Job sharing, where two part-time professionals share one full-time role is a recent and increasingly popular flexible working trend. But is it right for your company?
If there was a need to prove that job sharing can work in a high-pressured and demanding role, UK politicians Caroline Lucas and Jonathan Bartley are putting a good case forward.
For more than a year, the pair has shared leadership of the Green Party. They both work parts of the day while taking time out for other roles, including family commitments. To many, this arrangement would seem too complicated and too risky. But Lucas describes it as “utterly sensible” and recently called for MPs to be allowed to job share as a way to attract more women to politics.
Closer to home
But what’s the situation in Australia? Job share numbers aren’t measured specifically here, and are instead included in part-time work statistics. But there does appear to be an appetite for it. More than 70 per cent of Australian professionals are interested in job sharing, according to research from Gemini3, an enterprise that provides a job share matching platform and consulting advice.
This interest was equal among men and women, and spread across various roles and levels, says Sarah Liu, Gemini3 CEO and co-founder. “We’ll never run out of people who want to job share,” she says. “The challenge right now is that there are limited employers who are willing to create job share opportunities.”
Liu believes that all roles can be shared, although some may need re-designing. However, not all employees would make good job sharers, Liu notes. Gemini3 has developed a psychometric assessment tool to determine if an employee is suited to job sharing and also the compatibility of potential pairs.
The Department of Environment, Water, Land and Planning (DEWLP) is working with Gemini3 to add job sharing to its flexible work offering. Virginia Matthews, gender equity manager, says the department also sees jobs sharing as a way to “leverage the talent” of some of its part-time workers. Around 20 per cent of the department’s 3200 employees work part time, and most of these are female. “We do hear that some of these workers get a bit stuck at the lower- to mid-point in their career,” Matthews says.
The potential business benefits are also encouraging, says James Kingsland, executive director of people and culture. These include having two people apply their skills, experience and problem solving to one role, and the business having better coverage when one half of the pair is away.
Kingsland says the aim is to get a handful of job pairs working well and then to develop a solid change management piece to create more job sharing opportunities and support across the department.
However, even when job shares work well, the pair still has to navigate unique and difficult situations. Lisa and Karen (not their real names) shared a senior administration role at a major hospital for two years. Each worked three days a week (with a crossover day on Wednesday) overseeing a team of 90 employees.
Lisa says that while the pair got along excellently, there will still challenges. “Even though we had a similar management style, some of the particularly difficult employees would try and play us off against each other.”
It is vital that pairs have a complementary management style, she says. “If you’re job sharing with someone who has a completely different approach to you, it could get really hard. If you’re the half of the pair who is seen as more approachable, then your team will wait until you are next in to raise an issue and you’ll end up with a greater workload.”
“Communication is also crucial, especially if you don’t cross paths much. We only did one day a week together so emails were really important,” she adds.
Lisa says that even though job sharing may make it easier to maintain a senior position, the part-time element still means there are often “spot fires” to put out when returning to work after days off.
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This is an edited version of an article that will be appearing in the February 2018 edition of HRM magazine.