As companies look for ways to improve talent acquisition and retention in a challenging labor market, global HR research and advisory firm McLean & Company suggests job shadowing as a method to retain talent and assist in employee advancement.

In its “Job Shadowing Guide,” McLean & Company points to job shadowing as a tool organizations can use to address talent retention challenges, since a top reason employees leave an organization is a lack of opportunities for career advancement.

According to the firm’s findings, job shadowing can be used across different stages of the employee life cycle to support onboarding, career development, and knowledge and skill sharing.

Job shadowing is defined as what happens when employees observe experienced individuals, also called job hosts, while they perform their duties.

The observing employee, also called the job shadower, may practice performing tasks.

“To achieve mutual benefits, such as improved employee engagement and productivity, a job shadowing program must address and provide value to the organization’s unique needs while also delivering value to the job shadowers and job hosts,” the McLean guide emphasized.

“When job shadowing programs are implemented correctly, there are additional benefits beyond employee retention for the organization, job shadowers and job hosts alike,” says Rachel Stewart, associate vice president of HR Research & Advisory Services at McLean & Company. “These benefits include increased productivity, skill development enablement and organizational awareness. However, achieving mutual benefits requires that the program be designed to facilitate learning and engage the right participants. As observation doesn’t always lead to knowledge or skill transfer, hosts must be carefully selected to ensure they are competent in their roles and have a desire to build mentoring, coaching and leadership skills.”

There are challenges associated with job shadowing, such as negative habits being passed on from the host to the shadower, as well as temporary reductions in productivity as participants must balance their primary roles with the needs of the job shadowing program.