The Sustainable Side of Job Sharing

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The Sustainable Side of Job Sharing

"It sounds great but it would never work for me." This is the initial reaction many people have when they hear about job sharing. However, upon further exploration, this could be an option that would overall increase work life balance, loyalty to the employer and job satisfaction.

In this article, I explore and encourage job sharing as an option. Job sharing achieves positive outcomes and is consistent with sustainability. I believe job sharing should be offered by a company as one of the human resources-related social responsibility programs available.

As a sustainability recruiter, I am intrigued by the intersection of sustainability and human resources. Job sharing is one that makes a lot of sense but is rarely considered.

First Off, Job Sharing is Sustainable

"Job sharing supports work force sustainability," says Paige Bayer, a job sharer at Hewlett Packard (HP). "I am afforded the flexibility to work three days a week and because of that I am even more deeply committed to working for HP; HP benefits by having two loyal employees who are committed to high performance in their job and to the company. A work scenario like this keeps HP from burning out or replacing workers who leave the company in search of more flexibility, allowing HP to capitalize on the investment it made in hiring and training us."

What Job Sharing Is…

To clarify what job sharing is, it is not two people doing a part-time job. Job sharing suggests one job description, one job, and really one identity created by two people. Because the two perform one job, their identity often morphs into one identity. One job sharing team shared that during phone calls with clients, the client often did not know which of the two was on the receiving end of the call. And the job sharers regard this as a mark of success.

While it is not always women who job share, that is certainly the vast majority; and go figure, they are moms too. For the most part, two people choose to share to better achieve work life balance, to better manage their family and the home.

Meet Three Job-Sharing Pairs

Let me introduce you to the three job sharing duo's that provided input to this article. I refer to them by the single name that others have come to use:

• PaigeDonna: Paige Bayer and Donna Hokama, analysts at HP who are on the team responsible for HP's carbon footprint calculator now in their 3rd year of a job share
• Meghanna: Meghan Gosk and Anna Millar, Senior Associate Director, MBA Program, Kenan Flagler Business School University of North Carolina - Chapel Hill in their 7th year of a job share
• Nora/Sarah: Nora Bloch and Sarah Kitterman, Vice President of Community Development Lending, Wainwright Bank and Trust Co., Boston now in their 8th year of a job share

Overcoming Obstacles

Job sharing takes a leap of faith and a willingness to overcome obstacles. The decision to take this route comes with fear amongst all stakeholder groups- fear that you won't get along with your job share partner, fear that your peers won't be supportive, and fear that others will doubt this can work, get confused, and will have to repeat everything twice.

Meghanna explained that the greatest challenges are up front. Any couple in a job share needs to take the time to figure it out for themselves. They develop a system of communicating and sharing information. Because there are so few models of how to do this, it takes initiative and keenness to go against the norm.

Over time, the fears dissipate.

To the job sharer, one of the fears is actually an obstacle. There is a sense that taking a job share is equivalent to taking the "mommy track," that it slows down one's career. Certainly it does not halt one's career like it would for a parent who decides to quit working, but job share will likely get someone off the fast track. Meghanna and PaigeDonna touched on this. However this is not the case for Nora/Sarah who feels this choice has not slowed their career.

Benefits of Job Sharing

The duos agree that the benefits outweigh the obstacles and challenges. As Anna Milar said, "I never want to do this job on my own again."

Maggie Chotas and Betsy Polk Joseph, a pair of job sharers themselves who started Mulberry Tree Consulting, are currently writing a book covering the subject of job sharing. Drawing on their research of more than 80 women business partners and job sharers, they say job sharing "isn't for everyone but if both job sharers are willing and able to invest in the communication, trust and accountability that makes it work, it really works and is a win/win for all."

What I learned from talking to these three pairs is that they are hard workers with a very strong work ethic. They feel accountable to their job share partner and all the other stakeholders to demonstrate that job sharing works. They are mega-productive ensuring that their time at work is 100 percent working; whereas before they were constantly apologizing for missing work due to family needs. They are extremely loyal -- loyal to each other and loyal to their employer for allowing them to have this opportunity (as PaigeDonna put it).

