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The Pros and Cons of Job Sharing

Thinking about implementing a job-sharing program? Here's what you need to consider before you do.
November 10, 2006
URL: http://www.entrepreneur.com/article/170244

In today's hectic business world, people try cramming as much into the work days as possible. When employees are trying to finish up all the tasks on their to-do lists, 40-hour workweeks can easily morph into 45 or 50--and work can begin to impinge on their leisure time. To ease the stress of not having enough free time, some employees look to job sharing-- the process of splitting one full-time job between two people--in order to take back control of their lives and spend it the way they want.

Employees who job share often cite "quality of life "issues as the main reason they only want to work part time. After weighing the amount of time they spent at work vs. the amount of time they were able to spend on leisure activities, they opted to work less so they could enjoy life more.

Other job sharers cite the need or desire to take care of children or aging parents as reasons to work part time. Still others opt for part-time work for health reasons. Whether it's to cope with chronic stress or other health-care issues, working half time could literally be a "lifesaver" for some people.

If you have employees who might be interested in a job-sharing arrangement, what can you do to ensure the successful execution of a full-time job shared by two people? First, two needs must be met: the needs of your business and the needs of your employees. Both of you need to buy into the concept that more than one person can adequately cover the task one full-time job.

In addition, both employees who join forces to fill one full-time job must be willing to exert a maximum effort to ensure that this work model succeeds. Of course, that's usually the case because both employees are so pleased they've found a working situation that fits their needs that they're extremely motivated to make it work. And motivated workers are productive workers; and productive workers are satisfied workers. So having a fully functioning job-sharing program can be a win-win situation for both your business and your employees.

But are there any negatives in a job-sharing model? Of course there are. The most common detractor is the "Who's in charge?" syndrome. Without clear and close coordination between the job sharers, neither the employees nor the boss knows exactly who's responsible for what part of the shared job or tasks. This can easily lead to confusion, decreased productivity, and dissatisfied workers and supervisors.

To avoid this situation, each employee must do what nurses have long ago realized is crucial: Every day, at the beginning and end of each shift, they have to carve out time to fully inform the person taking over for them about the tasks in progress and any critical needs they'll need to address that day. If your workers don't do this or don't do this completely, information may be lost and/or misinformation may be communicated.

Another potential problem involves other employees. I highly recommend that you make sure other employees and managers understand exactly when each of the job-sharing team will be working. This way, other individuals will know when to try or not try to contact each of the job sharers. Of course, everyone won't always remember who's in on which day or which part of the day. Distributing a written schedule will help. And timely e-mail messages and notes will help keep information clear and up to date.

The final potential challenge you'll need to keep an eye on, if you choose to implement a job-sharing program, is this: Both of the two employees sharing the job will not always be available to respond to an inquiry or respond to an action because they won't be physically present. So if another employee needs to speak with the job sharer and that person isn't in, the result could be a delay in communicating or a delay in productivity. To help eliminate this problem, you might have your job sharers agree to be contacted at home on their "off" day in the event of an emergency.

A job-sharing program is an excellent way to offer your valued employees a way to have the best of both worlds: to continue working in a job they love but giving them more time for personal activities. If you want to hang on to your top staff members, this might be one way to offer them an option that can make both of you happy.