What is Job Sharing?

Sharing your job can mean greater flexibility for you and your employer.

What is Job Sharing?

The federal government actively promotes job sharing and other flexible work arrangements.

Job sharing is a type of flexible work arrangement in which two people work part-time schedules to complete the work one person would do in a single full-time job.

Job sharing is a fairly uncommon practice in the private sector; a SHRM study found that among organizations that have formal flexible work arrangements, only 8 percent have a formal job-sharing program. The federal government, however, actively promotes job sharing and other flexible work arrangements.

Job-sharing can be appealing for workers who are looking to reduce their hours to provide care for someone at home, or who are simply looking for a lighter workload without quitting altogether. Flexible work arrangements can help employers retain experienced workers who are looking for greater work-life balance. Job sharing can also decrease benefits costs for employers, depending on their benefits policies.

How job sharing works

In a job-sharing setup, two employees work part time to fill one position. Hours can vary: They may work together part of the week, or never see each other. They will need to determine whether to each be responsible for the position at different times, or if each one will be responsible for different tasks. They’ll also need to figure out how to share a workspace, computer and other equipment so they don’t waste time looking for files.

There are two types of job shares: the "twins model," in which the job sharing employees work together on the same projects seamlessly; and the "island model," in which the job sharing employees work independently of one another, on different tasks, says Cynthia Thomas Calvert, president of Workforce 21C.

“Island” or independent job sharers tend to exist in companies where staffing is done by head count, rather than full-time equivalency, so employers are reluctant to allow employees to work fewer hours because it reduces productivity, Calvert says. “An islands job share removes that obstacle.” The benefit to employers is this model allows them to have two employees with two different specialties at little added expense.

For example, if a small department needs both a trainer and an IT person but doesn't have enough work or money to hire two such workers on a full-time basis, independent job sharers with complementary skills could provide a solution, Calvert says. This model doesn’t provide the seamless coverage the way the “twins” model does, but employers can cross-train these employees to they can cover for each other as needed.

How job sharing benefits workers and employers

For employers, a key benefit is that they always have coverage and are still able to offer the job flexibility necessary to retain good workers, Calvert says. “It is particularly helpful if one job sharing partner has to take leave or is on vacation. The position is covered at least half time, if not full time. The employer also has the benefit of two heads thinking about a problem.”

“In many cases, two part-time employees holding one position actually contribute more, together, than one person in the same position,” adds Deb Hornell, president of Hornell Partners.

For employees, greater flexibility can lead to better work-life balance and higher job satisfaction.

Job sharing can also be combined with mentoring, says Stan Kimer, president of Total Engagement Consulting by Kimer. Older employees who aren’t quite ready to retire but who want to reduce their hours are prime candidates for job sharing. Offering job sharing to older employees can help retain their expertise while allowing them to mentor and pass on institutional knowledge to their less-experienced colleagues.

Tips for trying it where you work

If you’re interested in job sharing, Hornell recommends putting together a plan that outlines the advantages of such an arrangement. Employers that are new to job sharing may not know what to expect, or how to manage job sharers. Managers may need training so they know how what to expect from job-sharing employees and how to make the most of the arrangement.

Preparation is key, according to Mission Job Share. Finding someone with strong values that are similar to yours, who can communicate clearly and often, and who is willing to present a united front with you will help make your job share a success.