Setting Up a Job Sharing Program

Last Updated Aug 21, 2007 1:17 PM EDT

Working parents all over the world are benefiting from the increasingly popular option of job sharing, or "shared work" programs. It's a straightforward arrangement: Two employees share the responsibility of one full-time position, with the salary, vacation and leave, pension rights, and fringe benefits divided between them, in proportion to the time each one works. Understanding the advantages and disadvantages of job sharing is the first step to setting up a job sharing program in your company.

What You Need to KnowJob sharing sounds like a good solution for some of my employees. What are advantages?

Job sharing is a great way of allowing employees to retain the responsibility and status of full-time work while at the same time working shorter days, and often more flexible hours, meaning that it is very popular among parents, careers, and students. Job sharers tend to be better-paid, more highly skilled, and have better prospects for promotion than most part-time workers.

The good new is that a shared work program can benefit your organization too. It can, for example, help you to retain skilled and experienced employees who are unable or don't want to work full-time but who don't want to abandon their present job outright. It can also help curb absenteeism, since each job sharer has a considerably more time for other commitments and domestic responsibilities. With job sharers working fewer hours, the odds of them taking time off for stress-related disorders diminishes.

Job sharing also results in better continuity of work; if one job-share partner is sick or on vacation, at least one half of the job is still being performed. It also may be possible to organize a job-share agreement so both partners can be on hand at peak times.

Finally, programs of this type also help employers get the best of two people's skills and experiences for (roughly) the price of one. Job sharers can organize their workload to take advantage of respective strengths and weaknesses so each person's capabilities are used to the fullest.

There's bound to be a downside, though?

Job sharing does usually increase administrative costs, since one job generates the need for two sets of applicable documentation. The impact on recruiting costs can vary—and may be a matter of opinion: Does employing two workers for one job cut per capita advertising and orientation costs in half? Or, does employing one person for part of a job effectively mean those per capita costs are twice what they otherwise would be?

Job sharing may also saddle managers with more work: allocating hours or tasks, for example, or coordinating the work of the sharers, and communicating requirements. This will vary with the type of job and the way a business is structured. Dividing the job's responsibilities may also require careful consideration—but if such planning time results in the tasks being performed in a most efficient manner, it might end up being time well spent.

Poor communication can be another problem. It may be difficult to get both workers to the same meeting, for instance. And, more time might need to be spent keeping both job sharers properly informed about developments, and directives. Even so, this needn't be a "deal breaker," given communications technology that's available.

What to DoEnsure That the Program Is Supported Across the Organization

Before you implement a job-share program, make sure that everyone in your business understands, supports and accepts the principles of it, especially those who will work most closely with the job sharers. Be aware of any prejudices against part-time workers; on occasion, they may be unfairly viewed as being less committed to the company.

Create a Clear and Precise Job Description

A detailed job description which clearly and unambiguously sets out the duties and responsibilities of the job to be shared will make it easier to divide responsibilities according to requirements. Many clerical posts can be split by hours to provide continuous coverage, for example, while professional or management jobs could be divided by client, referral, project, or areas of expertise. Some jobs may have quite autonomous responsibilities—different client caseloads, say—while others may require both job-sharers to contribute to the same project. In this latter case, if the job involves making important decisions, you'll need to decide if one partner must be uphold decisions made by the other and you must communicate that very clearly to everyone concerned.

Find the Right People to Do the Job

In many cases, the people you need to share one role are on hand already: ideally, if a vacancy arises, it will suit the needs of people already working for you who would welcome this style of working. Whether candidates are internal or external, however, job sharing will work best if you match up people who:

  • have good interpersonal skills, so that they can work well together;
  • have knowledge or experience that complements the other person's have excellent time-keeping and organizational skills.

If you recruit job sharers from outside your business, obviously you won't be able to tell how well the people can collaborate until they're up and running, but take care with internal candidates whom you do know. Don't harness two people into an uneasy team if you know for a fact that they don't get on: they'll hate it and so will you.

