Learning To Surrender Control

Managing Job Sharers: Which Work Pattern Is Right For Your Team?

by Gwendolyn Marshall

Job sharing is an increasingly popular way for American workers to adapt their working patterns. Job sharing allows two or more employees to manage and share one role's responsibilities, giving people the flexibility to work fewer hours. For managers, job sharing is sometimes a challenge, as it isn't always easy to make sure the employees' shift patterns fully suit the needs of the business. Make sure job sharing in your team is effective and consider which of the following working models are right for your team.

The islands model

Roles that have multiple, complex responsibilities lend themselves well to the islands model. In this case, the two job sharers divide the responsibilities of one role and take on a separate list of activities and duties.

For example, employees job sharing a role in the HR team may divide the role by business divisions, grades or functions. In this way, they would each take on accountability for separate customer groups, with little or no crossover.

This method is often popular with internal customers. Line managers know that they only need to deal with one person, and the job sharers don't need to continually share knowledge or hand over their work.

On the downside, internal customers may become frustrated by the perception that a key contact has limited working hours. If a team needs support across the working week, this method of job sharing can lead to dissatisfaction. As such, before you adopt the islands model, you need to carefully consider the impact this way of working may have on key customers.

The twins model

Job sharers who adopt the twins model divide their responsibilities to an extent, but internal customers may deal with anyone who shares the job. The job sharers manage a single workload and work approach, dividing up specific tasks and accountabilities according to the days the employee works. With this model, there is no division between the job sharers, and internal customers will need to deal with multiple people.

The twins model supports continuity of support. Even though internal customers deal with different people, you offer the certainty that there is, at least, always one person available to manage the workload. The twins model also supports diversity of working and is often more effective when the job sharers want to continue with every aspect of the role.

On the downside, the twins model (sometimes called a job split) needs closer management, as there is a greater likelihood of inefficiency. The job sharers need to work harder to hand work over from day to day. There is also a greater need for collaboration and discussion on an ongoing basis. Managed badly, the twins model can easily lead to customer frustration, as your internal clients may find that they have to explain things multiple times.

Choosing the right model

When it comes to job sharing, managers should consider various factors before making a decision. Issues to consider include:

  • Customer expectations. It's a good idea to canvas key customers and confirm their top priorities. Once you have this information, one way of working may become more obviously suitable.

  • Employee development needs. The job sharers may have working styles and development needs that support one of the two working models. Closely consult the job sharers about the expectations they have from the role.

  • Financial constraints. One (or both) of these models may lead to extra costs. For example, the islands model can work well if your employees want to work remotely, but you may need to pay for an extra laptop to allow this. Consider if your budgets can support the way of working you want to adopt.

In all cases, a trial period is a good way to test your decision before you make a final commitment. Make sure you define success criteria, so you know what 'good' looks like before you allow either model. It's also wise to work with a compensation consultant to make sure that each employee is compensated fairly for the work they put in.

Job sharing is increasingly popular with Americans who want to work more flexibly. Carefully consider how job sharing could work in your team before you commit to a specific work style.