As working patterns become more flexible, job sharing is an arrangement that we’re hearing about more and more. Britain even has its first ever political job share: Caroline Lucas and Jonathan Bartley were elected recently as co-leaders of the Green Party. They described it as a pioneering job-share arrangement that would help them both balance family and work commitments.
So if your business has a role with responsibilities that need covering throughout the working day and a well-qualified employee who wants part-time hours, sharing the job between two part-time employees can be an ideal win-win arrangement.
What’s in it for your business?
Two people sharing one role gives you the benefit of two people’s experience for the price of one - two brains instead of one, two sets of ideas and creativity, and a wider set of skills and approach. Both job sharers will tend to push each other to focus on the most important priorities as their time at work is limited, giving you two peoples’ judgment call on what really needs to get done.
If the job sharers can be flexible, they can cover each other’s holiday and sickness absence so that there’s better continuity.
And job sharing could mean you keep valued employees who might otherwise leave because of issues with work-life balance. For example, recent research on women working in senior roles has shown that the option to job share is a critical factor for them in deciding whether to stay in or leave an organisation.
What makes a successful job share?
Two people doing one job can create complications. Here are our tips, based on first-hand experience, on how to head off the potential difficulties and manage a successful job share:
The priority is that everyone in the team and anyone outside the business who comes into contact with the job sharers has a seamless experience. Everyone who interacts with the job sharers should experience a unity of understanding and purpose. No one with a query should be told: "I don't know the answer, my job share partner does that not me."
If the job sharers don’t share an email account and phone number, they must be able to pick up and respond to each other’s emails and calls. They need easy access to each other’s work information so they can respond to queries in the same way, by sharing PC or paper files.
Any time you or the job sharers talk about the arrangement to co-workers and clients, focus on how it benefits the business especially the ‘two heads are better than one’ and continuity of cover advantages. People want to know how this set-up will be good for them, not for the job sharers.
2 Set up the communication framework
People certainly don’t want to go through their issue twice and will expect the job sharers to act as one brain! Most likely, as conscientious employees who care about doing their job well, the job sharers will be only too aware of the importance of excellent communication with each other.
A regular handover time between the two may help, so that they can fill each other in on what has been happening. If this isn’t possible, encourage the job sharers to phone each other regularly to talk through the issues and agree priorities, and email to relay important information and pass on work.
Trust the job holders to organise their work in the best way, to take accountability for their own workload and to manage their time to get things done. Leave them to plan, set goals and share successes. Encourage and empower them to work out their problems together, to have the difficult conversations about prioritizing work, communicating, office politics etc, and to work out the best ways to collaborate.
But monitor progress and performance, and be prepared to step in and take the lead when it starts to look like things aren't working.
4 Divide up the job in a way that works
There are a number of ways to slice any given job in two. The simplest way is for both to do the same tasks and simply divide up the working days. An alternative is to split most of the job content but for each job sharer to lead on specific tasks or projects depending on their specialist skills and knowledge.
For example, this could mean carving out two buckets of work, one being requests from clients requiring a short-term response and the other, longer term projects. Immediate requests are resolved by whoever is working at the time. For the longer term projects, the job sharers decide together who will lead.
At the outset, sit down with the job sharers and jointly plan in principle how they will divide up the job. But don’t set the details in stone — it’s better to let them experiment and make adjustments as necessary.
If an existing employee requests a job share arrangement, this falls within the statutory right of all employees with 26 weeks' service to request flexible working. The request needs to be considered in a structured way and responded to within specific timeframes.