Job sharing, which is the practice of splitting a full-time position into two part-time jobs, is an increasingly popular flexible work arrangement.
As flexibility at work becomes more common practice, and with the occurrence of the COVID-19 crisis, this practice is set to grow even faster than originally predicted.
Whether it’s to care for a loved one, become a parent, study or better their work-life balance, job sharing is a great solution for employees looking to reduce their working hours, but who still wish to remain in a position which matches their experience and qualifications.
As for employers, job sharing is a great initiative to better talent attraction and retention, retain knowledge in-house as well as diversify your hiring, among many other things.
Although job sharing appears to be a great solution for both employer and employee, one naturally wonders if it’s really possible to share a job with another person? And if it is in fact possible, what are the steps to make what looks good on paper work in reality?
Despite its many advantages, job sharing doesn’t come without its own challenges, and in order to ensure a successful job share, here are a few actions to take:
1. Build Strong Foundations for a Strong Partnership
To this day, some businesses still feel it is inefficient and unproductive to involve existing employees in the hiring process of new ones, especially when they’re not going to directly manage the new hire. We beg to differ.
When hiring an executive or replacing a manager, involving the team can have incredibly positive results. But in the case of job sharing, it is crucial to do so.
Why? Because a job sharing arrangement is a partnership arrangement. And like any other partnership, it needs strong foundations for it to be successful in the long-term.
Such foundations are built on trust, respect, communication, collaboration as well as the ability to disagree and have healthy debates, and in order to build them, both parties must have a central role in choosing their job share partner.
Further to this point, since these arrangements often require difficult conversations about prioritising work as well as personal matters, the business and job sharers should prioritise compatibility when hiring.
But be careful not to seek out perfect clones either. These situations work best for both the employee and the business if the job sharers have complementary skills, experience and perspectives.
With that being said, we can comfortably say that if you do not involve your staff in choosing their job sharer, the arrangement is doomed to fail.
2. Clearly Define the Collective Job Responsibilities
Once job sharers have been hired based on their skillset and complementarity, the next step is deciding on how to divvy up the work.
It shouldn’t come as a surprise that setting clear expectations at work helps employees better perform. With a job sharing arrangement, this is even more important as two people are involved in succeeding together at the same position.
In order to do so, you’ll want to first agree on the model that will best serve your business needs and objectives as well as your staff’s personal needs.
With job sharing, you have 2 models to choose from. Some job sharers split the work by each taking responsibility for certain tasks. This is called the “islands model” or a “job split.” Others share the same workload and simply divide up the days (usually with a bit of overlap). This is called the “twins model”, and is often the simpler of the two models.
Based on your choice, you’ll then have a better idea on how to divide responsibilities accordingly so as to develop a job description.
Once that’s done, we personally recommend creating a joint KPI or OKR document, so that individual tasks and responsibilities remain documented and clear to both parties. Not only will this be beneficial for the 2 employees sharing, but it’ll also make it easier for their manager.
3. Make Communication a Priority
Clear communication and transparency are essential to any business’s success. This remains true when rolling out new concepts, regardless of if they affect the business as a whole or just a few people.
The same goes when implementing a job sharing setup. In order for the process to be successful, it is paramount to inform the rest of the business in advance. We recommend explaining the reasons behind the new arrangement, as well as the expectations you have set as a business and manager.
Similarly to sharing OKRs & KPIs openly for better collaboration, by ensuring everyone in your company knows what the arrangement is for and how it will work should help avoid potential tensions, jealousy or difficulties in terms of collaboration as well as limit the risk of miscommunication.
The same goes for the job sharers themselves. For this arrangement to be successful, both job sharing partners must zealously convey and seek information from the other. It’s best to never assume anything and double check with their partner when uncertain.
We recommend setting aside time every week to agree on work priorities, discuss any issues that have come up, pass off work if necessary, and check in about how things are going generally. Job sharers shouldn’t leave anything unspoken.
In order to ensure job sharers take this seriously, we recommend setting clear communication KPIs alongside operational ones to set the standard from the start on what you expect from them.
4. Have a Solid Exit Strategy in Place
Any form of job sharing will raise issues surrounding continuity, handover and responsibility, especially where job sharing is adopted at higher levels of management.
As in any situation, you want to be prepared for the worst case scenario in order to ensure your business operations remain as productive as possible.
The same goes for job sharing arrangements. Inevitably, when one of the job sharers wishes to move on, you’ll need to have a contingency plan in place.
In order to do so, we recommend discussing and agreeing upon “an ideal exit strategy” with both job sharers at the beginning of their employment. Here are but a few examples of questions to consider:
- How much notice should the job sharer give when deciding to leave?
- What will the hiring process be to replace them?
- How will responsibilities & tasks be handled if a replacement isn’t found before the notice period is up?
Depending on the model you’ve chosen, there are also preemptive steps you can take to ease this transitionary period. For instance, if the job share arrangement has been put in place specifically to prepare for a team member leaving such as in a parental leave or pre-retirement context, responsibility may be allocated to the remaining or junior partner to ensure consistency long-term.
Allocating responsibility in this way provides clarity and consistency for colleagues and clients, and ensures a clear line of accountability for when the other one eventually leaves.
5. Remain Open-Minded & Flexible
Once you’ve settled on an arrangement that you think will work for the business as well as for the job sharers, try it out. Set a pilot period and experiment with how you split the work and communicate. Then tweak as necessary.
It’s important to give the process some time to work out the kinks and get people used to it. Although job sharing has many benefits, it does take some getting used to.
This is why it’s important to take the time to check in with the job share partners to see how they’ve been going and how their collaboration is fairing.
Making the time to review the arrangement sporadically will not only provide you with great insights but also show your employees that you care and are here to support them in making this arrangement work.
No matter how long a job sharing arrangement has been in place, it’s a good idea to continually reassess and make adjustments based on what’s working or not.
Every job share, like every individual, is unique. As such, it takes time to figure out the philosophy, execution and tactics to best benefit both your business and your staff.
Although it may seem counterproductive right now considering the current climate, now is the time to look towards the future and explore new ways of working.