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Job sharing: 6 ways this old trend with new twist can fix hiring & retention woes

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Let’s go retro to fix hiring and retention woes: Job sharing could be this year’s solution.

Job sharing — when two, or sometimes, more — employees share the duties of one job, working in sync, but separately. (We’ll get into more details on the working logistics later in this story).

The portion of job ads that indicate they’re open to or suitable for job sharing has doubled since the beginning of the pandemic, according to data from Adzuna. And about a fifth of employers are already open to job sharing.

“Job sharing offers a handful of benefits for both employees and employers, creating more job satisfaction amongst employees, a supportive and productive work environment, and improving business outcomes,” says James Neave, head of data science at Adzuna.

Advantages of job sharing

Before you shake your head, thinking it won’t work in your organization, consider what you gain from two people working together to do one job:

  • double the skills, insights, ideas and experiences
  • smoother workflow when two people are accountable for same work
  • increased capacity (they aren’t expected to work more, but working fewer hours reduces the risk of burnout)
  • increased engagement
  • increased affinity for the employer that allows job sharing, and
  • a widened talent pool for hiring.

“Through job sharing, employers are also provided opportunities to create more flexibility for their employees – and flexibility is a core career and workplace value for many people,” says Neave.

Some history on job sharing

Job sharing came out of the 1970s, when mostly women needed and/or wanted to escape the 9-to-5 to care for children or homes. Two people took on one role, working part-time and usually on different half-shifts, to get the job done. They usually shared a full-time salary — and probably didn’t split the headaches!

But today’s job sharing isn’t exactly your mother’s job sharing. Today, we call it something more like job flexibility.

How does it work today? Well, it doesn’t mean hours, responsibilities or duties are split 50/50 exactly. But the overall hours are the equivalent of a full-time job. It can work in a variety of ways:

  • each person works two-and-a-half full days a week
  • one covers a whole week and the co-worker takes the next week
  • two employees might split daily responsibilities — one in the morning and the other in the afternoon, or
  • one person covers three days one week, with the co-worker taking the two days — and they switch it the following week.

Really, the ways to split is practically endless.

While job sharing might not be ideal for every role, it’s becoming feasible for more. Adzuna found role-sharing trends in consulting, tax and advisory, plus supervisory roles on projects, such as administrative assistants or factory line workers.

Making it work

Nearly every job share situation will be different based on the role, working partners, management and industry. But some best practices to manage job share roles stand true for most positions.

In job sharing roles, you’ll want to:

  • Choose the right partners. You want to create the right partnership. Three critical keys, according to Harvard Business School research: Job-sharing employees need to be able to communicate, collaborate, and disagree. They always have to prioritize work, dance around office politics and advocate for each other. Ideally they need to have complementary — not exact — skills, experience, and perspectives.
  • Set boundaries. Whether you decide how the work is divided, or you allow co-workers to do it, you want the system documented. A few possible approaches: 1) Split the work with each taking responsibility for certain tasks; 2) Share the same workload, dividing the days; or 3) Create a tandem system, where one picks up where one leaves off.
  • Align values. Job sharers will want to align their goals, workflows and plans when they start to collaborate. Ideally, they connect with their boss regularly to review the plan and progress so they stay aligned.
  • Be diligent about the handover. One of the most critical parts of job sharing is the handover process. Job sharers need to define, refine and commit to it so nothing falls through the cracks. It can be something as technical as workflow management software to as something as simple as a daily email.
  • Stay united. Job shares want to use “us” and “we” in communication with the boss, colleagues and customers to show they operate as a team.
  • Communicate constantly. Share files. Document work. Pass along all information that affects the role. As the HBS researchers put it, “both parties must zealously convey and seek information from the other.” Create an almost daily ritual to agree on work priorities, discuss issues, pass off work and check in about how things are going generally.

Watch for pitfalls

Even in praise of job sharing, you’ll want to avoid the potential pitfalls that Neave identified:

  • Making a bad connection. Some job share relationships don’t work out. If a team isn’t working, don’t force it. Create a new situation.
  • Handling finances. “This type of work leads to a net reduction in salary. It is important people make sure job sharing is financially sustainable,” says Neave.
  • Wrong role. Not every job is suitable for job sharing. For example, positions that require a deep level of immersion into long-term projects or niche skill sets and experiences may not be easily shared.

2 case studies: Improve recruiting, fix gender gap

Take a look at these two case studies on job sharing successes from the HBS research:

  1. Job sharing will likely help you recruit more and better candidates: When Zurich became the first company in the United Kingdom to advertise all job openings with the option of part-time, full-time or job share, they received nearly 20% more applications from women. What’s more, most of them were seeking leadership and management jobs, so it helped the company fill important roles and close more pay and gender gaps.
  2. Job sharing will likely lead to innovation and best practices. At the commercial law firm Legalite, the founder created Work by Design. In it, each role has core qualifications and skill requirements. But employees — including disabled, neurodivergent, and pregnant professionals — can co-design the jobs around their talents and interests. They’ve built unique products and services from those partnerships — such as a documentation bot created by a lawyer who loved coding — plus business and employer awards.

Read the full article here

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