Let the Job Guide How the Work Is Split

Job shares can work in a variety of ways, but common patterns of work include:

  • split weeks, where one person works onsite one half of the week and one the other half;
  • split days, with one person in the office in the morning and one in the afternoon;
  • alternate weeks;
  • or no fixed schedule at all, the least formal arrangement.

Work out the pattern that best suits the job's requirements and the employees involved. Remember that jobs don't always have to be split completely down the middle if both participants are happy with that; one sharer may want to work fewer hours than the other. On the other hand, do bear in mind that if one sharer only has very few hours, it may be much more difficult to replace that person if he or she leaves.

Use "Overlap Periods" to Keep Everyone Informed

It's a good idea to include an overlap period each week in which the sharers can get up to speed with what the other person has been doing, iron out any problems, and discuss news. The length and frequency of the overlap periods will, naturally, depend on the pattern of hours worked and how responsibilities are split: those sharing an administrative post may only need five minutes a day to discuss unfinished work, while partners who share a job as environmental consultants will obviously need more time to discuss clients and workloads. An overlap period also offers managers the chance to confer with both job sharers at the same time.

Train in Tandem

If possible, job sharers should attend orientation and training sessions together, which will help them develop a working relationship (if they haven't worked together before) and ensure that both receive the same training. Further training can either be undertaken individually—dictated by respective areas of expertise and interest—or together, and focused on the tasks they both will need to perform.

Two People = More Supervision Time

By definition, jobs that are shared require more management time since there are two persons to supervise. Here's where good verbal and written communication skills are important. So is a good memory: Job sharers need to hear identical communiqués, lest friction and misunderstandings arise. They also need to keep good records themselves: of what they do, have done, and are expecting to do so that everyone is clear and work isn't duplicated.

Meetings need not be duplicated. Job sharers can alternate attending, with both attending, say, every third meeting.

Think About the Program in Relation to Promotions…

It is customary to allow those who share a job apply for promotions just as full-time employees would. Some organizations, though, only consider the job sharers together, and either appoint or reject them both. Of course, this assumes the job they are seeking can be shared; not all jobs can, and it is management's prerogative to make that decision. It is most practical, in the long run, to treat each job sharer individually when promotions come into play.

…and Vacations

Job sharers usually receive the same amount of vacation time as full-time workers, but are paid in proportion to the number of hours worked. For example, if a job-sharer works the equivalent of half-time job, working five half-days a week, he or she may be allowed to take, say, 10 days of vacation per year (like other employees) but only five of those days will be paid vacation. Public holidays may cause some difficulties: The federal holidays that fall on Mondays, for instance, may be within one job-share partner's working period. Accordingly, public holidays are often split into hours and divided between partners, with the partner who isn't scheduled to work on the holiday taking the time on another day, with management approval.

Consider Time Worked and Pension Benefits

Pensions are usually paid pro rata, depending on the number of hours worked by each individual. Federal and state employment laws can affect this benefit, too, one provision being that any employee working a minimum number of hours per work must be allowed to participate in an company-sponsored plan.

Plan for a Partner's Departure

This generally leaves two options. If one job-share partner leaves, many organizations simply offer the job to the remaining partner on a full-time basis. If that person does not want to take on the job under those conditions, you'll need to advertise for a replacement, detailing the number of hours available. If no suitable candidate is found within your time frame, the remaining partner may be offered a part-time position or be redeployed elsewhere, if appropriate.

What to AvoidYou Don't Keep People Fully Informed

For a program of this type to succeed, make sure that before it is implemented, all relevant employees and supervisors are clear on the principles behind job sharing and how it differs from part-time work. Spreading the word after the fact risks having doubts arise about the persons sharing the job—or doubts about the value of the job itself.

You Don't Get the Right Partners

The success of any job share depends most on the people sharing it, so take extra care when you're recruiting or selecting employees to work in this way. Both partners must be able to communicate and interact well with each other, as well as with other employees, managers, and outside contacts.

Where to Learn MoreBook:

Thorne, Kaye and Andy Pellant. The Essential Guide to Managing Talent: How Top Companies Recruit, Train & Retain the Best Employees. Kogan Page, 2007.

Web Sites:

Society for Human Resource Management: