June 26, 2008

Are Two Heads Better Than One?

By Boyd, Carolyn

DOES JOB SHARING REALLY WORK? WITH ENOUGH PLANNING IT CAN BE EXTREMELY EFFECTIVE Sharon Newall is fairly typical of most people who land a job-sharing role. She is a company insider and so is her job-share partner Narelle Hunt.

Although job sharing has been entrenched in the corporate vernacular for a decade or more, advertised roles are still few and far between. Job-share positions are most likely to be created from within a company, to meet the needs of existing staff members.

As senior business relationship managers with AMP Corporate Superannuation, Newall and Hunt are responsible for maintaining and growing $340 million of assets under management.

They happened upon their job-sharing role 13 years ago when AMP restructured and decided that, at that stage, it could no longer offer parttime positions.

"They didn't want to lose our services so they said we could apply for one of the roles together," Newall says. The pair did, settling on an arrangement where they both work three days a week, having one day in the office together.

Newall puts the success of the partnership down to mutual respect and a similar work ethic. "There's never been any problems at all, we're quite lucky with that," she says. "One is not more dominant than the other. That's essential. But we're completely different people. Narelle's more of a 'bull at a gate type of person' whereas I'm a 'dot the i, cross the t person', and that's why I think we work so well. I work a little bit slower than her.

AMP Corporate Superannuation job-share partners. Narelle Hunt and Sharon Newall.

AMP Corporate Superannuation job-share partners. Narelle Hunt and Sharon Newall.

"It's like a lovely blend because she can sort of push me on but then I make her look at what she's doing so she can be a little bit more thorough."

An in-depth understanding of each partner is vital for job sharing, says Part Time Online director Liana Gorman, who has worked in recruitment for 25 years. Everything needs to be nutted out upfront, says Gorman, with job sharers exploring each other's likes and dislikes, strengths and weaknesses and work preferences.

Gorman says the biggest threat to job sharing is not enough planning. "It could fall apart if you haven't thought it through properly. For instance, if people don't consider the implications on the rest of the team, the implications on the outcomes or if they don't consider the strengths and weaknesses of each party and what they can bring to the table," she says.

Another problem is a failure to keep co-workers in the loop. "Where communication is not clear, other people around you in the team might get frustrated and think, 'Well, OK, who do I talk to?' Or they have to repeat themselves more than once in terms of the information that they are providing. Where job shares may not work is when people get frustrated with all of that."

Author Kerry Fallon Horgan from Flexibility At Work says the organisational culture, systems and processes need to support the arrangement.

Newall hates the term "job share" because too often people assume that means she performs a junior role. "I feel like people do think of you as being an administrator and you're just a pencil pusher and then at three o'clock the bell rings and you walk out and somebody comes in and sits down and picks up your pencil and keeps ticking away at what you were doing," she says. "The perception among people is very much that [one] when you say job share. But with us, because it's a management role, it's different. With us, quite often I don't say that Narelle and I job share, I say that Narelle and I work together and we share a portfolio of clients because I personally think that's exactly what we do."

In some organisations there is the erroneous perception that job sharers are not committed to their work and that it is only appropriate for jobs that hold little responsibility, Fallon Horgan says. Because managing job sharers can be more complicated than overseeing single employees, many companies only offer job sharing for simpler roles where tasks can be split into standalone units.

CPA Kimberley Quinn, a Melbourne recruiter who specialises in placing accountants for Hamilton James Bruce, says she's had no call to fill a job sharing role. "It is so tough to find one, let alone two high-calibre senior candidates that I think it would be unlikely to occur in the professional services firms," she says.

This is a situation that is slowly changing, Fallon Horgan says. "I'm now finding that increasing skills shortages are forcing organisations to rethink their positions on job sharing."

Kristen Gallacher from specialist recruiter DareTwoShare was recently tasked with finding a job-share partner for a retail marketing manager within a large IT company, and knows of job-share arrangements for other senior roles such as corporate communications managers and lawyers. "They do exist at that level, but generally require a bit of a push from another senior exec or someone else with a vested interest in that position," she says.

Most job seekers aren't fussed whether they work part time or job share, as long as they feel an integral part of the business, Gallacher says. Despite her agency's name, Gallacher admits most placements are for part-time roles. "Sometimes a part-time role is easier to fill than a true job share (for both employer and job sharer)," she says.

The pluses of job sharing are that they can attract more mature and experienced candidates who have other commitments. "There is a different attitude from these job seekers, they are more productive with their time and there is a commitment to making it work," Gallacher says.

Kathy Finckh, HR manager of diversity at the Commonwealth Bank of Australia agrees. "We most often find that job sharers and part timers are more engaged. They take less time off for unscheduled absences, they take less sick leave as well, and therefore they're more productive. Their personal needs are being met, so really it's a win-win for both the business and for the employees," she says.

