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Jobsharing: Double the trouble or twice as nice? By Rob Lewis


It’s still a rare sight, but anecdotally the amount of jobsharing going on in UK workplaces appears to be on the rise, even in the boardroom. Is it ever that responsible to agree to share responsibility? Rob Lewis looks at the legal and management aspects from a HR perspective and tries to find out if two heads really are better than one – and by how much, exactly?

Forget the rigid nine-to-five, flexible working is in. Even David Cameron has called “general well-being as important as GDP”, and he’s hardly a proletarian rebel. In fact, he may have a point, seeing how a recent employee engagement survey revealed workers on flexible contracts are significantly more productive than their clockwatching counterparts. So should you swoon or swear when the contentious issue of jobsharing crops up amongst your staff?

“You’ve got the training and management costs for two individuals instead of one,” says Rebecca Clake, organisation and resourcing advisor at the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD), “but, of course, if you’re retaining or recruiting really excellent staff as a result of offering a jobshare then those benefits could really outweigh the inconveniences.”

She believes the point to bear in mind is that jobsharing isn’t generally something people just fall into. And despite some negative views that a shared work load might mean putting in half the work, Clake argues that flexible workers are more likely to be motivated to work. “People jobshare because it fits in with their priorities, whether that’s childcare or caring for the elderly, or whatever,” she adds.

“Research shows jobsharers are more likely to be engaged, more likely to be loyal, more likely to speak positively about the organisation and less likely to quit.”

Rebecca Clake, organisation and resourcing advisor, CIPD

However, they’re still human. “If you were the manager of jobsharers, you would want to keep an eye on their performance just like anybody else,” Clake cautions, “although you wouldn’t want to put them under the microscope unfairly. A 360 degree feedback might be a good idea, and then you could see what the rest of the team thinks.”

As well as requiring some slightly different management, there’s also the issue of perks, which could be potentially divisive – and expensive. Again, this responsibility falls down to the employer. For example, managers need to ensure jobsharers have equal access to training opportunities, which could cost more but will, ultimately, protect them against discrimination laws covering part-time staff.

Currently, though, jobsharers are a relatively rare sight in British offices, accounting for far less than one per cent of the working population. Clake admits this is at least partly because of the additional effort and organisational difficulties involved in accommodating them. Nevertheless, it still helps attract and keep key staff.

“It opens work up to more people. We know organisations are continuing to experience recruitment and retention difficulties. It’s something that people should certainly consider,” says Clake. “People need to see how it works before they give it a go. The trouble is, it’s not very common, so they’re not likely to see how it could work – and it does work.”

Ego not included

Pam Walton is an author and researcher who helped write the recent Hours to Suit report for Working Families, which examined 20 case studies of flexible working at senior levels. While not actively seeking out jobsharers, even she was surprised at the numbers beginning to crop up.

When approaching jobsharing, Walton advises potential partners to find a colleague who is similar in their values and approach to work, which is why it isn’t for everyone. “As a personality, you need to be somebody that isn’t possessive about your work. The key things jobsharers talk about are trust and communication,” she says.

“Both people need to be equally responsible for the job and the leadership aspects too. If somebody wants to be the star or you’ve got a personality who can’t share – share their job, share their desk, share their computer – it’s not going to work.”

If you’re wondering to what extent HR can really facilitate the perfect match, the answer, according to Walton, may be not that much. Although covering jobsharing in policies and keeping a potential register are good starting points. “From an HR point of view, the matching of jobsharers is crucial,” she says, “but it takes place in a variety of ways. Some of the jobsharers I studied had known each other for years, and all of them were very much self-starters.”

Walton’s experience suggests that most jobshares have been initiated at the request of the jobsharers themselves, who tend to work things out pretty much on their own. And despite what people might think, it’s an arrangement that works better at the top of the ladder rather than at the bottom.

“I think the roles that are particularly suited to jobsharing are actually the more senior ones because it provides better cover,” she highlights. “If one of the jobsharers is sick or absent, then at least half the job is still going. Two people are also more likely to have a very wide range of skills, experience and knowledge, so you’re tapping into that too.”

Instead, she believes the potential issues that might arise with a jobshare are much the same for any part-time employee. “Things like fringe benefits and cars are questions that come up a lot,” Walton adds.

Two heads better than one?

Others, however, are less optimistic about the practicalities of jobsharing, particularly those in the legal profession. “I’m not a massive fan,” admits Catherine Wilson, an employment partner at law firm Eversheds. “Superficially, it sounds really attractive but it’s not that great. With two part-time roles you’ve got two independent contracts, whereas with a jobshare you’ve got an inter-related contract, and that’s very different.”

Wilson agrees with Walton that jobsharing is more often than not suggested by the employees rather than the employer, which could go some way to explain the amount of jobsharing going on at senior levels: less important staff just might not have the clout to implement it.

But while jobsharing may be something that effectively starts itself, ending it can be a far trickier proposition. For example, if you make one half of the jobshare team redundant, potentially you might have to let the other half go due to a 50% reduction in the role.

“If one of your jobsharers go and you can’t get another one, what are you going to do?” says Wilson. “Or what if the requirement changes so the job diminishes and you need to select which one you keep? There are a lot of complex legal issues involved and you’re very dependent on the chemistry of the jobsharers.

“I’m never quite sure why people want to jobshare, rather than work part-time.”

However, Chris Hewitt, who is currently in her second jobsharing post with a different partner, happily champions this type of more flexible working. Not only has she been promoted while in a jobsharing role to joint director of knowledge and strategy at the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (ACAS), she believes jobsharers are far more productive than employees working on their own.

“You’ve got two minds thinking about the job,” says Hewitt. “At a senior level things move very fast and you need to be able to provide cover for the whole job in case of an emergency, but we don’t put that overhead on the organisation. We absorb it into our own time.”

She also emphasises that for people concerned about career progression who might not be able to put in full-time hours it can be the only option. She adds: “I’ve got three kids and if I couldn’t work part-time I wouldn’t be in this job.”

One Response

    Having experienced job share as a manager, I have to say it didn’t work for us. I have a very energetic assistant, who having returned from maternity leave, required shorter hours, which I was happy to accommodate, using job share as a means of coping with the full work load.

    However, the biggest single problem was continuity of service where one lady left for the week and the other came in. It was extremely time consuming and not particularly successful to up-date their colleague on where they were with particular jobs which couldn’t wait until the next week. We tried lots of ways to keep the continuity going, weekly progress meetings, copious note making, sending e-mails to each other, but realistically it didn’t work. It took up a lot of time (which we didn’t have, as we are a small, but busy team) and the support we offered to the business suffered as a result of poor communication. I think that job share is a good idea in principle but I really do believe that the job itself needs to be very well structured to allow it to work. In an SME like ours, with lots of demands on our time, job share hindered rather than helped us.

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