Secrets of a Successful Job Share

By Michelle Rafter

May. 15, 2008

Rebecca Hinkle and Karen Boda shared a job at Hewlett-Packard for more than 14 years, through multiple responsibilities, managers, promotions and physical locations, as well as five pregnancies and maternity leaves.

Over time they learned a lot about what makes job sharing successful, information they now use to teach Fortune 500 clients of Twinstar, the Atlanta consulting firm they started after leaving HP two years ago. The partners counsel companies to consider the following when deciding whether two employees would be a good job-sharing match:

Communication skills: Employees’ written and verbal communication skills need to be excellent “to keep the job share invisible to the outside world,” Boda says, but also so one person can update the other about what happened while they were off.

Organization: Being organized and planning ahead are critical when you’re splitting duties. The same goes for flexibility, Boda says. Partners have to accept that the other person may have a different way of doing something, and buy into the notion that because of it, the whole can be more than the sum of its parts, she says.

Work ethic: Job-sharing partners need a similar sense of commitment to the job. Are they both willing to take calls on days when they’re technically “off”? Would they both put in extra work? “You do have to match people who have the same styles. That’s as important as the actual qualifications,” Hinkle says.

Trust: Partners have to believe that the other person can do the job as well as they can, so much so that they’re willing to let their career depend on it, Boda says. If the partner on duty makes a mistake, they have to agree never to discuss it with anyone else until they have a chance to talk it over “behind closed doors,” Hinkle says.

Compatibility: Hinkle and Boda lasted in their shared job as long as they did because they had common career goals: to continue advancing but only work part time, and to take jobs that interested both of them. Sometimes managers suggested a promotion and sometimes they sought one out. Whenever anything came up, “We spent a good deal of time talking about it,” Boda says. “We weren’t so like-minded that the job was obvious. It was … a lot of negotiation.” In fact, it took two years of negotiating between themselves before they decided to quit and start their consulting firm.

Michelle Rafter is a Workforce contributing editor.

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