Job Shadowing Tips for Business:
Getting New Employees Up to Speed--and More

Anyone who's graduated from school to the workplace knows there’s a big difference between “book learning” and on-the-job training. Whether you’re starting out as a carpenter, a teacher, or a software engineer, your first few days in a new job can be overwhelming. Job shadowing is one way to ease the transition and make new employees productive as soon as possible. It can also be a great tool to cross-train current employees, increase efficiency, and improve communication among different areas of a company.

What is Job Shadowing?

Simply put, job shadowing is spending a period of time with a seasoned employee, observing what they do during the course of their work day. It may involve sitting quietly by and taking notes on what they’re doing, listening as they explain what they’re doing and why, and asking questions as they come up. It might also include hands-on activities, attending meetings together, and discussing responsibilities and goals. Just as each job is unique, each job shadowing situation must adapt to the individual circumstances of those involved. 

When Can It Be Used?

For new hires, job shadowing may be used at one of two points. If started on the very first day of work, it can ease the new employee into the requirements and routines of the job, introduce them to fellow workers, and help build their confidence. (“If she can do it, so can I!”) Companies that have formal orientation sessions for new hires in classroom settings often find that job shadowing after orientation helps bring classroom lessons to life, making them easier to understand when applied to a real-world situation. In both cases, it can ease first-day jitters, make new employees feel like part of a larger team, and help them absorb the company culture as they observe how it’s applied in the workplace. 

Not Just for New Hires!

Many companies are now exploring the benefits of job shadowing for current employees. In fact, the TechSmith Corporation, a Michigan software firm, started a successful program they called “Take Your Coworker to Work Day.”* As companies grow, departments and employees tend to become isolated from each other in silos, and it may become more difficult for management to instill the sense of being one unified team. 

Allowing employees to spend a day job-shadowing someone in another department offers many benefits:

  • Shadowers gain a better understanding of the duties and responsibilities of the shadowee, leading to greater respect for the person and their job.
  • Job shadowing makes it easier to see how the different parts of the company are inter-related and work together to ensure shared success.
  • It helps build lines of communication between departments, making it easier for employees to work together in mixed teams and to consult with each other to solve problems. 

Where to Start

If you’re considering a job shadowing program for new hires, it’s important to choose employees with good work skills as shadowees. More importantly, they should be positive, approachable, patient, and able to explain what they do in simple terms. Set up a short practice session to evaluate their performance before letting them interact with new hires.

Setting up a job shadowing program for existing employees might start with a survey to assess the level of interest among your current staff. Where do they think the biggest gaps in communication exist? Would they be willing to spend a day or half a day job-shadowing someone in another department? If so, which departments would they be most interested in learning about? Armed with that information, you can start setting up a program that can have long-term benefits for your company and also for your employees.