Job sharing: Explaining the concept with examples
Table of contents
- Is job sharing an old idea that’s getting a new life?
- What is job sharing?
- Can job sharing solve the employee shortage?
- Job sharing pros and cons for employers
- How to implement job sharing in your organization
- Key takeaways
Is job sharing an old idea that’s getting a new life?
A recent Korn Ferry report focused on a major crisis looming over economies and organizations worldwide: the supply of qualified workers isn’t keeping up with the demand. The report’s authors claim that the global talent crisis could cost nations trillions of dollars and shift the global balance of economic power by 2030 if not addressed.
Why is this so?
The nine-to-five workday is rigid, arbitrary, and increasingly outdated, having remained unchanged for over 100 years. However, suppose an employee wants to reduce their hours to part-time. In that case, they often risk losing promotion opportunities, finding themselves on the slippery slope of working over 20 hours a week for more flexibility but less pay.
In response to this, job sharing entered the arena in the 1960s. Job sharing is a schedule convenient for working parents, those searching for work-life balance, and those who want to combine work and study.
This type of work schedule has become especially popular in Switzerland, where a third of the workforce works less than full-time.
Let’s define job sharing and how companies can benefit from it, including how different people’s skills can be combined to create an excellent skillset for a position.
What is job sharing?
Job sharing is a modern work pattern that involves two employees sharing the same role in the company. Each job sharer works a different but complementary schedule to complete the job collectively. Job sharing is an excellent option for teams looking for flexibility in their work, such as balancing working from home and working shifts in the office. It’s not a traditional way of working, but it benefits employees and businesses.
“Two people by default always provide more competence than one person.” — Nina Prochazka, collaboration & new work, knowledge manager at B’VM.
Unlike part-time work, job sharing is when two people split full-time hours and actively delegate duties, so the position is staffed in the same way as other full-time positions.
Part-time work is limited to roles that can be completed with reduced hours. Job sharing opens the potential to share all job types, as the position itself is full-time.
How did job sharing start?
Job sharing has become necessary during complex upheavals in the talent and business market. The popularity of job sharing usually increases during economic crises and pandemics, and it increased in 2022 when another global economic crisis emerged. Job sharing can solve the talent shortage problem.
Let’s analyze why job sharing came in handy decades ago.
Job sharing was first developed and discussed in the 1960s to provide professional workers with more flexible employment options. In the 1970s and 1980s, job sharing spread to the private sector.
In the 1990s, 47% of organizations reported they offered job sharing to their employees as an option for part-time jobs. This type of contract was more common in healthcare and the public sector than in other industries.
In 2018, Australia and New Zealand faced near-crippling shortages of skilled workers, and the demand for flexibility pushed both governments to implement job sharing. Afterward, the Australian platform Gemini3 shared that this decision led to a 30% increase in the productivity of job-sharing partners.
Kate McCleary, CEO at Anstey and McCleary, wanted to resume work after taking a career break to care for her children. However, she found that the part-time opportunities didn’t match her previous experience and skills, and even though plenty of full-time jobs suited her needs, she did not want full-time employment. So she tried job sharing.
“Higher-level professionals looking to wind down their careers, or workers looking to start a business but keep a secure paying job, are likely candidates for spin-off positions. And with an aging population and workforce, job sharing will become more popular shortly.” — Kate McCleary, CEO at Anstey and McCleary
Why do people share work?
Here are common reasons people choose job sharing:
- To stay connected to their career without the commitments (or responsibilities) of a full-time job
- To achieve work-life balance (for example, spending more time with family or pursuing passion projects)
- For flexibility when it’s not possible through other means (such as telecommuting)
- As part of a career change or when studying
- To work on the same project or seniority level as another employee, a.k.a. top sharing.
Can job sharing solve the employee shortage?
Martin Nemirow published an article about job sharing approaches in the Monthly Labor Review. In it, he compares how job sharing impacted the engineering and manufacturing sectors in the United States and Germany during the 1970s and 1980s. Nemirow notes that while engineering companies reduced total hours by about the same percentage as manufacturing enterprises, the engineering industry reduced employment by much less than manufacturing. The numbers suggest a substantial job-saving effect from job sharing without the productivity losses brought about by the accumulation of idle full-time workers.
Source: US bureau of labor statistics
The following table shows the percentage changes in the economic performance of the non-electric machinery industry in Germany and the corresponding non-electric machinery industry in the United States from 1974 to 1975.
Source: US bureau of labor statistics
Total work hours didn’t decrease as fast as output in the United States but decreased faster than in Germany. It’s partly because average weekly hours fell by 5.3 percent in Germany, compared to a 1.8 percent decline in the United States. So, combined with the decline in full employment, the totals were 9.3 percent for the United States and 9.5 percent for Germany. Thus, Germany reduced the total number of working hours relatively more, even though the number of workers decreased relatively less. Since production declined by about 4.9 percent more than total hours in the United States but 4.3 percent less than total hours in Germany, the change in output per hour was negative (–4.9) percent for the United States and positive (4.3) percent in Germany during 1974-75.
These factors can contribute to a redundant unemployment effect, in which not all coworking hours replace jobs saved. However, if there is some tangible effect on layoffs, the social costs of this distribution of excess work may be small compared to the benefits of fewer layoffs and higher cyclical productivity. The latter leads to a lower increase in the unit cost of labor and, therefore, less price growth, stimulating demand and accelerating economic recovery.
The bottom line: As talent shortages are expected to grow, organizations must prepare by considering strategies that can resonate with employees in new ways — especially with those who want to integrate better work, family, community involvement, and other areas of life. Job sharing can be an untapped arrangement that can achieve the goals of both employers and employees.
