The benefits of job sharing – are two heads better than one?

27th September 2022

Our working environment and perhaps even culture, has changed significantly since the pandemic. The potential option of flexible working is an increasingly important factor for many people. Perhaps it is because the pandemic made many of us reassess what is important in a work/life balance or perhaps it just highlighted what was already an inherent need for change. Either way, it has affected the job market, from recruitment to retention.

Many employers now offer hybrid or homeworking options but another flexible working option is job sharing, where two employees divide a job between them to cover one full-time role. We take a more detailed look at the benefits of job sharing as well as the disadvantages.

Job sharing seems to be more common in the public sector. However, increasingly, commercial organisations appear to be more receptive to the idea, recognising how it can be beneficial with more flexibility for both employees and employers. The employer gets a broader mix of skills, knowledge and creativity to the position, and employees achieve the work/life balance they are seeking.

So, what should employers consider if they are contemplating creating a job share position and/or existing employees have made a request to job share?

Legal position

Currently, employees with at least 26 weeks’ continuous employment can make a written request for flexible working. Employers must deal with any such request in a reasonable manner and give the employee a decision (including any appeal) within three months (unless it is agreed otherwise). Whilst employers are not obliged to agree to the arrangement requested (there are specified business grounds for rejecting a request), it is important that they take these requests seriously and deal with them appropriately to avoid any potential claims.

Note that a recent consultation exercise considered whether the right to request flexible working should be a “day one” right but there have been no further developments.

Practical issues

A crucial factor in the success of any job share has to be the relationship between the two people and their effective communication with each other and their wider team. When it works well, with two employees accountable to each other, working together, both not wanting to let the other one down, they may well be more productive and creative than one person carrying out that role.

  • Starting with the basics. How will the job share arrangement work in practice? For example, perhaps one employee works mornings each day of the week and the other afternoons, or the week is split with one employee working two days and the other, three days a week. The employees will need to work very closely to ensure handovers are as seamless as possible with each of them making the other aware of any potential issues. Will they have a handover period mid-week or can this all be done by email, phone calls or videocons? Some employers may prefer for there to be some overlap, for instance both employees work together for a few hours or for half a day but this does of course increase the costs for employers.
  • If you are recruiting for a job share partner for a current employee, then letting them sit in on interviews could assist in developing a successful partnership from the start.
  • Another important point to address is what the responsibilities are for each employee. Make sure these are easily defined so that managers can measure the efficiency of the job-share. Rather than simply giving the two employees identical responsibilities, consider whether they have different strengths and skills and allocate their responsibilities accordingly. Managers will need to keep a close eye on how a job share role is working to highlight any potential performance issues, particularly if one employee feels they are working harder to cover for the other.
  • Although two employees are carrying out one role, their performance will need to be judged individually. This will of course impact on any performance-related salary increase or bonus which could in turn, impact on morale if only one of the employee benefits financially.
  • If an employer is unsure how a job share arrangement might work in practice, they could agree a trial period. This is a good way to ensure that the new working arrangement is sustainable and it can be reviewed at agreed points. It is worth noting however, that any trial period should not be longer than is required to make a reasonable assessment.
  • Employers may be concerned about the increased costs involved of job sharing and the increase in administration. The organisation will still be responsible for pro-rata holiday pay and other benefits for each employee. Of course, there is also the potential extra time managers may have to spend dealing with two employees rather than one. Hopefully, those concerns will be offset by the benefit of having two highly motivated employees carrying out the job share.
  • Another consideration is holiday and sickness arrangements and how those absences will be covered. Similarly, periods of family leave, which could be for many months, will also need to be addressed and whether for example, temporary cover will be put in place.
  • Last, but definitely not least, what about the key issue of what will happen in situations where the job-sharing arrangement cannot continue? If one of the job share employees leaves, some employers might be quick to consider this a redundancy situation, but is that really the case?  Any termination in this situation is unlikely to be for redundancy, on the basis that it does not fall within the definition of redundancy as the full-time role still exists. First and foremost, it is important that the situation is discussed with the remaining employee. You could offer the role to the remaining employee on a full-time basis but if this is not accepted then you should seek to recruit a replacement job share partner while the remaining employee continues to work their usual part-time hours. If a new job share partner cannot be found within a reasonable period and the remaining employee refuses to work on a full-time basis, any termination of their employment is likely to be for some other substantial reason.

As can be seen from the above, there are a number of practical issues arising from job sharing. It is essential therefore that these are dealt with in the employment contracts at the outset. In particular, what happens when the job share comes to an end. We have already stated the importance of good communication between the two job share employees. This applies to the employer too and clear, written, employment contracts are essential so that all parties are fully aware of the job share arrangements.

Comment on the benefits of job sharing

Retention of good employees is certainly a consideration for organisations at the moment. Where two employees might otherwise have felt compelled to look for a new job, the potential for job sharing may encourage them to stay. In addition, being an employer that advertises being open to job sharing or other flexible working options, could expand the pool of talent that you have to choose from. Whether or not candidates are seeking full or part-time options, organisations with a reputation for flexibility are likely to be more appealing.

Job-sharing can work across a range of roles including at senior levels. Depending on the size of the organisation, job sharing may even provide the opportunity to apply for a wider range of roles than those available for part-time working.

At our upcoming Women in Leadership webinar on 10 November 2022, hosted by Blake Morgan Chair, Kath Shimmin, job sharer Claire Walker will discuss her own experiences of job sharing in high-level roles. She is currently job sharing the role of Chief Executive of the Society of London Theatre (SOLT) and UK Theatre. Perhaps she will be able to change some as yet, undecided minds on the benefits of job sharing.

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