What is job shadowing? Job shadowing is a temporary and unpaid exposure to work for students, new hires, or for people looking at a career change. It is a limited form of internship, and entails working as a shadow under a worker, to observing how the worker goes about their job. You can also get briefings from the worker, and take whatever opportunities for hands on exposure to job related tasks may arise.
Job shadowing also allows for some benefits to the worker. It allows an opportunity for discussion with others who have “fresh eyes”, not accustomed to the status quo. The discussions with the trainee allows for reflection and mutual learning.
The benefits of job shadowing notwithstanding, the concept comes with many drawbacks and disadvantages.
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Of the the major disadvantages of job shadowing is that it limits the involvement of the trainee to observation, and unlike on-the-job training, does not allow the trainee to contribute to the work effort.
Job shadowing limits the understanding and exposure gained by the trainee considerably. Job shadowing provides the trainees with a superficial understanding of the work processes, but not provide them with an understanding of the responsibility or innate skills required. The few opportunities the worker may provide the trainee with hands on experience, may not relate to the core functions of the job.
The success of job shadowing depends on the person selected to be shadowed. Shadowing an incompetent worker might give the trainee a false picture of the job, and the trainee might have to spend more time unlearning the false inputs provided by such workers. Similarly, shadowing a highly skilled and exceptional worker can also distort the picture, giving a false sense of the work being easier than it actually is.
The time selected for shadowing can also create distortions. Most workplaces are seasonal in nature, with peak time and lean periods. Shadowing a worker during such periods can also give a false perspective of the work being either too difficult or too easy.
Job shadowing usually takes place for a very limited period, at times only for a day, and usually for about a week. This brief exposure may cause the person shadowing to miss out key work challenges, that may not occur during the time observed.
Analyzing the pros and cons of job shadowing, most workers remain conscious to someone observing them, and tend to portray a better than usual performance. This may lead to the trainee getting to know some best practices that may be difficult to come by normally, and miss the slighter nuances of the job.
Unlike mentoring and succession planning, job shadowing is not a conscious effort aimed at developing the skill of the trainee. The workers selected for shadowing are those who have an average level of competence in the work, and they may not have good communication skills, or the ability, or inclination, to train people. Many workers many not like someone observing them, or having to answer questions when at work. All these factors can render them non-cooperative.
Job shadowing can disrupt the smooth functioning of work in many ways. The worker, conscious of being observed, may behave differently than normal, leading them to do things in a different way - this can affect the quality of output if the worker happens to be nervous.
Another related inherent risk, from the organizational perspective, is the observer getting to know trade secrets and other core competencies if they are not already an employee of the particular organization. They may then be able to take away knowledge to a competitor, in the eventuality that the observer lands up a job at a competitor’s business.
Another of the cons of job shadowing is a lack of space, or other infrastructure, to accommodate the extra observer, and work schedules that may not match the observer’s available time.
The success of job shadowing depends on highly motivated job shadowers, to observe for long hours, and catch all details. The observer needs to take time to study the critical aspects of the job profile, the work culture and habits beforehand, to understand what and how to observe, and a persuasive ability to make workers share crucial information, should also be considered.