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Job Sharing

Job Sharing

Job sharing is an underutilized option for those who either don’t want to or can’t work full time. It may not be for everyone, but it deserves more serious thought than it’s getting from companies interested in holding on to talent. Nine times out of ten, job sharing is a wildly successful arrangement, offering employers nearly two for the price of one, ensuring that no matter what the personal issues, the job will get done.

Joy, pride, and enhanced skills

Maybe Sharon Snyder is just naturally an “up” person, energetic, enthusiastic. Or maybe this AT&T manager’s job share arrangement is so wildly successful she can’t keep the excitement, the joy, the pride out of her voice when she talks about it. After four years, her partnership with Mary Kay Ross has proven itself. Everyone involved agrees it has more than doubled the value of both partners to the company. It has also enhanced their skills, provided the life balance they wanted, and enriched their lives in ways they couldn’t have predicted. Is this the norm? And if so, why are managers so hesitant to try it?

Most job sharers — and their companies — do love it, says Pat Katepoo, Honolulu-based consultant, but job sharing is still the “foster child” of flexible work arrangements, especially for professionals. Katepoo coaches people through the process of designing and proposing their flex option, and this one, she says, is a tough sell.

Managers may not know how good it is.

The latest Hewitt Associates survey found 74% of their annually surveyed 1,020 companies now say they offer some flexibility, but just 27% of those 754 companies offer job sharing. Why such low numbers? One reason, our experts agree, is managers’ lack of awareness about just how good it is. Another is that job candidates and managers alike see full-time options as the only viable alternative for professionals, and not only because of the magnitude of the workload.

“There are all those negative perceptions about the career ambitions of part-timers,” Katepoo reminds us.

And maybe the most compelling reason is that this option seems to be the most complex, the one that demands the most, presents the most unique challenges to employees and to managers who worry about having to deal with two people instead of one.

Frequently asked questions − and answers

Here are some frequently asked questions about this arrangement, and some answers.

1. If we do it for this team, will people wanting to share jobs besiege us?
Few people can afford to settle for half a job, so companies that offer this option don’t find people lining up to job share. Steelcase, for instance, with about 15,000 employees, advertises on the Web that they are open to job sharing. Recently they reported that just 94 people shared 47 jobs. Fifty people at Aetna Life & Casualty, out of 41,000 employees, share jobs; at Allstate, 66 out of 46,000, etc.

2. How much will it cost us in increased benefits?
This depends on your company’s policy regarding part-time employees. There will be some additional benefits expense. It may be possible for one of the partners to be covered under a spouse’s health care plan.

3. Will the job get done, or will there be a lack of continuity?
Successful job sharing means a seamless transition, so customers and colleagues hardly notice the change. Watching a successful team is like watching a model – a paragon – of organization. They document everything, and this does take a special kind of person. Job sharers need to be organized and systematized. They must have the discipline to write everything down – every interaction, every phone conversation. They must structure a time for communication, and communicate everything people said, everything they said, everything they did.

4. Are there any federal rules or regulations we should consider?
Maybe. If either job sharer voluntarily shares the reason for requesting a reduction in his/her hours and the reason is a FMLA event, refer the employee to Human Resources so that they may be advised of their options under FMLA

5. What “hidden” issues will come that should be ironed out before we start?

 Make sure in advance that the team will fill in for each other when one is ill or has a personal issue. Don’t take this for granted. If the agreement is “I’ll fill in for you, and you do the same, within reason,” iron out the definition of “within reason.”
 Will they give up vacation days for each other? How many sick days are too many, and what will they do if one feels taken advantage of?
 Most job sharers work out their hours so one comes in Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday a.m. and the other starts Wednesday p.m. and works Thursday and Friday. They plan to spend at least an hour together on Wednesday to change the guard. Some spend a half-day working side by side.
 It takes some physical planning for two people to share space. Will they share the computer? If so, and if they’ll be spending many hours at work at the same time, help them plan how they will share their physical space. Job sharers need to be instantly available to each other, at least for the first few weeks. The one not working must agree to keep cell phone or pager turned on at all times.

6. What if we set it up and they can’t get along or it doesn’t work? Are we trapped in a bad situation?

 Ensure that both job sharers agree in advance on how to discuss issues, when to include their manager and what will happen if the arrangement doesn’t work. No one
should be trapped.
 The manager should help resolve work differences and should make job sharers aware when he/she believes the arrangement is not working. (Because performance is measured on agreed upon goals, including what success would look like for each, this may not be necessary; all parties will know when the arrangement is not working.)

7. What should be included in the planning process to implement a job sharing arrangement?
 All stakeholders – including coworkers, managers, someone representing customers and even someone representing the team’s family members – should sit down together and brainstorm what success would look like for each of them, and write out clear, measurable goals.
 Ask the question “How will we know when we did that” to make sure goals are measurable. Include a time line. How will the team and others communicate about this arrangement, how often and with whom? Without open communication, gossip takes over, and small problems turn large when not discussed.

8. How often should we evaluate their progress?
Stakeholders should plan to meet every three or four weeks to check out if goals are being met and concerns addressed. Job sharers should meet weekly with you for the first three months, even if the meeting is just by telephone. While a new arrangement should be reviewed often, be aware that people need time to learn, work out the kinks and grow from the experience.

9. Do both job sharers need to be at the same level on the hierarchy?
 Will it be a problem in a marriage if one makes more money than the other? This is very much like a marriage. It depends on the people involved, and their willingness to accept the status quo.
 Communication will be the key if this is the case, particularly on the part of the one who is at a higher level. A team usually means two people carry equal weight and have equal responsibility. That person must be sensitive to the ramifications, and careful not to be overbearing.

10. What is the most important thing we can do to make this a success?
Managers with experience say it’s the up-front planning that’s key. Spend time at the beginning to anticipate concerns from both job sharers and those who will interact with them. Brainstorm how they’ll be addressed. Your job share team will be more organized and more productive than they thought possible, and with less effort.

More tips for those who manage job sharers

1. Educate and train all employees about job sharing. Even if they never choose to job share themselves, they might be interfacing with another job share team within the organization.
2. Set up a job share posting, actively recruit people and encourage them to apply. (The first reason that employees who want to don’t job share is they can’t afford to take the cut in salary. The second is that they can’t find a job share partner.)
3. Make sure all non-job sharing staff understands how the process will work, and that it’s important to you that the arrangement will work for everyone.
4. Encourage teams to make a presentation to staff on how they will meet the needs of their position.
5. Market job sharing to your staff. Introduce the idea in orientation materials. Have information ready for all employees on eligibility, benefits, and compensation.
6. Help to facilitate effective communication for the t (i.e. cell phones, shared e-mail addresses)
7. Create a buddy system for new teams. Link a veteran job share team with a new team.
8. Host ongoing and informal opportunities for job share teams to gather and learn from one another.
9. Include job sharing in all aspects of management training process.
10. Evaluate all job share teams as a single unit. Treat and evaluate job share teams as one.
11. Consider yourself as the silent partner in a job share team.

The downside pales by comparison

Job sharing means two creative minds for the price of one; less burnout, less stress. Absenteeism drops way down, as team members cover for each other. Teams produce more and job sharers don’t jump ship.

The downside does pale by comparison. Yes, colleagues and subordinates must communicate with two people instead of one; two people must be evaluated (most evaluate the team’s performance). Benefits may be a touch more costly. But imagine this scenario. One job sharer we know will take a six-month maternity leave this year and the other will take over. No disruption, no retraining, no temps. No contest.

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