Because women still bear the brunt of child-rearing responsibilities, they are too often pushed out of the workforce, forced to decide between their families and their careers. This spells disaster not only for individual net worths, but for organizational diversity.
But providing women with the option to work part time and share job responsibilities with another employee who does the same can allow them to hang onto their careers while still tending to their family obligations. Enter: Job sharing.
What is job sharing?
Job sharing is essentially when two employees split the full-time job of one employee. Both job sharers work part-time to get the job done successfully, often splitting the work week and any on-call hours with an "overlap day" where they both work in the office and update each other on their side of the role. While the practice is popular among those who use it, it's not as common as it, perhaps, should be.
“It’s clear to me that one of our big goals is myth busting and making job sharing business as usual,” Sara Allen, founder of Further&More
, a recruitment consultancy specializing in job sharing and matching pairs, told The Guardian
of her company.
Still, job sharing isn't very popular yet — and that's largely because people are afraid to ask for it.
In fact, according to Allen's research, of the 500 participants who responded to her Further&More’s survey
, 79% of respondents said they did not feel that they could talk to their employers about job sharing without it hurting them. Of the people who participated in the survey, 96% were women and 70% had reduced working hours, taken a step down, changed careers, or left the workforce altogether instead of requesting a job share. Just over half (52%) of the survey's participants had attributed the changes in their career to parenting commitments.
But job sharing is a viable option that's only becoming more popular as employees ask for more from their employers.
"When I started as CEO of a non-profit in 2017, I was no stranger to the practice of job sharing and flexible work," writes Cami Hawkins for Working Mother
. "I had spent decades in several different jobs, most of them in the healthcare industry. Sometimes I worked full-time, other times part- or three-quarters-time, but always while balancing work with my commitments to motherhood, marriage and family life. The employers I appreciated the most? The ones who valued their employees’ talents and expertise while recognizing the fact that not every employee can realistically knock out a 60-hour workweek, or even a 40-hour one."
Since then, she's seen job-sharing play out in the workplace and be successful before her own eyes. At her company, Marathon Kids, which always boasted a flexible working environment, they were seeking a director of marketing and communications. They created a job share option to include talented people who needed more flexible work options.
"It was an important executive leadership role in the organization, and also a big job that required multiple areas of expertise," she writes. "We found two excellent candidates, but neither was available full-time. They had worked together previously in a contract environment, and together they proposed a creative solution: They would both work part-time, dividing the responsibilities of the position between them and applying their joint expertise to benefit themselves and the organization as a whole. One became the director of marketing, the other director of communications. Each worked a flexible schedule of 20 hours per week."
How is job sharing helping employees, particularly women?
Job sharing helps women who are balancing other responsibilities work. By sharing the role, they can both better manage their time and prioritize both their careers.
Not only does “the employer [benefit] from more than any one person could ever bring to the table,” Allen told The Guardian
, but women get to keep their careers, which ultimately increases the number of women who are available to move into leadership roles down the line. In a world where many companies find it difficult to place women in senior leadership, retaining them through job sharing can be critical to providing the diversity any organization needs to be successful.
For individual women, sticking around in their jobs longer means they learn more, advance further, earn better salaries and achieve greater success overall. Down the line, after their other obligations ease up, they may have more capacity to take on more work again.
With job sharing, women get to enjoy greater job flexibility, increased productivity, and support from another person who deals with exactly what they deal with at work. They can be each other's advocates, since they know they work each other are doing very, very well.
What are the downsides of job sharing?
As with anything, there are both pros and cons to job sharing. For one, colleagues, clients, and customers do not have one individual person to whom they can turn. And, because these two employees are sharing the same job, they need to be able to keep each other abreast of day-to-day happenings. After all, their work affects each other.
