Crash Course in ... Job-sharing

One of your best performers has told you she won't be coming back after maternity leave ... unless you agree to a job-share. It's not an idea you're keen on, but the prospect of losing her is alarming, so how could you make it work?

by Alexander Garrett
Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

Consider viability. Job-shares are much more successful in proactive, rather than reactive, positions with medium- to long-term objectives, says Azita Qadri, founder of specialist job-share recruiter Eat Your Cake. 'It works best in jobs where you can set your own agenda and plan ahead. If the job has lots of short deadlines or is at the sharp end of client service, it is less likely to work.'

Find the right person. The biggest hurdle might be finding the other half for the share; they need to be compatible in terms of personality. 'In the best job-shares, attitudes are similar but skills are complementary,' says Qadri. 'Look for team players. Aspiring job-sharers often find someone they've worked with successfully in the past to team up with; if you're a large company, you could keep a database of those interested in job-sharing.'

Divide the role. Some aspects of the role should be shared: strategy making, for example. But it is then better to divide the job into discrete objectives than to split every task in two, says Qadri.

Build in overlap. You can organise the time each job-share works in a number of ways: mornings and afternoons, two and a half days each, or even alternate days. But it's vital, says Lynette Swift, MD of flexible working specialists Swiftwork, that there is a handover period - 'even if it's just an hour, to brief each other on what's happened'. Job-shares should be expected to come in for meetings when it's necessary, even if they are not working that day. Offer time in lieu.

Establish protocols. How will e-mails and phone calls be handled between the two? 'You can't have e-mails sitting around until the following week because they are addressed to Jane and not to Sue,' says Swift. 'Agree on who is going to respond and whether the other person is copied in.'

Test it first. 'We'd recommend a probationary period - say, three months - to see if the two people can really work together and meet their performance targets,' says Swift.

Appraise on two fronts. Set objectives for the role but appraise the individuals separately. 'Make them responsible for their performance as far as possible,' says Swift.

Weigh the business case. Although pay and some benefits will be apportioned pro rata, some costs will be duplicated - eg, training, payroll and health benefits. 'On the plus side,' says Qadri, 'DTI research in 2001 found that on average, productivity of job-shares is 30% higher than one full-time person - maybe because people are more motivated and get higher satisfaction.'

Do say: 'If a suitable candidate can be found, we'll do everything we can to facilitate and support a job-share.'

Don't say: 'Someone doing half a job is no use to us.'

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