The New Job Sharers

By Michelle Rafter

May. 15, 2008

Sharing a job used to be the fast track to the mommy track.

    In days gone by, the only people interested in splitting a job were female employees who wanted it all, or at least a little of both—a job and time at home.

    The vast majority of employees who share jobs still fit the traditional description, according to HR managers, experts and other sources. But the picture is changing and more companies are discovering that job sharing is an attractive option for hanging on to other valuable employees, whether they’re older workers phasing into retirement, Gen Y employees who don’t want to work so hard, or disabled workers who can’t meet the demands of a full-time position.

    Job sharing is a standard, if small, part of many companies’ flexible-work initiatives. Eighteen percent of 525 U.S. companies surveyed by the Society for Human Resource Management in 2007 had job-sharing programs and another 2 percent expected to add them soon. An even larger percentage of companies recognized as good places to work offer job sharing. The Great Place to Work Institute found that 63 of 100 on the 2008 list of the “Best Companies to Work For,” which it produces with Fortune, offered job sharing, according to Amy Lyman, corporate research director at the San Francisco nonprofit management consulting and research firm.

    Those organizations don’t distinguish between traditional and nontraditional job sharing. But it only takes a little digging to uncover some examples of the new wave:

  • Timberland, the Stratham, New Hampshire, maker of outdoor footwear and apparel, has two 30-something male attorneys sharing one legal department job.
  • AstraZeneca U.S., the Wilmington, Delaware, pharmaceutical manufacturer, has a 60-year-old male employee sharing an HR department job as a way of phasing out of full-time employment before he retires.
  • A California executive recruiter filled a CFO position at a manufacturing company in 2007 by splitting the job between two women with complementary skills: an experienced CPA and a younger MBA with merger and acquisition experience.

    Such nontraditional job shares are still rare, however.

   The HR department employee at AstraZeneca, for example, is one of 200 employees in 100 current job shares at the global pharmaceutical company’s $13.35 billion U.S. subsidiary, which has 12,200 employees. The rest are women field sales reps or pharmaceutical sales specialists who want only part-time work because they’ve got young kids at home, says Andrea Moselle, senior manager of AstraZeneca’s work/life program.

    AstraZeneca began promoting job sharing as part of a comprehensive flexible work program in 2000. Since then, Moselle says she has seen a smattering of nontraditional job shares. A few male employees have shared a job as a way of taking an extended paternity leave. Other employees have requested job shares at the end of their careers or because they needed part-time hours to take care of elderly family members, Moselle says.

    Some field sales reps have shared a job for five or six years. But generally speaking, a job shares don’t last for a long period of time, Moselle says. It can be tricky for two people to cover meetings, interact with supervisors and juggle the other aspects of job sharing indefinitely. “People do them for a period in their lives and move on,” she says.

    That’s what happened when Kelly Watson, an executive recruiter and owner of Career Partners in El Segundo, California, filled the manufacturing company CFO slot in fall 2007 with a pair of finance executives with complementary job skills. “The CPA was older,” Watson says. “Her kids were in college and she brought a lot of maturity and perspective to the team. The MBA had two small children and was fresh and energized, just unwilling to work 80 hours a week anymore.”

    But the company they went to work for was in financial distress, so the team only worked together for a few months, Watson says. “They were pretty excited about how it was going at the time.”

Job-share hall of famers
    If there were a job-sharing hall of fame, Rebecca Hinkle and Karen Boda would be in it. For 14½ years, Hinkle and Boda shared a series of customer-service management jobs at Hewlett-Packard before leaving the technology giant in 2006.

    Over the years, they shared jobs through multiple promotions, bosses, corporate mergers and the birth of five children—three for Boda, two for Hinkle. For a majority of the time they worked in different states. In their last position, they managed an HP business customer support organization of several hundred employees in 24 countries.

    After they left HP, the women started Twinstar Consulting in Atlanta to help companies set up virtual teams and other flexible work programs in order to do a better job hanging on to valued employees.

    In their current position, Hinkle and Boda say they’re seeing more companies offering nontraditional job shares, including jobs shared by Gen Y-age employees who refuse to put in the 70-hour workweeks their baby-boomer parents did. “It’s still rare,” Boda concedes. “You might see this more in lucrative fields like accounting, law and management consulting where you can make plenty of money working just 30 or 35 hours a week.”

    That looks to be the case at Timberland, where two male attorneys in their 30s were interested in sharing a single job for work/life balance, says Cara Vanderbeck, a spokeswoman for the $1.4 billion company. This particular job share calls for both attorneys to work three days a week with one overlapping day “so the position is seamless,” Vanderbeck says.

    From a purely legal point of view, job sharing gives employers an avenue for complying with the Americans With Disabilities Act and similar state laws protecting the rights of disabled workers, according to Helene Wasserman, a partner with Ford & Harrison in Los Angeles who advises corporations on employment issues. Companies could comply with the laws by offering job sharing to workers who incur a disability while they’re employed, or to job candidate whose disabilities would prevent them from working full time.

    Job sharing is also a way to accommodate an employee who wants to take time off under the Family and Medical Leave Act, Wasserman says.

    Plus, considering the dramatically low unemployment rates in some highly sought after professions, job sharing is a way for companies to creatively fill vacancies, she says. (View a video podcast hosted by Wasserman on next-generation job sharing.)

Job-share basics
    Regardless of the employees involved, most companies with job-sharing programs have a standard application process, says Lyman, with the Great Place to Work Institute. Generally, that process boils down to a written proposal spelling out conditions, such as overlap time. Proposals also address what changes—if any—a shared position will bring to the participants’ benefits and career development, Lyman says.

Some companies have adopted the job-sharing mentality without taking the next step of setting up true job shares. The Aerospace Corp., a government-funded space agency in El Segundo, has a long-standing practice of pairing entry-level employees fresh out of college with older employees who can share their collected knowledge.

At a company where half the employees are over 50, it’s important to mentor new workers, says David Jonta, an Aerospace Corp. spokesman. “This company represents the institutional memory of the military space program,” Jonta says. “Knowing what has gone before, that has a lot to do with what the future’s going to look like.”

If companies aren’t thinking about job sharing as an option for older workers, they should know that their employees are. And some are hiring consultants to map out strategies for using job sharing to phase into retirement.

    One such consultant is Pat Katepoo, who runs Kaneohe, Hawaii-based Katepoo works with individuals, many of them baby boomers, who want advice on how to negotiate flexible work arrangements. Katepoo sells a flexible-work request template that she encourages people to tailor to their own situations and use to pitch job sharing to their management or HR department.

    In January, Katepoo started a Web site for baby boomers called Time Off Tactics that includes, among other things, suggestions for starting a job share with a younger worker as a way to get more free time.

Michelle Rafter is a Workforce contributing editor.

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