A Matrix of Benefits and Challenges to Job Sharing

Given that sustainability strategy is frequently approached using a stakeholder analysis, let's explore the benefits and challenges of the job share from the perspective of the key stakeholders: job sharers, their bosses, the organization as a whole, clients, and peers. At the end of this article, you will find insights into the logistics and tips to get started.

Below is a chart summarizing the benefits and challenges from a stakeholder perspective:

 
Benefits
Challenges

The job sharing duo
• Enhanced work life balance
• Bouncing ideas off of each other achieves greater results, innovation, inspiration and confidence
• Accountability to another person
• No longer have to apologize for missing work time for family related issues; doctor appointments are scheduled during their non-work time.
• Situation is a great role model for their kids
• Work is more enjoyable and fun
• Figuring out how to make it work takes time up front.
• Risk about whether it will work.
• Career advancement slows down or is harder to move forward when you are perceived as doing half a job.
• HR benefits (ie: 401K contribution) are compromised or lost.
• Being in a jobshare requires a lot of work to stay aligned, so that you can operate seamlessly as a team. And yes, you have to work harder to do that.
• Not easy to disagree with your job share partner. Although debate can lead to greater outcomes, it can also take up more time.

Boss / manager
• Promotes retention
• Two minds think better than one
• Greater productivity
• Complex jobs may achieve greater results with a job share team
• Offering a work/life balance option motivates employees.
• Accountability to each in the pair implies less oversight required by the boss
• Better coverage for sick and vacation days when one can cover for the other
• Trepidation at the beginning
• More complicated than the norm

Clients/customers
• Clients are ensured 100 percent coverage
• Role model for how this choice can work
• Loyalty to employers
• Greater retention
• Initial hesitation that it will be confusing and that they will have to repeat themselves; but after they experience it they see that it works well.

The organization as a whole
• Retains great employees rather than losing them to their demands outside the job • The pair work very hard and efficiently • Great institutional memory – greater documentation of their work
• HR might not know how to approach a job share.
• Requires additional work for Human Resources.

Peers
• Jobsharers can take-on some extra projects
• Vacation backup coverage.
• Envious

The Nuts and Bolts Logistics of How It Works

Job sharers develop a process for sharing information and communication. The technology of today makes job sharing a greater possibility. For example, PaigeDonna share one voicemail and one email address. Both women work from home two days per week and overlap one day a week at the office. The voicemail messages are emailed as audio files to their shared inbox, which both are able to access on their work computers in real-time from home.

Job sharers work 50 percent to 75 percent of a full-time job and always build some overlap time into their week. They need to figure out what the availability of employee benefits are. This can be yet another challenge about the job share. Depending on the employer, going 50 percent could imply a 100 percent loss of benefits. For PaigeDonna, they chose to work 75 percent of the time (3 ten hour days) to have access to the majority of benefits. A socially responsible employer should offer benefits at the percentage of time such as 50 percent benefits for 50 percent time.

Nora Bloch noted the importance of support from her boss/supervisor in ironing out any bumps along the way. "In my experience, a thoroughly supportive supervisor is crucial for a job share. Our boss has been fantastic -- especially when we first started the job share, she was very protective of our arrangement so that our days off were really off, and helped our coworkers and clients adjust to the job share structure."

How to Explore Job Sharing Yourself or for Your Employees

I encourage you to explore job sharing -- either for yourself, others, or your company as a whole. Meghanna shares "It is surprising how many positions really are suited to job share and the roadblocks aren't as big and many as you may think. Many folks would have said that our job would never lend itself to a job share given the confidential nature of our work but this couldn't be further from the truth.

Simply identify a partner and explore together how it might work. If it seems like a good fit, write up a proposal. PaigeDonna suggested it took about 10 hour to write theirs. The plan should includes details of how it will work logistically (email, desk, phone, employee benefits, hours), Then submit it to management. As both PaigeDonna and Meghanna shared, they had never seen a proposal so quickly accepted by the powers that be.

Ellen Weinreb is the CEO of Sustainability Recruiting, a search firm based in Berkeley focusing on sustainability, corporate social responsibility and corporate citizenship jobs. Follow her @sustainablejobs on Twitter and SustainabilityRecruiting on Facebook.