Career advancement has become a priority for most employees in workplaces. That’s why your organization needs to take whatever chance it can to implement learning programs. It’s these learning programs, after all, that assure employees of career development opportunities.

Just look at the figures. As of 2021, companies with strong learning cultures had a 30-50% rise in employee retention rates. 

Proper training programs tend to take a considerable amount of the company’s budget. But you don’t have to start with a program that breaks the bank. Instead, you can start with affordable internal training programs like job shadowing.

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What is job shadowing?

Job shadowing is a form of on-the-job training that allows employees to follow other highly skilled employees closely as they perform their day-to-day activities. 

This helps the shadowing employees learn more about these different roles. It also allows them to explore various opportunities in your organization. As a result, you get well-rounded and highly skilled talent.

There are several ways you can perform job shadowing in an organization, as visualized below:

  • Observation: This is still the most common type of job shadowing. The shadows follow the mentors throughout their workday. They observe how they perform their daily work routines, like attending meetings and client interactions.
  • Regular briefing: In a regular briefing model, on the other hand, the shadow follows the mentor only during specific activities or events. These events or activities are usually preceded by a brief and then followed by a debriefing. 
  • Hands-on: The hands-on form of shadowing is considered an extension of the observation form. The shadow is allowed to perform specific tasks related to the role they want to learn more about.  However, they remain under the mentor's guidance.

Before settling on the job shadowing form, consider the job role's requirements and the level of exposure the individual needs. If the shadow and mentor have time, you can even use a mixture of the three forms. 

Either way, a job shadowing experience will make it easy for employees to learn important skills and requirements for the new role.

5 benefits of job shadowing

So now you understand what job shadowing is and its different forms. But why should you implement job shadowing programs in the first place? In this section, let’s delve into specific job shadowing benefits.

1. Gives employees the opportunity to explore multiple career options

One of the core job shadowing benefits is the opportunity for your employees to explore multiple future career options without having to commit to each of them. By shadowing people already proficient in the role, your employees better understand the qualities, processes, and skills required to perform the role.

This doesn’t just allow your employees to explore various career paths. It also helps your workplace gain more flexibility and internal mobility. If employees get to pick up skills in the job role(s) they shadow, they can help hold the fort in case of an absent employee in the role.

Let me give an example. Let’s say in their issues tracking, your engineering team discovers that your recently launched program has bugs. But the person in charge of fixing the bugs is sick. If that happens, the shadow employee can step in. They might not be able to fix the bugs completely, but at least they can implement a solution for the time being.

The job shadowing process will also equip your employees with tips on positioning themselves as the best candidates in your organization. As a result, your organization gains a more robust internal pool to hire from. This can save you time and recruitment costs:

Finally, by showing your employees that you value their current and future career aspirations, you encourage them to plan their future in your organization. As a result, you can retain your top talent, which saves you up to 33% of the employees' annual salary.

2. Allows employees to learn new skills

Job shadowing provides a safe space for shadows to ask questions and get valuable feedback and insights without feeling like a bother. This is because the program is designed to encourage learning. When your employees learn and gain new knowledge, they can help boost the organization’s overall performance.

By shadowing seasoned coworkers, it's also easier for employees to identify the hard and soft skills that make them the best. So, if the shadow and mentor work in the same career field, it’s easy for the shadow to identify their strengths and weaknesses. They can also determine how to use these strengths and weaknesses for their career aspirations and career advancement.

What happens if the shadow and mentor don’t work in the same field and, in the end, the shadow decides not to pursue the new role? Well, there are essential skills they can still pick up from the mentor to better their performance in their current roles. Let’s say a social media specialist shadows the customer care coordinator. The specialist could pick up communication and customer interaction skills. These can allow them to interact better with customers as a social media specialist.

It is also important to note that job shadowing is useful for your experienced mentors, whose individual success is tied to your organization’s. Mentors tend to find fulfillment and empowerment in helping others. 

Recent statistics show that 87% of mentors and mentees say their mentoring relationships empower them. They also help them develop a sense of confidence in themselves. Remember, the more confident your mentors and mentees are, the better your job-shadowing program results.