Because two part-time employees share the job of one full-time employee, it may cost a company more to time and money hire and onboard two employees. Plus, with the standard practice of an "overlap day" where both employees work, a job share pair will cost a bit more than a standard full-time employee would cost the company. But, if job sharing works for a company, then it actually offsets the cost by ultimately retaining talent and increasing productivity in the long run. Plus, companies can save money by not necessarily having to provide benefits to part-time employees.
"When you look at the cost of losing women in senior roles and having to replace them, actually the cost of paying an extra half a day of salary is broadly immaterial,” Allen told The Guardian.
How to make job sharing work
Job sharing can work seamlessly so long as it is implemented correctly. Here is the best way to make sure that job sharing works.
1. Have a transparent conversation.
First things first, employers should make sure that employees know that they are allowed to explore the option of job sharing. Because this is not such a popular way of working just yet, many people do not even know this option is possible to think of it themselves. Being aware of the possibility to share a job with another person opens up an entire new world to some employees.
Employers also need to let their employees know that job sharing can be an option for any employee for any type of reason (if that is, indeed, the case).
If your company hasn't promoted job sharing and its something you're interested in, speak to a supportive manager or leader. In the conversation, share the ways that job sharing is beneficial to teams and organizations.
"Communication, flexibility, and clearly defined expectations are all key to making job sharing work, along with capitalizing on individual talents," Hawkins wrote for Working Mother
. "When the two employees involved have complementary skills and perspectives, it maximizes the benefits of job sharing for everyone—employees, employers, and the company or organization as a whole. Embracing both non-traditional solutions and open communication about what is and isn’t working are essential to finding the right division of labor."
2. Make sure to split the job in a way that works for both parties.
Job sharing can be split in a number of ways. While many people choose 50/50, others may choose 60/40 or even 70/30. Find out what works best for your situation. Delegation is key to making sure that the job gets done — and that it gets done well.
“There are a number of ways to slice any given job,” Joan Williams, a law professor and the founding director of the Center for WorkLife Law
at the University of California’s Hastings College of the Law, told Harvard Business Review
. “It’s important to conceptualize all different parts and divide them up in the most effective way.” Some people split the work by each taking responsibility for certain tasks. This is called the 'islands model' or a 'job split.'"
Williams adds that some people share the same workload but divide up their days, which is called the "twins model." This model tends to be easier in a lot of cases, though it depends on the job and talent.
"The model you choose will depend on the nature of the job and what preferences and skills each of you bring to it," he adds.
3. Establish a transparent and equal payment plan.
If, in your situation, the job is split 50/50, make sure that both parties are being paid equally for their work. If one person is working a lot more hours than the other, it makes sense for them to be paid more. Either way, make sure that the payment plan is fair and transparently shared. Job sharers tend to be close and everyone needs to feel appreciated to be efficient and make the situation work.
4. Make sure that the transfer of work is seamless.
There has to be some overlap time so that each job sharer can fill the other in on what happened that day, where things stand and new goals. Employees need to keep each other abreast of any issues or concerns that arise, any new challenges and any other pertinent information that may come up. If they are working on the exact same project, they especially need to keep each other alert and aware of where the other needs to pick up and continue.
“For job-sharing to work well, both parties must zealously convey and seek information from the other,” Friedman told Harvard Business Review. “Think ‘mind meld.'”
Using shared calendars and task boards like Asana, Monday, and Trello can also help divvy up responsibilities and keep track of what is what and where is where.
"At Marathon Kids, we use Google and its video chat rooms," Hawkins wrote for Working Mother
. "We utilize both team rooms and individual rooms, and work hard to ensure that priorities and expectations are clear for everyone. Project management software can also be a game-changer. Asana certainly has for us; it’s been incredibly helpful with time management and keeping projects in motion. Plus, checking off those little completed task icons feels like a mini-celebration!"
AnnaMarie Houlis is a multimedia journalist and an adventure aficionado with a keen cultural curiosity and an affinity for solo travel. She's an editor by day and a travel blogger at HerReport.org by night.