Working Part-time: How job sharing can work

I wrote about part-time work a few weeks ago and had a great response. Lots of comments and suggestions about how to get part-time work. One of the options is to job-share.   Job sharing is a version of part-time work which involves two people 'sharing' the full-time hours of one job. The pay and other benefits are shared between the two on a pro-rata basis, by the hours each person works.  I don't have much experience with job sharing so I asked my good friend Sarah Beck to help me out. 

I met Sarah when we worked at the same company in Sydney, both in the Human Resources team. Sarah was job sharing then and is the only example I have experienced, which probably doesn't say much about the companies I have worked for, or me as a Human Resources professional!

Sarah moved to Singapore about 4 years before me and was the first person to take me out for coffee when I moved there.  She was great at filling me in on dealing with frizzy hair and the medical conditions common to the tropics, as well as where to find the good coffee. Super helpful!

Sarah has recently moved to Chicago with her husband and today I interviewed her about how job sharing worked for her.

Say hello to Sarah! *waving*

Hi Sarah, firstly how did the job-sharing arrangement come about?

I don't have children however wanted part-time work after years of full-time. A friend in HR working for a large corporation told me of an Executive Assistant role but it was full-time. Long story short the business offered the role as a temp position which I applied for and got. I made it clear early on that I really only wanted part-time (four days). When I was offered the role as a permanent full-time position my manager added to my contract that the role would be reviewed in six months with a view to job-sharing. Luckily for me the business already had a job-share model in operation so my manager and I could see how it worked. It was explained that I would be the one to recruit a partner and also make the arrangement work. True to his word my role was reviewed and I found a partner to job-share with. I no longer work for that business; we moved overseas (twice!). I am still very good friends with my job-share.

Could you tell us about how the job share worked? How many hours did each of you work and how did you agree this?

I wanted four days and to make it work we needed two days from the other party.  We advertised externally and internally and were fortunate to recruit someone from within the business.    Having someone already familiar with the systems and processes in place as well as knowing other aspects of the business was a huge bonus.  She had not worked in HR (to be fair neither had I previously) though had a very keen interest and had completed a TAFE course.  I worked each day except Thursday so I could continue doing voluntary work.  We had a day together on Wednesday and she worked alone on Thursdays.  Our hours were flexible though I preferred an early start.  She has children and generally it worked better for to have a later start.   She had the capacity to work from home on some days and would access emails remotely as required eg if she was struggling to get in or had to leave early (one of her children has an ongoing illness).

Did you each have specific responsibilities that only you worked on? Or did you both do the whole job on the days you worked?

The idea was to share the whole job though in practice this was not always possible.  For example, minuting a weekly team meeting that fell on a day she was not in the office.  We had to practice strong communications from the outset to ensure we were both as fully informed as possible on an all key items.  Depending what the task was and the urgency required we could make an informed decision as to who actioned a request.  It could also depend if our manager specifically asked one of us to perform the task though generally speaking I was the lead and would delegate as seemed to make the most sense given the days we were both in.  

At the start of the job share some of the weekly more mundane tasks such as expenses and filing did fall to her as these could be started and completed on her days.  As time went on she was able to manage more interesting and time consuming duties.  Using PowerPoint was not a key strength of mine and the more organisational tasks were not hers.  We could cross over but as I say we found where our key strengths lay and used our time as efficiently as possible to ensure all aspects of the role were covered.  Our manager needed all of our skills.  He did many presentations and her PowerPoint skills and creative flair was fully utilised.  We had to arrange functions and organise annual events such as a HR conference and Service Awards.  Both our strengths were used in performing these elements of the role.  In many ways we were evenly matched and would frequently share knowledge between us.  

How did you ensure that each of you was updated as to what the other was working on?

We would keep a rolling update sheet and email handover notes.  We tried to have lunch or at least a coffee together though this wasn’t always possible.  Sometimes there would be a need to contact each other on the days we were not working however we did try to avoid this and as time went on we got better at streamlining the role.  We shared an inbox though this was associated to my name.  IT tried to give us joint names on the email but it was too complicated to set up unfortunately.  We wanted to make sure we operated out of the same email account so as to avoid doubling up and confusion to those outside our department.  At the start, despite her signing her name on correspondence some of our colleagues assumed it was me managing the inbox requests though this did change over time.  

How did you other workmates deal with the job-sharing arrangement. Were there any issues with your manager?