The Commonwealth Bank has about 7000 parttime employees, of which 350 job share. It has an online application process. "The employees fill out the details about how the job share roles might work, they actively find someone else who might want to job share with them, or they have a discussion with their manager who might know someone who wants such an arrangement," Finckh explains.

Belinda Gremmo requested a job-sharing role when she returned to the bank from maternity leave in November. Her choice of a partner was fairly obvious because the woman who had temporarily filled her position, Luisa Moncada, also wanted to work part time. "It was a little bit in place in terms of she'd built up that knowledge while I'd been away and she worked part time so it just made sense that we could give it a try. I would say on the whole though, for bank people, it's not normally that easy to find a job-share partner."

Gremmo says in sharing the role of executive manager, workforce effectiveness, the duo have formal handover sessions each week. They also have the same level of experience and similar backgrounds.

One sticky issue for job sharers can be pay. If both parties are doing the same role, should they automatically be paid the same?

This is something that really needs to be discussed in advance to avoid resentment, German says. "The two job shares may not have the same level of experience," she says.

AMP's Newall says equal pay is important to the success of her role. She and Hunt are paid the same, and their bonus is split evenly. "I'd be cheesed off and I know that Narelle would be cheesed off as well, if one was earning more than the other, especially when we know that we both put in as much effort as the other," Newall says.

One thing for employers to be mindful of is that they are not inadvertently driving their job-sharing workers into the ground.

"I have been told of job shares not working and some of the issues of that tended to be where there are no boundaries set," German says. "Rather than it being one full-time job share role, it ends up being both parties working four days a week and still not achieving their personal goals."

Striking the right work?life balance for parttime staff is proving difficult, as shown in a recent Beaton Consulting study. The firm surveyed 12,000 knowledge workers and found that many part timers felt obliged to work as hard as their full-time colleagues, but suffered from career dead ends and lower pay, which made them feel less loyal and more likely to switch employers.

The big plus of job sharing is that you've got two heads to overcome challenges. Gallacher argues that different experiences, broader skill sets and different personalities offer employers a definite advantage. There is also the potential for better coverage of a role in the case of leave or resignation of one employee.

For Newall, having a partner to lean on can make a high-stress job easier to cope with. "People never give much value to the emotional support that we give each other," she says.

"If I'm having one of those days where I'm thinking, Oh my goodness, this is all just getting too much', I can give Narelle a quick buzz and she will say, no this will be fine, we'll handle this together. It's great.

"Even though I've got co-workers there, everybody really has their own objectives and their own portfolios. They might be so involved with what they're doing you might feel you're going to interrupt them." Having two staff can also be a negative, Gallacher says: "Two personalities in a role can sometimes cause tension, not just between job sharers but within a team (or dealing with clients) and there is opportunity for some duplication, so it is necessary to ensure a clean handover and seamless processes. None of this is insurmountable and the upsides far outweigh the downsides."

It could fall apart if you haven't thought it through properly. For instance, if people don't consider the implications on the rest of the team ...

Liana Gorman, Part Time Online

DOs and DON'Ts


* Promote open communication between management/clients and the job sharers.

* Discuss a 'social contract' between all parties, delving into how the job share will be handled, how the sharers and colleagues will be kept informed and how each person will be treated. Put this in writing.

* Appoint a third-party coach to help job sharers through the first six months to a year of their role.

* Address all relevant issues upfront, including pay.


* Assume job sharers will work it out by themselves.

* Assume that any two parties can job share - mutual respect and the ability to communicate can make or break an arrangement.

* Give up on job sharing if one arrangement fails. Instead look at what went wrong and think about how to avoid that problem in other cases.

* Leave job sharers languishing with no career progression plans or possibilities for pay rises.

Types of job sharing

1 Two employees share the one job and the same responsibility, and there is no division of duties. The partners are interchangeable and each is able to pick up where the other one left off. This arrangement is more suited to ongoing work than to project or client work. The partners need to be very compatible, with a similar vision and attitudes to the work.

2 Two employees share the one job and divide the responsibilities between them. The partners may also provide back-up for one another. Sometimes referred to as job splitting, this arrangement is most suited to working with distinct parts, where each partner can take responsibility for a specific part of the job, such as specific projects or customers. In some cases it could mean dividing the tasks of the job. One worker might provide the customer service and the other undertake the administration.

3 Two employees perform completely different tasks but generally work in the same vicinity. This is basically two part-time jobs, and would be appropriate where the partners do not have similar skills.

I say that Narelle and I work together and we share a portfolio of clients because I personally think that's exactly what we do

Sharon Newall, AMP

'We most often find that job sharers ... are more engaged. They take less time off for unscheduled absences ... and therefore they're more productive'

Kathy Finckh, Commonwealth Bank of Australia HR manager of diversity

Copyright CPA Australia Jun 2008

(c) 2008 Australian CPA. Provided by ProQuest Information and Learning. All rights Reserved.