Share and share alike: job sharing can boost productivity and help retain vital workers, but it can't work effectively without help from HR
If job sharing were a category in the collection of "Guinness World Records," top honors might go to Charlotte Schutzman and Sue Manix. The two women have shared many jobs during 16 years, surviving two corporate mergers and a relocation while earning two promotions in the process.
Currently, Schutzman and Manix share the post of vice president of public affairs and communications at New York-based Verizon Communications Inc. Each works two days a week and on alternate Wednesdays. They talk by phone at least twice a week, and their close partnership has enabled them to stay on track professionally while raising their children--Manix has three, Schutzman has two.
"It's been good for us, it's been good for the company," says Schutzman. "If we didn't job-share," she says, "we might have left." Instead, Verizon gets to keep two experienced employees on the payroll.
Charlie Bowman, who oversees work/life programs for Verizon's 212,000 employees, says "the biggest benefit" in job sharing is that "it allows highly skilled, motivated employees to stay on when they want to work part time but their job must be done full time."
However, job sharing also can pose challenges, including the need for additional oversight--such as conducting administrative tasks and performance reviews for two employees rather than one. After all, job sharing is more than shift splitting by two part-time employees; it involves partners acting as an integrated team, sharing the responsibilities, pay and benefits of a single full-time position.
In fact, job sharing requires more attention, flexibility and communication than other alternative work options, say some work/life experts. And the need for that extra attention may be one reason that the practice has declined. "I don't see a lot of resistance by employers, but I don't see a lot of promotion," says Carol Sladek, a work/life consultant for Hewitt Associates in Lincolnshire, Ill.
Today, job sharing is offered by 19 percent of employers, down from 26 percent in 2001, according to the Society for Human Resource Management's 2005 Benefits Survey Report. By comparison, 56 percent of employers offer flextime, 37 percent permit telecommuting, and 33 percent allow compressed workweeks. Those percentages have remained more or less steady during the past five years.
However, job sharing could be poised for a turnaround. As retiring baby boomers threaten to deplete corporate workforces, many employers are taking a fresh look at the recruiting and retention advantages that job sharing has shown it can offer.
The Pluses of Job Sharing
Job-sharing arrangements appeal particularly to students, parents of young children and employees near retirement, helping them balance their professional careers with personal obligations. For employers, the positive results can include not only retention of skilled workers but also increased employee loyalty and productivity and the greater flexibility that can occur when two people fill one job slot.
Employees who share jobs tend to be loyal, experts say. "When you offer people this kind of flexibility, people are very grateful for that and are willing to go the extra mile," says Sladek.
Such loyalty can translate into better coverage and productivity than one full-time employee can provide. When a full-time employee is out sick or on vacation, for example, there's usually no one to fill in. When a job-share partner is out, the other partner may be able to step in. And job sharers can schedule medical appointments and other personal business on their own time rather than work time.
Job sharing also can underscore the notion that "two heads are better than one" when partners have complementary strengths. That's true in her case, says Wendy Sable, who began job sharing four years ago after having her first child. Sable, a senior legal secretary at financial services company HSBC-North America in Prospect Heights, Ill., says she's highly organized and takes the lead on projects, while her partner, Krystyna Kalata, is more talented at handling presentations and details.
Designing a Workable Arrangement
To work most effectively, job sharing requires the right match of job, job partners and manager.
Although it can work for positions from administrative assistant to executive vice president, consultants say, it works better with jobs that have specific duties and regular hours than with those involving less clearly defined tasks or substantial travel.
The best candidates for job sharing, experts add, are employees who are solid, committed performers and excellent communicators. And it helps if they are highly organized and willing to share successes and failures alike with their job-share partners. In short, the partners must be compatible.
"It's like a marriage," says Pat Katepoo, founder of WorkOptions.com, an online resource provider in Kaneohe, Hawaii, for people seeking flexible work arrangements. "You have to talk about expectations, be a good communicator, cooperative, flexible and noncompetitive." People who prefer to work independently may not be good job-share partners, she adds.
Teams are usually formed by co-workers who already know each other, but sometimes one partner is hired to join another. For example, at Abbott Laboratories in Abbott Park, Ill., Veronica Lawless saw an internal posting for a shared job as a senior compliance analyst. She was hired last year as Mary Lou Pixler's job-share partner.
In such instances, the initial partner generally takes part in selecting the new one to make sure that their personalities and work styles mesh. For example, Pixler sat in when Lawless was being interviewed.
At the 1,200-employee Bayer health products facility in West Haven, Conn., where job sharing has been an option for several years, Bob Buck, director of HR, says: "We make sure the employee is involved in the interview process. It's critical they have an effective relationship." (See "Either/Or, or Both?" on page 54.)
Almost as much a part of the job-share team as the two partners is their manager, who must accept the arrangement and be willing to help make it succeed. "Some managers really see the value in this," says Verizon's Bowman. "Others are more traditional."
Hewitt Associates' Sladek says job sharing is "a very hard culture shift for most employers."
HR can ease managers' doubts by training them to supervise job-share teams with a flexible style that does not insist on "face time" as a factor in evaluating performance. Managers must also get used to communicating by phone and e-mail as much as in person.
"It requires a leap of faith that the work will get done," says Tim Kane, Pittsburgh-based national leader of the virtual workplace solutions practice for Deloitte, the global consulting firm headquartered in Wilton, Conn. "Managers who need a lot of control won't do well."
Managers need not take everything on faith, however. In fact, it's best to set specific performance expectations ahead of time, Sladek says, determine how performance will be measured and check in with the partners regularly to see that things are on track.
Managers and HR must also be willing to take on additional administrative tasks. With one job shared by two people, there are two sets of employment and payroll records, two sets of benefits arrangements and two performance evaluations to do.
Evaluation practices vary among companies. Some job-share partners are evaluated together; others are evaluated separately.
While having two people in one job may make it harder for a manager to tell which partner was responsible for a job done well or done poorly, it may have little effect on the evaluation if the job sharers are jointly responsible for the team's success.
If the partners are evaluated separately and it's necessary to sort out who did what, says Sladek, each partner could sit in on the other's evaluation and give feedback.
Even if they overlap hours in the middle of the week and thus could swap information at that time, job sharers must have a system for keeping each other informed about their separate activities and must be able to act as one. Co-workers and customers shouldn't have to ask, "Who's in today?" because each partner should be able to act for the other. Bowman says, "It has to be like communicating with one person."
Job sharers may share a phone line, a computer and even a team name to convey their identity as a two-in-one employee. Such close communication often requires extra effort when job sharing starts, but over time it becomes second nature, job-share partners say.