Job shadowing is a valuable practice that can significantly benefit employers and employees. Exposing less experienced workers to the day-to-day realities of a senior worker or allowing a recent graduate or new hire to see a junior employee’s specific tasks and work gives them an idea of what they can expect as they progress through the company.
Job shadowing can also be a valuable format within your company’s build a job shadowing program that works for your company and the mentorship culture you already have in place.
What is Job Shadowing
Job shadowing—also sometimes referred to as work shadowing—generally refers to observing a professional to better understand what they do on a day-to-day basis. Typically, it falls into one of the following categories:
- Observation—one person follows another as they go through their workday. Depending on the role, that may involve watching tasks, meetings or customer/client interactions.
- Regular briefing—the person shadows only in specific situations, projects, or meetings. There is a briefing at the beginning and a de-briefing at the end.
- Hands-on experience—this allows the person shadowing to conduct some tasks under the senior employee’s supervision.
Difference between job shadowing, internships & apprenticeships
While some companies provide job shadowing opportunities to college students, it’s not the same as internships and apprenticeships. Internships and apprenticeships are often temporary positions in the field that the student or apprentice is working towards, and tend to have a longer duration than job shadowing.
Depending on your size, resources, and level of leadership support, job shadowing can work on a small scale, such as within one department or team, or on a larger scale. Insurance providers Allianz Partners implemented a job shadowing program in 2018 for executives worldwide where they spend a week working in (or alongside) their colleague in another function or location. Companies with similar sizes can also consider implementing something similar as part of their leadership development or mentoring program.
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Benefits of Job Shadowing Programs
Job shadowing benefits all parties involved. Companies who take the time to design and implement a job shadowing program can expect to see returns in productivity, creativity, and skill development.
Benefits for Companies
It can be difficult for some employees to understand how their work fits within a wider context, particularly if they have limited interactions beyond their immediate team members. Job shadowing allows them to widen that perspective by seeing how another department works and thinks, encouraging creative problem solving and innovation. In industries that require high technical competence—such as manufacturing and energy/utility—having newer employees shadow senior employees can be an excellent way to get the newer employees comfortable and competent with what they have to do on a day-to-day basis.
Benefits for Employees
For employees, job shadowing allows them to learn about what progress at their company might look like, which motivates them to perform better and encourage loyalty to the company. For employees needing help on determining where to take their careers, job shadowing allows them to test a path in a low-stakes environment.
Benefits for Potential Job Candidates/Students
Job shadowing can also benefit prospective employees or college students who need clarification on their career prospects or are interested in learning about your company. Giving them a positive experience can encourage them to apply for opportunities as they arise and talk about your company positively to others.
Job Shadowing & Mentorship
Research shows mentoring improves employee engagement, retention rates, and leadership development. Job shadowing can and should be a part of a well-rounded mentorship program. Exposing employees to another part of the business can prevent stagnation and displacement for employees in their roles. Job shadowing can also be the beginning of an ongoing mentoring relationship that can help new or junior employees as they progress through the company.
How Does Job Shadowing Work?
When it comes to how job shadowing works, the best practice for a company will depend on its goals, size, and resources. For example, in instances where a company implements job shadowing as a way to train its employees, they’ll want to match participants who are in the same department, but at different stages of seniority. In instances where the purpose is promoting cross-functional collaboration, it makes sense to match employees who are in different departments but at a similar level.
Companies should also think about their goals in terms of the type of job shadowing that takes place. A junior/senior employee job shadowing arrangement should include a lot of observation, and ideally some supervised hands-on experience with a clear structured framework and checklist in place. In cross-departmental job shadowing programs, a briefing structure where the employees have more freedom to tailor their experience might work best.
How to Build a Job Shadowing Program at Your Organization
To build a job shadowing program in a way that works with your company’s realities and goals, consider taking the following steps.
Step 1: Set goals for the job shadowing program
Start by identifying your goals for the job shadowing program. For example, if you want to attract younger talent, then you might want to design your program to have college students or new hires shadow an employee. If leadership development is what you’re after, it makes more sense to have a junior employee shadowing a senior employee or a senior employee shadowing another senior employee
Step 2: Create a framework for job shadowing
The next step is to create a framework for the program. At what scale are you looking to introduce the program? If you want to introduce it across multiple offices, greater coordination (and likely higher costs) will be required than if you were to introduce it within one office or department.
To ensure that participants get the most out of the experience, it’s also worth outlining what it will entail. Will it be strictly focused on observation or would focusing on providing hands-on experience make more sense for your goal? You may want to include both. Even if you want to avoid setting a prescribed framework, at least create a guideline that participants can refer to.
Step 3: Educate employees, managers and stakeholders on the benefits of job shadowing
If you have a plan but still need to convince your colleagues, now’s the time to educate others on its benefits. Talk about the potential opportunities it can create, and refer to specific examples of companies that have successfully instituted it. Ensure you highlight how it contributes to the company’s bottom line when securing the buy-in from leadership.
Step 4: Incorporate job shadowing into your new hire employee onboarding program
Once you get the buy-in from the appropriate parties, it’s time to formally introduce it to the company and include it in your new hire employee onboarding program. Ensure that both present and future employees are aware of the program and how they might be able to participate if they are eligible.
Step 5: Help train participants for job shadowing
As with any pilot program in a company, it’s essential to take the time to prepare participants for what they can expect before taking part in the program. Ensure that both parties are on the same page regarding what they expect from the program and what they can commit. Help them to understand what they’re aiming to get out of it by arming them with the right questions, goals and milestones.
Step 6: Gather program feedback and make improvements
With any new initiative, it’s likely that you won’t get it perfect the first time. Take this opportunity to learn what works and what you can do better next time by gathering feedback from participants. You might discover that what works for other companies doesn’t quite translate to yours, and that’s okay. Trial and error is part of the process.
Step 7: Determine next steps
Don’t forget to consider what comes after. How can you capitalize on the benefits that it provides? How do you know if the job shadowing program has worked? Connect it back to the overall goals of the job shadowing program and measure the progress. Take the feedback that you’ve gotten from the participants to decide how you can implement it in an ongoing learning and development initiative.
Build Your Job Shadowing Programs with Chronus
From upskilling and reskilling to a positive employer brand, job shadowing can benefit your company in numerous ways. Regardless of your company’s size, job shadowing can be a powerful tool that makes an effective, well-rounded mentorship program.
The Chronus mentoring platform can help you design an impactful job shadowing program. The platform’s AI-powered matching technology can help you match the right program participants, and the customizable reporting and dashboards can help you keep track of the program’s ROI and impact.
Chronus can help you minimize administrative burdens and maximize the benefits that a job shadowing program can provide. The sooner you start the process, the earlier your company (and employees) can reap the rewards.