There are significant advantages to job sharing, but also several challenges. Armed with the right knowledge and ideas, HR can help erase the challenges and promote the advantages, ensuring job shares are successful. This article tells you what you need to know.
In an issue of the British Medical Journal, two long-term job sharers point out that job sharing is “not for the faint-hearted: it demands complete commitment.”
In a job share, two part-time workers do one job. This is different to two part-time workers doing a part-time job each. Both parties must commit to completing the whole job as a duo, not just completing their half of the job.
If one side is more committed than the other, resentment can set in. Resentment is especially dangerous in job shares because it causes relationship breakdown. A healthy, open relationship is so critical to success.
Walton (1988) suggests that the most frequently-cited blockers to successful job sharing, such as distributing bank holidays, are driven by a lack of guidance on how to manage them amicably.
HR should tackle these issues up front and work with both parties to deal with them equitably, so that one party isn’t penalised because of factors outside their control, such as family commitments.
Other key practical blockers include how to deal with overtime payments (where one worker in a job share works shift patterns more suited to overtime hours) and job sharers being passed over for promotion because it’s ‘easier’ to promote one individual working full-time hours.
Job sharing was originally developed to bolster the number of part-time job opportunities and also give those who wanted a better balance between work and home life access to more professional jobs (with correspondingly higher levels of organisational responsibility).
Achieving a better work-life balance continues to drive uptake of job shares. But everyone’s idea of a ‘better’ work-life balance is different, influenced by family commitments and lifestyle. This in turn drives their desired working patterns in a job share arrangement. One person may favour a week on, week off arrangement. While, the other wants to work every morning so they can pick their children up in the afternoon.
Parity between desired working patterns should be a priority for individuals considering whether a job sharing arrangement will work. HR can help facilitate the discussion. For established job shares, HR can support the individuals to better integrate their desired working patterns, for example by developing more supportive flexible working policies.
Stew Friedman, a professor of management at the Wharton School, says that communication in job shares must essentially be a ‘mind meld,’ where both parties “zealously convey and seek information from the other.”
HR can help secure shared expectations around communication and reinforce how granular communication must be if the job share is to provide uninterrupted service to the organisation.
And as well as communicating with each other, job sharers must realise that presenting a united front to the rest of the organisation is key. In organisations, the flow of information is centred around roles, not specific people, so HR needs to help both parties develop a shared style and position when communicating and dealing with others.
It’s also important for job sharers to realise that communication is about more than just talking. It’s about actively sharing everything about the role. Two job sharers, in a review posted in the American Journal of Nursing, say that both parties must share all parts of the job. The highs and the lows, the interpersonal problems, the emotion and everything in between.
Negative stereotypes around job sharing persist. In the Wisconsin Job-Sharing Project, which aimed to create job shares in the Department of Labour in Wisconsin, some of the early ingrained attitudes included that “job sharers don’t take their work seriously” and that “it takes more time to supervise two people.”
HR should work to reinforce the positive aspects of job sharing, such as the increased energy brought to the role because both parties are less fatigued. Another commonly-cited advantage of job sharing is that both individuals will naturally differ in their approach and will therefore bring a diverse range of ideas and solutions to the table.
As well as reinforcing the positive aspects of job sharing, HR should help ensure colleagues don’t have to undertake additional work because of the job share. Poor communication between job sharers, for example, may force colleagues to bring the second job sharer up to speed before they start their shift. The two job sharers are ultimately responsible for ensuring no additional work is placed on colleagues and that there’s no interruption in service to the business.
Line managers can make or break the success of any role and job shares are no exception. Managers may be apprehensive about managing two people across one role, so it’s important HR supports them to develop a process and style they consider fair and suitable.
Performance assessment is an obvious area for potential conflict. HR should help managers work with both parties to develop individual performance plans that reflect each person’s contribution and responsibilities. Performance reviews must be separate and confidential so it’s important that both parties address how they have contributed to joint goals and KPIs.
Managers should also be helped to understand the framework supporting the job share. The islands model of job sharing, where responsibilities and tasks are split based on expertise, will require a different line management approach to the twins model, where both parties perform the same tasks and the workload is divided.