowing allows employees to build relationships with people in different roles and levels in the organization, creating stronger personal and professional ties with other staff members and teammates.
  • Develop new skills and interests. Job shadowing can help employees recognise new areas of interest or professional skills they’d like to develop and build towards their ultimate career goals.

Who Is Involved in Job Shadowing?

Job shadowing typically involves a job shadowee—the employee who is observing another role or job within the organization—and a job shadow mentor, or someone who will be actively guiding and coaching their job shadowee throughout the process.

Other parties involved in job shadowing may include HR professionals or other managers (like you) to provide support, guidance, and oversight over the process.

How to Set Up a Job Shadowing Program

If you’re interested in implementing job shadowing at your company, here are some best practices to help get you started:

Poll Your Organization for Interest in Job Shadowing

This includes interest as both a job shadowing participant, but also as a mentor. Job shadowing is a two-sided market: you need to match both the demand for job shadowing experiences and the supply of experienced people willing to act as mentors.

Establish Job Shadowing Guidelines and Expectations

Before job shadowing begins, make sure you set clear guidelines and expectations for job shadowees and mentors. This may include:

  • The timeline for the experience, including a clear start and end date.
  • Conduct requirements, outlining how both mentor and mentee should conduct themselves during the process, as well as any practical role requirements (like dress codes).
  • The specific activities the job shadowing experience will involve (see examples below) and activities that will not be a part of the experience.
  • Suitable coverage for the employee’s current job responsibilities (and if necessary, any responsibilities the mentor will need to have covered).

Kickoff an Internal Marketing Campaign

Once job shadowing guidelines and expectations are in place, it’s time to promote job shadowing within your organization. This can include:

  • Creating job shadowing-specific job descriptions that promote different career paths and roles within your company.
  • Using internal emails and newsletters to share job shadowing opportunities with employees, as well as FAQs about job shadowing for employees to reference.
  • Holding job shadowing information sessions or training sessions, where managers and HR professionals can share job shadow best practices and answer employee questions.
  • Using job shadowing as an employee engagement initiative, with incentives like extra vacation days or team lunches offered to job shadowees who complete the experience

Set Up a Feedback Process When the Shadowing Has Finished

At the conclusion of the job shadowing process, it’s useful to solicit feedback from both the mentor and their shadow. What went well? What didn’t? How should the program be adapted to be more useful for the next participant? What skills and interests did the mentee develop an interest in?

Action Any Relevant Next Steps

As with any professional development, it’s vital to follow-up on job shadowing by actioning any next steps that resulted. This might include:

  • Creating a pathway for the job shadower to move full-time into a new role, if desired.
  • Putting a plan together for improving the job shadowing process.
  • Providing support or training resources to help the employee pursue new skills and interests developed as a result of the experience.

Examples of Job Shadowing

Depending on your business structure, working practices and industry, job shadowing can take all forms. Some common examples of job shadowing practices include:

  • Observing working practices, to see how different teammates and functions operate during a day in their regular life.
  • Joining meetings, to gain an understanding of the interaction between different roles and different seniority levels within the organization.
  • Visiting customers, to understand how the work of the wider company translates into end-user experiences.
  • Hands-on experiences, allowing the employee to practice the practical skills required in the new role—like writing a sales proposal, presenting a section of a meeting, or assisting with the creation of a physical project. These activities need to be carefully scope and monitored.

Maximizing Employee Engagement Through Job Shadowing

Your job shadowing program can be utilized to help boost employee engagement. When designing your program, consider how you can deliver on these value propositions.

Advancing Employee Aspirations

You can start by assessing exactly what your team members hope to achieve by shadowing a colleague. Knowing their goals can help you create job shadowing experiences that propel them forward in their careers. Surveying employees is an effective method to gain actionable insights.

Customized Experiences

Not every employee has the same needs or goals. They may need to shadow someone differently. For example, someone might benefit from shadowing to transition into a new role. A different employee may find it more helpful to observe several mentors to learn more about other departments. Where possible, try to tailor the job shadowing opportunity to the participating individuals.

Building Interdepartmental Relationships

One way to enhance your programs is to develop relationships between departments. The connections between teams can make it easier to find mentors. Individuals may then feel more comfortable shadowing in a different department when they have a relationship with them. Job shadowing is also a way to maintain these connections. The program can help team members learn more about each other and build real relationships. 

Fostering a Learning Environment

A job shadowing program can boost a culture of growth. Employees get the chance to learn more about the company and other jobs. Consider encouraging your team members to take advantage of these opportunities. You might, for example, mention it regularly in all hands or recommend it directly to staffers in one-on-one meetings.

Remote Job Shadowing Strategies

With 13% of US employees working remotely, there’s a chance you’ll need to hold some job shadowing virtually. Here are a few strategies to help you organize remote job shadowing experiences: 

  • Utilize video conferencing. An easy way to help people job shadow is to talk over a call. Mentors can chat over video with the shadowee to walk them through their job. A video call gives the mentee a chance to ask questions and converse face-to-face. Digital conferencing also allows someone to hop on client calls with the employee or get a tour of a facility. 
  • Try screen sharing. Anything an employee can do on their computer can easily be shown with screen sharing. Consider having employees share their work this way. For example, an employee can walk someone through their work order sheet via screen sharing. 
  • Pre-record some responsibilities. Some parts of the job aren’t possible to show on a video call. Maybe that part of the job isn’t taking place that day. Or it might just be a responsibility that’s not easy to show. If that’s the case, you could consider recording those aspects in advance. Shadowees could watch the videos to better understand the role. 

Creating a Culture of Development

Implementing mentorship opportunities, like job shadowing, is a way to create institutional support for growth. But that’s only one area of your employee’s journey that can benefit from your company’s development efforts. 

Employees also need organizational support for their wellness from programs. Implementing a wellness program is an important way you can do just that. After all, 100% of HR leaders say wellness programs are important to employee satisfaction.

To learn more about how to guide your employees towards greater wellbeing on and off the clock, talk to a Gympass wellbeing specialist today!

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References 


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Gympass Editorial Team

The Gympass Editorial Team empowers HR leaders to support worker wellbeing. Our original research, trend analyses, and helpful how-tos provide the tools they need to improve workforce wellness in today's fast-shifting professional landscape.


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