In today’s fast-paced world, employees and teams must prioritize flexibility. Many HR and leadership teams are cross-skilling employees to make their companies more agile and resilient so processes don’t grind to a halt when one employee is out of the office.
But while there are upsides to cross-skilling, there are a few downsides leaders should be aware of as well, including the risk of demotivating or disengaging employees.
What is Cross-Skilling?
Cross-skilling, also known as cross-training, is when an employee is trained to do the work another employee does in addition to their own tasks.
For example, in a marketing team, one employee might handle managing project workflows while another assigns pieces to the creative team. With cross-skilling, each employee would be trained on how to perform another employee’s most critical work. It’s a backup system of sorts, and an increasing number of companies are embracing it.
Pros of Cross-Skilling Employees
Cross-training employees on different roles and responsibilities certainly has some significant benefits, both for your company and for your workers.
1. Opportunities for Learning and Development
SHRM found in 2022 that 71% of employees said training and development increased their job satisfaction. Adding cross-skilling options for your team is a form of learning and development that benefits both your business and your employees. Exposing employees to other departments or business functions gives them a bird’s eye view of the organization as a whole, which is a great way to build their overall business acumen.
Cross-skilling can also be structured as a cohort-based learning experience, which is a great way to increase team bonds and camaraderie as well as sharing skills.
Rebecca Kaloo, Virtual Learning Consultant and Abilitie Facilitator said, “The best learning happens when participants are in teams, discussing decisions and safely challenging each other to create more meaningful outcomes. They will remember those conversations more than any other program they’ve gone through. Cohort-based learning builds that trust.”
Leadership development opportunities like Abilitie’s hands-on, cohort-based learning programs, are a great way to build a robust training program to address business and leadership skills that can aid in your cross-skilling goals.
2. A More Flexible Workforce
When only one employee on your team is trained on certain tasks or projects, your team is less likely to take time off and more likely to burn out. Cross-training employees so at least two people can handle critical procedures or duties helps your company run smoothly even during illnesses or vacation times, fostering a better work environment.
Stephanie Nadi Olson, founder and executive chair of We Are Rosie, spoke to Forbes about what companies must do to retain talent in 2023. She said, “In our most recent Rosie Report Research study, we found that 71% of workers would pass on upward mobility at work in order to receive flexibility over when and where they work.”
3. Better Cross-Functional Understanding
When employees are asked to step into the shoes of their colleagues, whether on the same team or across other departments, they are exposed to new ideas and solutions to problems. They gain practice operating cross-functionally and build bonds with other colleagues, which benefits the health of an organization as a whole.
Workhuman polled employees at the end of 2022 and found half of those polled were working toward a promotion or raise in 2023. An additional advantage to cross-skilling is the ability to promote within the organization and create more opportunities for advancement, and therefore, retention.
Cons of Cross-Skilling Employees
However, as with any productivity initiative, there are a few potential downsides to cross-skilling your employees.
1. Lowered Engagement
First, not all employees have the desire to learn how to perform other roles. They may not feel an interest in the tasks you would like to train them on, which can make the training less engaging. It’s important to keep engagement in mind when choosing your training programs. When employees enjoy the learning, they are more likely to retain it.
To combat any feelings of disengagement, prioritize experiential learning in your training programs.
2. Less Focus
As employees are asked to take on additional training and fill in for colleagues as needed, you must adjust your expectations. A single employee can’t be expected to perform the tasks of two individuals. Clearly stating your expectations and goals, organized by urgency, will help mitigate any loss of focus or competing priorities.
3. Overextending Employees
The biggest argument against cross-skilling employees is overextension.
In challenging and uncertain economic times, employers want their teams to do more with less, and cross-skilling is often a way of making that happen. But if your employees are already stretched thin in their current roles, asking them to train for and take on others as needed might push them to burn out.
Since more than 59% of US employees are moderately or severely burnt out already, asking members of your team for additional responsibilities can be a recipe for disengagement and turnover. If members of your team will be out of the office for extended periods of time, make resources like freelancers available to your employees.
How to Make Your Cross-Skilling Efforts a Success
If you’re looking for ways to cross-skill and develop your team, especially your high-potential employees, Abilitie can help you avoid the pitfalls. 98% of participants agree or strongly agree that Abilitie programs were a valuable use of time.
Get started today.