Unravelling the myths of job sharing

May 10 2007 by Nic Paton Print This Article

Job sharing is all too often dismissed by managers as being too expensive and difficult to manage but it need not be. In fact, managers more often fall back on five "myths" about job sharing as a way of ducking the issue.

Stephen Miller, manager of the U.S Society of Human Resource Management's online compensation and benefits forum has identified, along with Kelly Watson, founder of recruitment firm Career Partners, the top five myths that stop managers giving the green light to job sharing.

Myth one is cost. "While some employers fear that job sharing will be cost-prohibitive because they will have to pay benefits twice, the fact is that few executive moms need them," argued Miller.

"For the few that do, the added cost of benefits does not compare to the cost of turnover and retraining," he added.

While some insurance premiums might increase because you are adding headcount, these premiums are likely to be a tiny portion of most exempt employee pay packages, he pointed out.

Vacation time, sick days and company pension matching are all programmes where the benefit is accrued based on the number of hours worked, so whether the worker is in a job-share is irrelevant.

"In a job-share situation, these are reduced for each individual, so the total cost is the same. Further, many employers have found that job-sharing employees have fewer absences and work more productively when they are in the office," argued Miller.

"This could be because they are more balanced, are less stressed and take care of their personal needs on their own time," he added.

The best practical solution, said Watson, was to split the total compensation package for a job-share role proportionately, appropriate to each candidate's experience and contribution to the role.

"Individuals who do require medical benefits can cede salary or other elements in exchange. With this kind of flexibility, suited to the needs of the employee, employers can get the benefits of two collaborative brains for little more than the cost of one," she added.

Myth two: it's more difficult to manage two people. "In today's global organisations where management structures are flattened, executives often lead large teams of widely dispersed individuals," said Miller.

"Moreover, with the pressures of shorter measurement horizons and increased competition, managers have less time to manage. In this context, adding people might seem to increase the problem.

"However, job sharing does not have to tax managers any more than individual employees do. By seeking candidates that are closely matched and pairing their shared values and complementary skills, experience and personality styles, companies can create powerful work teams that communicate so well that they act like a single individual," he pointed out.

"In fact, most job-share partners feel a vested interest in making the team successful, he added.

Myth three is the common complaint that, if managers offer it to one person, everyone will want to do it, explained Miller.

"Some companies worry that giving a little bit of flexibility will create a workforce of slackers. Or that accommodating one employee will lead to other requests, ultimately breaking down the standardised processes and HR procedures they have worked hard to build," he said.

"However, job sharing is one flexibility programme that is easy to implement logistically and provides companies with more than what one single employee can contribute," he argued.

"Companies get built-in backup, more combined hours, refreshed workers, the collaborative brain power of two and the loyalty of two happy employees," he added.

Myth four: it's more difficult to match candidates into job-share teams.

"Not all companies have a giant pool of available employees interested in job-sharing similar roles," pointed out Miller.

Most job boards and recruiting companies, too, tended to target only full-time employees. So it was natural that employers often worried they would not be able to find great candidates, but this should not be a barrier.

"Contacting former employees who have retired or 'opted out' for family reasons is a great start, because these folks already know the company and might need less training and onboarding," recommended Miller.

"Also, existing employees might be able to provide excellent referrals. There are many closely knit alumni associations and networks where job-share candidates connect to each other every day.

"When companies find such creative avenues to advertise a job-share programme, they often reach a hidden pool of exceptional talent while building substantial brand equity," he added.

And last of all, myth five: the old adage of "accountability" or, as Miller put it, that "things will surely slip through the cracks".

He explained: "Some companies worry that when two people are responsible for something, nobody is responsible; that a job share sets up the ultimate finger-pointing situation.

"However, with job sharing, it is often the opposite. Offering work flexibility has the powerful effect of motivating individuals to make the situation work," he added.

"Further, treating the teams as single employees, and rating and rewarding their collective effectiveness, can ensure that each individual holds themselves accountable to their partnership," he concluded.