Our workmates were incredibly supportive and we had the full backing of our manager.  The director of our department had assistants who job-shared so it was not a new concept to the group.  Our manager kept us fully updated on all matters.  We had regular meetings - something he had done with me since we first started working together and which meant we could tackle all the day to day matters as well as work on future planning and upcoming projects.  The meetings were a great way to ensure team cohesion and collaboration.  Plus he operated an open-door policy so we always had access to him.

The role and allocation of tasks evolved over time although our colleagues tended to come to me as the first port of call mainly as I had been in the role longer and was in the office more frequently.  It did perhaps seem at times that I was more productive - for example if she was working on a big presentation then the organisational duties fell to me – and we worked on this image of the role. She has the ability to be very focused and work on one task to completion without getting side tracked.  I can get side tracked.  Once we had established our strengths and areas for development we could arrange our work accordingly – it didn’t happen overnight though!  

How did you deal with any conflicts between the two of you? Did you agree anything up front or just deal with them as they arose?

Generally, we managed things as they arose.  We would go for a coffee and talk which wasn’t always easy when there was a pile of work to be done and we had limited time together.  Occasionally our manager would get involved though this tended to be at the start of the job-share when we were all learning.  It wasn’t so much about conflicts as about different ways of approaching tasks.  Neither way was wrong or right just different.  Ultimately, we had to keep our customer at the forefront of our minds and make sure that we did what they wanted us to do in a timely fashion.  Prioritising requests was very important as was managing expectations.   

Our company was very people focused and we were fortunate to attend an in-house training specially tailored to the needs of the EAs (executive assistants).  Through this we learned many things for example different working styles and how these impact on others.    I found this fascinating and an invaluable insight.  I am very much a structured (some may say controlling!) person.  I like order, consistency and to keep a track on progress –  making sure that nothing slips by.   My job-share was and still is extremely creative.  She gets things done but did not always provide status updates.  At times there were frustrations however as we got to know and understand each other we could work through any issues.   

Trying to give someone interesting work to do on two days a week when one of those days is a handover is hard.  The role was extremely demanding and handing over and keeping the role operational did have challenges from time to time.  We came up with and fine-tuned strategies to overcome the challenges.  

What happened when one person went on holidays? Did you or your job-share partner work full time?

On occasion when I was away she did increase her days and sometimes this may have been by coming into the office or by working remotely.  It didn’t really impact me too much when she was away.  So long as both of us shared handover notes it meant the role could continue uninterrupted.  We managed our time when she had to take leave to take care of her child.  Showing each other respect, compassion and understanding whilst making sure our role was carried out effectively involved flexibility and trust.  My job-share worked incredibly hard for her home life to run alongside her working life and to this day I am in complete awe of this amazing ability.

What else can you tell us about job sharing?

I believe job-sharing can be hard however when it works it is brilliant and very rewarding.  The benefits to both parties are huge and to the business as a whole – look at all the skills we jointly brought to our business both of which potentially may not have been realised if this opportunity had not come our way.  Communication and the ability to prioritise is vital.  The company we were working for was very people focused and the time invested in staff and the in-house training we received as EA’s, who can sometimes be overlooked, was wonderfully empowering.  It linked us together from a business, work, social and personal aspect.  We were both trying to do our best and both had different approaches.  Training showed us how to bounce off each other as opposed to bat against each other; understand each other without getting frustrated; and in turn made us a much tighter unit.  We were invested in each other.  

I’ve learned an enormous amount about myself and others through job-sharing.  I have to have faith in others, trust in myself and manage my expectations.  I’ve learnt that I have a lot to learn and am still learning.  My job-share and I were lucky – though we had to work at it for sure – to work together and make the role ours.   She now works alone in a role that uses both admin and creative elements to their full and said that she learned a huge amount from our time working together.   As indeed have I! 

The support and understanding of colleagues and associates in the business is also key.  My job-share and I are still great friends though we live in different countries now.  I am so glad I did not miss the opportunity to (a) work with her; (b) stand by my preference to work part-time; and (c) just ask about the possibility.  If you don’t ask you never know what the outcome will be.  As a colleague said to me by putting it out there, to the universe, as a verbal request and as a recurring thought in your head makes it far more likely it will happen.  And it did!

I learnt if you don't take a chance you could miss out on a great opportunity!

Lisa: Does anyone else have some good examples of how job sharing can work? Would love to hear from you