Let’s face it: we’re all human. Even in amazing roles, we all have moments of boredom, urges to develop new skills and pursue different interests, and recurring daydreams where we ask: “what if?”
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 minimizing the risk of needless employee turnover.
When set up properly, your job shadowing program can become a source of deep personal and professional satisfaction for everyone involved—and this guide is designed to help you set up exactly that program.
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, and experience firsthand what it’s like to work in a particular job.
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. Job shadowing provides a low-risk mechanism for valued team members to explore new skills and interests, network with the wider organization, and explore future career development opportunities.
Why is job shadowing beneficial to employees and employers alike?
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 marketplace: 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 whether you’re in-person or remote), 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.
If you are looking to support the development of your employees and cultivate a diverse, engaged workforce, job shadowing is an excellent tool that can help you achieve these goals.
By establishing job shadowing guidelines and expectations, embarking on an internal marketing campaign, setting up a feedback process after the job shadow has ended, and taking action on any relevant next steps, you can help ensure that job shadowing is a meaningful and successful experience for all involved.
Moreover, you can use the concept of job shadowing as an opportunity to boost morale while guiding employees onto a work-life wellness journey. In the same way that bored employees want to explore new roles within your company, they might also want to explore new ways to take care of their health and wellness.
To learn more about how to guide your employees towards greater wellbeing on and off the clock,talk to a Gympass wellbeing specialisttoday!
- How to find your zone of genius. (July 29, 2021). Medium: Mathilde Collin. Retrieved December 7, 2022 from https://collinmathilde.medium.com/how-to-find-your-zone-of-genius-68378d493320.
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.