Stretch assignments give employees room to grow.

Author:Davis, Katie


Insulating a modern local government from shocks and stresses requires public managers to marshal as many resources as possible. One valuable resource that governments might be overlooking, however, is existing employees. A focus on recruiting top talent is important, but so is the potential of existing talent. One way managers can maximize the efforts and abilities of their employees while also providing work that is interesting and engaging is to provide stretch assignments.


A stretch assignment is a specific task taken on to develop experience and/or expertise outside an employee's comfort zone or regular routine. When employees take on stretch assignments, they meet new mental challenges, increasing their knowledge, skills, and abilities.

At the same time, it's important not to overdo it. An assignment that pushes employees just outside of their comfort zone creates the ideal conditions for growth, but if the assignment pushes employees to the point of extreme stress, any benefits will be greatly diminished. Employees will likely regard too much of a stretch as a source of frustration instead of a positive experience.

The element of stress, in moderation, is an effective way to truly advance skills and abilities. Exposure to manageable stress by assigning a challenging new task pushes individuals to develop new expertise while gaining confidence. Additionally, the practical knowledge and new perspective gained from the stretch allows individuals to become more adaptive and resilient in both their current and future roles.


Stretch assignments offer many potential benefits, including cost savings, increased organizational resiliency, and improved employee retention.

Cost Savings. Stretch assignments are a cost-effective way to increase the knowledge, skills, and abilities of employees. Organizations spend a considerable amount of time and money attracting and training employees, and hiring the wrong person can be expensive. Instead of focusing on attracting new people, stretch assignments focus on ways in which current employees can do new things--which often proves to be a smart investment.

Organizational Resiliency. Stretch assignments can help increase organizational resiliency in times of planned and unplanned change. Many organizations are concerned with succession planning, which involves identifying emerging leaders and grooming them for positions with greater responsibilities. A stretch assignment is an ideal complement to succession planning because it allows individuals to develop the necessary skills for positions with increased responsibilities before actually moving into those roles. Additionally, employees often bring a fresh perspective to those tasks, which may uncover new and better processes. Stretch assignments can also lead to a more agile workforce, as existing employees who...

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