Job sharing examples
Today, work is distributed using various planning methods. For example, some jobs are split so that each of the two employees can work a full week and then get a day off. Other divisions of work involve the division of daily responsibilities. For example, one employee may work in the morning and another in the afternoon. Another division of labor is a daily rotation between two workers; one employee may work on Mondays, Wednesdays, and part of the day Friday, while another works on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and some Fridays.
There are several ways to structure the distribution of jobs, depending on the workforce and business needs. However, there are five significant ways to organize the division of work, including the following:
- Work in one shift. Single-shift work is one of the most common job sharing arrangements. Here, two employees work simultaneously during the week but focus on different work areas. This works for large-scale projects and arrangements that do not require the work to be spread over different times of the week.
- Shifts during the workday. Two employees can work simultaneously on the same day but handle separate tasks. This is a sound basis for jobs requiring employees to work in one place for long periods.
- Two-week shifts. Weekly split shifts break up the schedule, so two employees work the same hours on alternating days. This can be helpful for active roles that take breaks. For example, a medical employee may need time off after long night shifts.
- Combination of the three previous structures. You can also create a customized work schedule using all the above frameworks. By creating shift patterns around the work to be done, you can help manage budget constraints and streamline workplace tasks. If team members don’t need to be in the office for their duties on a particular week, job sharing can make it happen.
- From job sharing to top sharing. Setting the tone from the top through role modeling between managers can be valuable for companies serious about increasing employee flexibility. Sarina Loo, Co-Chief Executive Officer at Victorian Environmental Water Holder, says that job sharing allowed her to keep working at the management position three days a week and spend the other four days on childcare and exercise.
“I find four days off a week allows me to properly recharge and disconnect, knowing that someone else is holding the fort and trusting them to do so. It means that I am more energized and productive on weekdays. I give myself all three days of work. There is no ‘hunched Wednesday’ or ‘disappearing Friday.” — Sarina Loo, Co-Chief Executive Officer at Victorian Environmental Water Holder
Job sharing pros and cons for employers
Both employers and employees perceive the division of labor as a challenge. However, job sharing may be worth considering for the right role if you can find two people who will compromise, get along, and communicate effectively with each other.
Job sharing pros
- Talent retention. In tough economic times, employers can avoid layoffs by implementing a job sharing plan. By retaining talent, employers can avoid the cost of hiring and training new workers when the economy improves.
- Improved efficiency and service. By balancing their work and personal time, employees can avoid burnout. Job sharing can help employees find the balance between work, responsibilities, and free time so they can truly focus their efforts during work hours. For businesses, job sharing can make the workforce more motivated, less likely to take sick leave, and happier.
- Flexibility and continuity. If two team members want to shorten the working day and focus their time elsewhere, you can achieve this by having the employees work together. With more than one person in a position, job sharing makes it easier for employees to take time off when something important comes up. Also, sick or vacation days are less of a problem when another person can take over responsibilities at work. Thanks to a job sharing arrangement, partners can replace each other when one is not working.
- Inclusion. The division of labor can increase diversity and innovation in teams; employers get two heads for one position, with the additional brainpower that this brings. Because coworking employees have much control over their working hours, their motivation and engagement also significantly increase.
Job sharing cons
- Compatibility issues. When job sharing partners fight, their employer may need to step in. And an employer may face a hiring dilemma if a job sharing partner quits.
- Supervision issues. When two people share the work, it can be difficult for managers to monitor and evaluate their performance. Job sharing schemes also create more administrative work for managers, such as documenting sick and vacation leaves, organizing training, and conducting performance reviews.
- Workspace issues. Ideally, coworkers can share the same workspace. But under certain circumstances, such as when schedules overlap, an employer may need to arrange two workstations.
- Unequal productivity. In some cases, one partner cannot handle their share of the workload. When this happens, it can be difficult for managers to determine which partner is at fault. They may also need to fire the weaker partner, leading to lower productivity and hiring problems.
How to implement job sharing in your organization
The best job sharing arrangements are between two people with complementary skill sets who are committed to sharing their job. As a business leader or HR manager, you should understand that job sharing is not about competition but about teamwork.
Below are some tips to help you successfully implement a job sharing agreement.
- Create a logical structure of roles and responsibilities. When making job sharing arrangements, prioritizing communication is vital, ensuring that work is effectively distributed and completed. Take the time to delegate work and document all roles for clarity. Again, an open dialog among coworkers can help you identify key areas where you have strengths suitable for specific roles. This, in turn, can help optimize the work process.
- Maintain a healthy working relationship. Job sharing requires cooperation, even if the two parties to the job sharing agreement are in different offices at different times. Working together guarantees meeting deadlines and solving problems together. Building a good working relationship is key to the success of job sharing.
- Keep lines of communication open. By maintaining good communication between employees, any problems in the project can be detected before they become significant. Likewise, staying in touch with a collaborative partner will keep your employees updated on work progress. Communication is the cornerstone of work distribution because it gives both team members a clearer picture of how the work is progressing. Whether it’s a document shared with everyone, a weekly meeting, or an email at the end of the workday, regular communication will help ensure projects are completed, and vacations are aligned.
- During difficult economic times, employers often offer job sharing programs to retain their workforce.
- Role rotation is challenging. Only some people want to and can change jobs or share them with other colleagues. Employees who want to share tasks must possess communication skills, trust in their partner, flexibility, and a high willingness to cooperate and compromise.
- The success of spaces for job sharing depends on more than just workers and their social skills. Management and HR also play an essential role in this context.
- Strategic workforce planning will help you build a job sharing plan where partners share their schedules and finish all tasks on time and satisfactorily, and it will help you ensure that the right person is in the right position at the right time.
Would you like to learn more about how to plan job sharing properly? Get in touch and find a workforce planning solution with the help of labor market analysis and data analytics.