Job Rotation is a form of worker self-management used in some worker cooperatives and, less extensively, some other types of co-ops as well. It is a method which, after a set period of time, workers will switch from working one job in the business to another. This way, most workers become experienced in almost all of the practices of the co-op. The job rotation technique is used to advance worker education (developing different skills and understanding the various functions of the co-op), to protect against boredom, and to make sure that even unpleasant tasks get done.
Examples of Job Rotation
Putting Democracy to Work, by Frank Adams and Gary Hansen, has this to say about the Job Rotation method in the Mondragón Cooperatives in the Basque region of Spain:
…today, job design and job rotation are integral parts of the Mondragon planning and management process. Workers are insured a voice in those decisions… By combining tasks, forming natural work units, making sure each worker-member knows the results of his or her labor on a regular basis enriches jobs… Over the years, the Basques have used job rotation plans not only to insure high worker-member morale, but, as well, to curb seasonal slumps, or economic downturns faced by particular cooperatives. Most Basque worker-members learn several jobs either to perform in their own or in another firm within the group.
In the anthology Workplace Democracy and Social Change, Frank Lindenfield and Joyce Rothschild-Whitt explain how job rotation brings about a democracy of knowledge in a self-managed business (compared to a standard business):
In bureaucracy, differences of skill and knowledge are honored. Specialized jobs accompany expertise. People are expected to protect their expertise. Indeed, this is a sign of professionalism, and it is well known that monopolization of knowledge is an effective instrument of power in organizations… For this very reason, collectivist organizations make every attempt to eliminate differentials in knowledge. Expertise is considered not the sacred property of the individual, but an organizational resource.
In the same anthology, The Santa Barbara Legal Collective shares their experience with job rotation:
One aspect of our practice which is necessary to an understanding of the collective’s operation is the concept of legal workers. These are people who have had little or no formal training in law, and who became interested in doing this type of work for political or practical reasons. After short periods of time in our office, all legal workers are able to fulfill most of the functions of practicing attorneys (with the notable exceptions of those functions legally prohibited…). An example of this is a woman in our office who, after having done legal work for less than a month, prepared a writ of mandate to the California Supreme Court which overturned Santa Barbara’s residency requirement for city council candidates… Admittedly, our biggest fear of an office without traditional divisions of labor was that the work would not be done as quickly or as well as necessary… But having non-attorneys in the office who also prepare pleadings helps to offset this time loss. Working together and learning from each other has proven that an equitable allocation and sharing of the work produces a much more successful collective.
No Bosses Here, by Vocations for Social Change, also points out that there are always many jobs within a self-managed business that no one wants to do. One way to account for this is to rotate these jobs:
Each person would take his or her turn to be janitor of the week, bookkeeper of the year, or whatever… Thus, each person gets to do one unpleasant task at a time. Then everyone knows who to yell at when the garbage piles up!
- Have you had experiences with job rotation in your co-op? What have been the upsides and downsides of this method?
- Page 145; Frank Adams and Gary Hansen, Berrett-Koehler Publishers and Hulogosi Communications, 1992, 2nd Edition, San Francisco, CA; Eugene, OR
- Workplace Democracy and Social Change, Page 45, 150, and 15; Frank Lindenfeld and Joyce Rothschild-Whitt, Porter Sargent Publishers, 1982, Boston, MA
- Workplace Democracy and Social Change, Frank Lindenfeld and Joyce Rothschild-Whitt, Porter Sargent Publishers, 1982, Boston, MA
- Page 32; Vocations for Social Change, 1976, Boston, MA