Why aren't there more people Job Sharing?

9 January, 2017
Fleur Bothwick

I was really interested (and in fact heartened) to read towards the end of last year that Caroline Lucas, the leader of the Green Party, will be sharing this role with Jonathan Bartley, who was most recently the Green Party’s spokesman on work and pensions.  When you read about their experience to date, they appear to bring a real diversity of thought and perspective to this role and as Mr Bartley is quoted as saying, the Green Party will be "more united with two leaders than other parties are with one".

This then led me to wondering about why we don’t see more job sharing at all levels of an organisation, particularly in leadership.  I’ve watched a peer for some years operate in a job share as head of diversity and inclusion at an American Investment Bank.  I remember in the early days, she said the hardest thing for her was to embrace the fact that success meant that your clients were happy to deal with someone else rather than wait for your return.  Definitely to make a success of it requires a flexibility of mind-set – both by the individuals and the employer.  Obviously finding the right person to share with could take time, but even before that it is worth investing in a conversation about what the job actually needs, who will be accountable for what and how the role can be the most seamless to the outside observer.

I listened to two senior women talking about their arrangement and they felt strongly that it was their responsibility to sort out any issues (rather than the business).  They felt that you needed to be a good communicator, both between each other and with the business and the actual contract should be dependent on both of you staying in the role.  They suggested that you both needed to agree your parameters and contract between yourselves at the outset.  I thought most interesting was the recommendation that both parties cover the whole role.  You don’t just pick out the things that you are good at or particularly enjoy – it is one role and you both turn your hand to all aspects of it.

So back to my question of why we don’t see this in operation more often.  It gives the individuals the opportunity to work less hours/days in a week and it give the employer two minds/perspectives/experience rather than one.  Arguably, the individual is less ‘burnt out’ at the end of the week and you get better consistency through holidays and sickness.  I don’t have an immediate answer, but would speculate, that similar to other formal flexible working arrangements it comes down to the trust level that the employer holds and their commitment to support individuals in trying to balance all the pull factors in their life.

I really had my eyes opened when I was researching the topic of the future of work.  It’s clear to me that if we don’t speed up on finding more creative solutions for working patterns and career models, for both our men and our women, we are really going to be overtaken by this tsunami of change – the gig economy with non-employee freelancers and the machine economy with robots, basically people and machines working differently and potentially much more effectively……