There’s something very cool happening in the workplace — people are re-claiming their lives. They’re creating a more humane work/life balance, they’re spending less time in the office, and, yet, their careers are thriving. How can this be? Two words: job sharing.
To best explain what job sharing is, let’s start with what it is not. It is not two people working part-time jobs in parallel. That’s just part-time work. Job sharing is two people, through shared responsibilities, identity, and accountability, occupying one position. They are a single unit, a team.
Laurie Cremona Wagner and Elaine Miller have been job-sharing, career partners for years. Throughout their career they have held several high-impact corporate positions and are currently Director of Marketing and Strategic Initiatives at EMC. The two women, both of whom have children, have been able to not only maintain, but further their careers while also having quality time to spend with their families. They have had such success with job sharing that, in 2008, they founded a Bay Area non-profit, Mission Job Share, to spread awareness and job-sharing resources.
Photo credit: Public domain image from the WikiMedia Commons.
“There’s no way that we would ever have had the kind of jobs we’ve had, that are really demanding, more than full-time positions, without job sharing,” says Cremona Wagner. “We’re not job sharing because we want to plateau our careers; we’re doing this because we want to accelerate and grow our careers.”
When thoughtfully executed, job sharing is a win for everyone involved — employees have the personal time that they need while maintaining their position in the company, and employers are able to retain high-performing individuals and glean the value of having two valuable (and not over-worked) people on their team.
And job sharing is not limited to the corporate world. Michelle Spahn, who currently shares a teaching position in Santa Cruz, Calif. emphasizes that job sharing benefits her not only on a personal level — the artist and web designer has plenty of time to spend on her creative pursuits — but on a professional level, as well. “When I started job sharing, my teaching got better,” she says. “When you work in isolation you don’t have anyone to bounce things off of. But with job sharing, our skills compliment and inspire each other.”
Cremona Wagner and Miller, through their work with Mission Job Share, have found that, with a little creative thinking, job sharing can be adapted to any work environment. “We could not find an area that a job share wouldn’t work,” Cremona Wagner says, listing doctors, nurses, and lawyers among some of the professions that have had successful job shares. “We just found that it doesn't work for all people.”
Photo credit: Cat Johnson.
A successful job-sharing situation requires organization, commitment, unselfishness, and seamless communication. Both Cremona Wagner and Spahn stress the need for both partners to be clear, open, and honest in communicating everything from workday details down to personal problems and frustrations when they arise. Both partners need to know exactly what’s going on; and employers need to know that the communication is being handled by the team, that they don’t have to say everything twice. “The more organized you are,” says Spahn, “the better the job share is going to work.”
It is also imperative that the team is seen as a single entity by co-workers, employers, and the partners themselves. “You have to be interested in how the team looks,” says Cremona Wagner. “If, for one second, you’re interested more in how you look than how the team looks, then there’s just disaster waiting to happen.”
Cremona Wagner and Miller have a joint e-mail, voice mail, calendar, and IM. They communicate several times throughout the week to keep each other up-to-speed on what’s happening. “If you have a conversation with one of us, you can pick up where you left off with the other,” says Cremona Wagner. They also take great measures to insure the well-being of their partnership and they stress the importance of being treated exactly equal. From salaries and bonuses to benefits and reviews, they are 100% a team. “It’s very much like choosing a life partner,” says CremonaWagner. “That’s how important they are.”
While some employers already have job-sharing options in place, others are unfamiliar with the idea and may need to be enlightened as to how the arrangement can benefit everyone.
Photo credit: Cat Johnson.
Here are a few tips on pitching a job share to an employer:
Familiarity: When possible, choose a partner that you’ve already worked with and know that you are compatible with. It can work out to be randomly placed with someone, but the odds are much better if you and your partner choose each other. Hiring someone as a consultant is a good way to find out how you work together.
Do the Legwork: Before you pitch the job share, have the details worked out. What’s the breakdown of days going to be? Detail how everything, from early morning meetings to weekend e-mails, will be covered; stress the commitment the team has to making it a win situation for everyone; and breakdown how benefits could be divided (some companies will give 100% benefits to both partners). Like the job share itself, preparation and clear, detailed communication is the key to a successful pitch.
Toot Your Horn: Detail the successes you’ve had in working together. Highlight that, although you’re two different people, you have common values and a commitment to the organization, your career, and job sharing. As Spahn says, “If you can make it work, you can pave the road for other people.”
As people look to mix a little more living into their lives, and employers realized that 60-hour work weeks are just not productive, the job-share model makes a lot of sense. “It’s an amazingly valuable situation for the company and employee,” says Cremona Wagner. “I couldn’t recommend job sharing more highly.” She then adds, “And you can consider that you had this conversation with both of us.”