The Pros and Cons of Cross-Training Your Employees

Have you ever had a crisis at work, but couldn’t fix it because that issue’s go-to person was out of the office? Have you had to deal with an understaffed department or team? Some managers cite situations like these as reasons for cross-training their employees.

According to The Balance contributor F. John Reh, “cross-training is training an employee to do a different part of the organization’s work.” On its face, this idea seems practical, even desirable. However, it’s a good idea to weigh the pros and cons of cross-training.

Pro: Improved Teamwork

Your team will be more collaborative because they can help each other more actively. Silos will be broken down out of necessity. Employees will gain insight into other roles and the contributions of their coworkers. For example, Connie, a systems analyst, has gained newfound respect for Sadie, the company’s social media manager, after the former spent a few days covering for her ailing co-worker.

Con: Loss of Focus

Contrary to popular opinion, the human brain does not multitask well. When an employee has to fill two roles, something will be forgotten or neglected. Furthermore, the very fact that he or she must take on additional duties can be a serious distraction to most employees. Which would you choose: one job performed well, or two jobs performed with errors in each?

Pro: Increased Efficiency

If an understaffed team has a major project or report due and needs extra help, you can assign a cross-trained employee on a temporary basis. For example, when Steven, a content writer, went on leave, his responsibilities didn’t have to wait until he returned: marketing director Greg was able to delegate writing duties among the marketing team.

Con: Job Dissatisfaction

What happens when your job description changes, without your consent? Most employees would endure it for a while, but eventually move on to other opportunities. For example, Pearl was hired to lead the company’s recruitment team, and was put off when a coworker’s maternity leave meant that she was suddenly expected to handle orientation and on-boarding.

Pro: Employees Acquire New Skills

Employees who are cross-trained learn new skills. Not only that, but some employees might discover talents or aptitudes that were previously unknown. For example, Estelle never would have realized that she has a knack for sales if she hadn’t been cross-trained as an initiative to get the company through the busy season.

Con: Overworked Employees

More often than not, covering for a coworker means that one employee must fill two roles. As with the loss of focus above, managers risk sub-par performance on multiple fronts. This situation can overwhelm staff members, leading to conflict and burnout, if maintained for a lengthy time

It’s great that a team can pull together during a tough time, but does it make sense in the long run? Sustainability and expense should factor into your decision to cross-train your teams. Speak with our learning experts to determine if cross-training is right for your team!

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