Related: The What, Why, and How of Mentorship Programs at Work

3. Helps boost productivity

Boosting productivity is one of the other core job shadowing benefits to an organization. There are various ways shadowing achieves this. 

We’ve already discussed that shadowing helps employees learn from experienced people in the workplace. Once they learn these skills, they can perform better. You can see the results in their work in the form of enhanced productivity. This applies even if their current work isn’t related to the position they observed.

Let me illustrate. Let’s say a web designer has been shadowing a sales representative. After the shadowing process, they can now produce a manufacturing web design that can get past the sign-off process more quickly. That’s because the web designer now knows the language and images to use to engage their target audience. All this is based on the designer’s observations of the sales rep’s interactions with clients during the shadowing process. 

As discussed earlier, the shadows also actively learn practical skills through hands-on experience. This leads to enhanced knowledge retention and additional know-how they can apply in their current positions. This is especially important for new and fresh hires. After the shadowing process, they now know hacks and tips that can help them perform their roles efficiently.

Job shadowing also helps boost productivity by allowing employees to discover their real passions in the workplace. If they pursue career paths they love, they are more likely to work quickly and perform better. This is something you can’t have if your employees hate their jobs. 

That’s not to say you only need a job shadowing program to boost your employees’ productivity. To ensure job shadowing benefits them and allows them to find their passion, you also need to create a career path guide. A career path guide shows the different career options an individual with a certain professional and educational background can explore. 

The image above is an example of a business analyst career path. So, if an employee opts for this career path, they can focus on one of four fields: business analysis, product management, project management, or consulting. Each of the fields comes with corresponding career milestones until the final career goal for each path is reached.

You can pattern your job shadowing program around the career path guide. Once you’ve created a guide for each employee, allow them to explore the different paths through your shadowing program.

So, in our example above, you can allow a new business analyst to shadow a project manager, an account manager, or the enterprise BA in your organization. Let them experience each role so that they can compare and contrast paths, and arrive at the right decision for their careers.

4. Enables better understanding of the organization

Every organization wants to earn its employees' support and loyalty, but you cannot achieve this if your employees don’t understand the organization well. Job shadowing is an easy way to help your employees better understand your organization.

Since your employees can job shadow in different departments, they get to understand each department's role and how they function together to lead to organizational success. It’s also always a good idea for the mentors to show the shadows your organizational and departmental charts.

Here’s a great example of a department organizational chart:

Since we are in a digital age, you can also include your website's organizational charts and company values on the "about us" page. 

Remember to tell the narrative around the organization’s history, mission, and vision. You can also outline how the experienced employees started from the onboarding process to the level they are currently at in the company. This will help the shadows understand what the company is all about and connect to the organization.

Your employees spend time with other employees, especially those with a good understanding of the company, during the shadowing process. So, they also gain deep insights into the office environment, the company culture, goals, and values. Once they understand the organization, they get the motivation they need to work hard so they can contribute, too, and ensure organizational success.

5. Ensures improved synergy 

Another benefit of job shadowing is great working and mentorship relationships that lead to collaborative teams. Job shadowing pushes employees to interact with people from different departments. This improves communication in the organization. By breaking down barriers, you encourage information sharing, allowing the teams to work well collaboratively.

Job shadowing also provides great internal networking opportunities among individuals from different career levels. This allows them to work together and even develop new ideas to help them work well together.

Finally, since job shadowing helps employees understand departmental and individual roles, the shadows get to understand the part they should play to ensure organizational success. They also discover roles or aspects of a role they could have never learned of before. This also breaks departmental silos in the organization, leading to better collaboration.

Related: Why Collaboration Skills Offer a Major Competitive Advantage (Plus 10 Ways to Unleash Them)

How to put job shadowing programs into place

Most organizations tend to limit job shadowing programs to onboarding. However, considering the far-reaching benefits your organization could gain, it's time to extend your horizons. If you’re interested in putting a job shadowing program into practice, but aren’t sure where to start, check out how 360Learning launched their first job shadowing program here