Why job sharing is a viable flexible working option
By Annie Makoff on 20 November 2023
Job sharing, where two people work part-time contracts to cover a full-time role, is relatively uncommon outside of the civil service and the charity sector: it accounts for just 0.3 per cent of UK workers, according to ONS data. But as a flexible working option, it can bring huge benefits to both the organisation and employees.
Lubna Haq, director of people advisory firm New Street Consulting Group (NSCG) told d&i Leaders that job shares can improve workplace DEI by attracting a more diverse talent pool, whether it’s people with disabilities, those with health issues or employees with caring responsibilities.
“Employees circumstances change during their career. They may become parents or take on caring commitments which aren’t always compatible with full-time hours which can lead to people leaving the workplace,” says Haq. “Job shares can therefore provide more flexibility so people don’t have to choose between career and personal responsibilities.”
And, advertising roles as ‘job shares’ can send a ‘strong signal’ that an organisation values different working styles, which in itself enhances inclusivity, she adds.
Two heads are better than one
Yet organisations are often hesitant about embracing job shares. Claire Campbell, CEO of flexible working consultancy Timewise says employers can often be unsure how to interview job share candidates or conduct performance reviews. Then there’s the cost issue – job share arrangements often amount to 1.2 heads rather than 1 to allow some handover, so there are effectively 2 people on payroll for the one role.
But, as Claire insists, the benefits of job sharing outweighs these concerns. “Job sharing works really well because it utilises different strengths and skillsets. Two heads are better than one when it comes to decision making and creative thinking.”
Helen Sachdev, director of specialist coaching practice for working parents WOMBA (Work, Me and the Baby) agrees. “Job sharing leads to greater role resilience and career progression. It offers talented employees the incentive to remain in an organisation, especially those with young children.”
Shanthi Gunesekera and Janaki Mahadevan are currently in a job share as joint CEOs at UK charity Birthrights. The arrangement has enabled them to take on senior roles while enjoying the flexibility of part-time work, an otherwise difficult balancing act for those with children.
“As women of colour with two young children, we would never have considered a CEO job at this stage of our lives or careers, or frankly, ever,” says co-CEO Guneskera. “We could not imagine navigating some of the discriminatory challenges or power dynamics we face as charity leaders without being in sisterhood with each other.”
As co-CEO Mahadevan explains, they both bring ‘two minds, perspectives and skillsets’ to the role, and a broad range of strengths as well as the ability to learn from each other.
So how does their job share arrangement work in practice?
Job sharing practicalities
While some job shares happen when individuals match on specialist skills boards and decide to apply for a particular role together, thereby having to convince the employer to take them on as a job share, sometimes organisations are specifically looking for a job share arrangement themselves. In Gunesekera and Mahadevan’s case, they had been matched by their previous employer and subsequently moved on together to work at Birthrights.
They work three days a week, with one working Monday to Wednesday and the other working Tuesday to Thursday, with Tuesdays and Wednesdays being overlap days.
“We spent a lot of time in the early days of our partnership getting to know each other and we made a conscious effort to share responsibility on everything in our remit so that neither of us became the default person for certain tasks,” says Mahadevan. “This meant from the outset we considered each other as equals and made this clear to our team.”
So while it’s clear that job share arrangements can help improve DEI in terms of flexible working and talent attraction and retention, there is, unsurprisingly, a real lack of awareness of how such arrangements work in practice.
Job share best practice
Samaritans director Tiger de Souza has been conducting informal research into job shares and has found there’s a ‘lack of consistent practice’ to help normalise job sharing. From his initial findings into best practice, de Souza recommends:
- Budgeting for roles differently, such as a 1.2 full time role to enable two people working three days with an overlap
- Allocate funding to invest in coaching for job share employees to strengthen their working relationships
- Consider job share opportunities for all levels of the organisation but especially senior roles
- When reviewing job applications, treat job share applicants as one candidate and make it clear to those applying how the process will work
- For those with the courage to match job shares themselves, ensure there is a ‘chemistry testing’ mechanism
- Consider internal processes, for example how will performance reviews work? Will candidates be assessed individually or as a pair?
“Ultimately, there is huge demand from high performing individuals who would be interested in job sharing. In a challenging recruitment market, organisations should be thinking about how they should adjust to attract this talent,” says de Souza. “I care passionately about EDI and job shares is just one of many flexible working practices which will create a more inclusive workplace.”
d&i Leaders is a global community of senior diversity, inclusion and HR focused professionals, looking to collaborate, network and accelerate their workplace inclusion strategy.