Job sharing is a flexible work option in which two or possibly more employees share a single job. For example, one person may work in a certain position Monday and Tuesday, and a second person may occupy that same position Thursday and Friday. The two people may both work on Wednesday and use that time to update each other on the current status of the various projects on which they collaborate. A variety of other arrangements are possible as well.
Job sharing is a somewhat controversial alternative to telecommuting, flexible working hours, compressed work weeks, and other arrangements used by businesses to offer their employees more flexibility in terms of work schedules without increasing costs and while maintaining productivity. Job sharing is an option for employees who wish to work somewhat shorter hours. In many cases, a job sharing position doe require that the individuals involved are willing to be contacted during the work week even on days they do not work so that questions may be answered and the coordination between the two or more individuals sharing a position is maximized.
According to an article in the Managing Benefits Plans magazine, "Job sharing peaked in 2001 when 26 percent of companies offered it as a flexible work option, according to a recent report by the Society for Human Resource Management. The number of companies that permit job sharing dropped to 17 percent in 2004, and stood at 19 percent in 2005, the SHRM survey reported."
Job sharing offers small businesses a chance to retain valued employees who are either approaching retirement or starting families and would consider leaving if more flexible options were not made available. Job sharing can also help eliminate the need to train new employees if a valued employee were to leave the company. Job sharing can seem intimidating to managers, who may fear that it could lead to confusion, more paperwork, and a host of other hassles. If a proper plan is in place and each job sharer is held accountable for his or her duties, however, these issues can be avoided.
PLANNING A JOB SHARING POSITION
In order for a job-sharing program to succeed, a solid plan must be put in place to ensure that the work gets done properly. Managers must pay close attention to how the system is working. Solid communication between work partners and management, as well as other employees who are not in the job-sharing program, is a must. Done properly, job sharing can lead to a high level of productivity—perhaps even higher than the level contributed by a single, traditional employee.
The first step in implementing a job-sharing program is to decide whether the job can be shared and if there are likely candidates with whom to share it. Most often, these candidates already exist within the company, although potential job sharers can be recruited from the outside workforce. Jobs with clearly defined individual tasks are the best to consider for job-sharing. Those that are more complex have a tendency of failing under this type of arrangement. Above all, management has to be committed to the job-sharing program, as do the employees who are participating in it.
Several specific issues should be dealt with in advance of starting a job-sharing program. These include:
- Clarify how the salary for a position will be divided between the job sharers and how the hours will be covered.
- Determining how vacation and sick days will be divided between the participants.
- Establishing a division of employment benefits that provide both parties some coverage but does not cost the company twice the cost that it would bear for a single employee.
- Iron out the details about who will have responsibility for what elements of the work.
- Define how employment evaluation will be handled in advance so that the job sharers know how much of their evaluation will be based on the work product of the other job sharer.
Because of the need to work very closely with one another, job sharers should have a hand in deciding with whom they wish to share a job. According to the authors of the Managing Benefits Plans article, "Job sharers should find their own partners. It is up to the prospective job sharer, not the employer, to find a coworker who wants to share a job." They go one to explain that employers will need to be involved in this decision so that they can make sure that the job partners are at the same career level and are compatible. Finally, the job-sharing situation must benefit the company as well as the employees involved.
JOB SHARING AND EMPLOYEES
It is important to find partners in a job sharing position that have work styles, habits, preferences, quality standards, and communications skills that are compatible and closely matched. Many times, it can be advantageous if the employees select their own partners to ensure that these conditions are met. Most often it is important for employers to find job-sharing partners with comparable skill levels, but there are still possible benefits if they do not. For instance, a more experienced worker can train an up-and-coming employee in a job-sharing situation. When this happens, the employer can cut back on the time and money it would normally take to train the new employee, while also paying them a lower salary than the veteran worker during this time.
Employees who participate in job sharing divide their responsibilities in several different ways. They can share the job evenly or separate it into individual tasks that better suit each individual. If the job has unrelated tasks, those can also be divided. The work week can be split in half and shifts can be alternated so one employee works three days one week and two the next. Job sharing employees must be able to coordinate their schedules to make sure someone is always on the job when they are required to be.
THE ADVANTAGES OF JOB SHARING
It would seem that the one who benefits most from job sharing is the employee. This type of arrangement allows the employee to work part-time in order to spend more time with their families, attend school, or pursue other personal interests. New mothers find that it is a way to continue their careers while not having to deal with the stress and guilt that comes with putting their child in full-time day care. Experienced senior workers who wish to cut back a bit while still continuing their careers also benefit from job sharing, as do employees who wish to pursue more than one career opportunity at the same time. In addition, job sharing employees often find that this type of arrangement helps them to cut down on work-related stress and burnout.
Despite its often intimidating nature and the possibility for confusion, job sharing can also be seen as advantageous and desirable to small business owners and managers. First, there is the simple theory that two or more individual employees can bring a greater variety of abilities to the job than a single employee can. In some instances, job sharing can also lead to extended work days and therefore more productivity without having to pay employees overtime. Employers can also ask job sharers to work more during busy times, therefore eliminating the hassles of having to hire and train temporary employees.
HOW TO KEEP A SHARED JOB RUNNING SMOOTHLY
Employees who share a job have an arsenal of resources at their disposal to communicate with each other and ensure that the job is getting done. These resources include e-mail, phone and fax messages, checklists, and daily logs.
It is probably in the best interest of small business owners to conduct performance reviews of employees involved in a job-sharing program to ensure that things are going smoothly. These reviews can either be individual evaluations of each worker or take the form of a team review. If one person is carrying the weight of the team and the other is not doing his or her fair share, it is up to management to decide if this is just an isolated problem with that particular team or if the job-sharing program is just not a successful one for their business.
If a meeting that is pertinent to the job comes up, the employees and management must decide if both employees should attend or just one. It often helps if the job sharing employees who work on the same days are able to overlap their schedules in order to interact and keep things running as smoothly as possible.
Benefits for employees who participate in job-sharing can be handled in a variety of different ways. Full or partial benefits can be given to the job sharer according to the specific situation. Benefits such as insurance and pension plans are easier to negotiate and are often prorated. Vacation-time, personal and sick days, and even salary can also be prorated to the amount of time each employee spends on the job. As stated above, these issues should all be decided upon and agreed to by all parties before the job-sharing program is implemented. A guide or formal contract is suggested to make sure everyone involved understands these issues. Usually job sharing results in a slight increase in benefit costs, mainly in covered statutory benefits like Social Security and employment taxes. Small business owners must decide if the assumed increase in productivity is enough to offset these costs. Since job sharers work fewer hours then do typical employees, overtime pay is rarely an issue in these types of situations.
Arndt, Michael. "The Family That Flips Together '¶" Business Week. 17 April 2006.
Hirschman, Carolyn. "Share and Share Alike: Job sharing can boost productivity and help retain vital workers, but it can't work effectively without help from HR." HRMagazine. September 2005.
"Job Sharing: One Way to Hold on to Valued Employees." Managing Benefits Plans. January 2006.