Job sharing, sometimes called work sharing, generally refers to the practice of having two or more people share a single full-time position, each working part-time. It can also refer to two or more people sharing a single budget line, but doing unrelated work.
Job sharing has been applied as a solution to several different situations that influence the availability or desirability of full-time employment. It has been identified as a way to help people balance work and family commitments, to provide access to employment for people with disabilities, to ease the transition of retirement and the training of new replacement employees, and to help employers minimize layoffs. There is some evidence that job sharing is efficacious in terms of economic impact as well as beneficial to employee morale and productivity.
Job Sharing for Work-Family Balance
The impact of work-family conflict has received considerable attention, particularly in the last 20 years as women have increasingly entered the workplace and more families have become dual-career or dual-earner families. Research has generally demonstrated that increased conflict between work and family demands has been associated with decreased satisfaction across the work, family, and marriage domains.
Job sharing is one of several workplace family-supportive policies that have demonstrated appeal among workers who are attempting to minimize family-work conflict. There is some evidence that women view job sharing as a more important option than do men. However, family-supportive work resources appear to increase both job and family satisfaction ratings for both men and women. Furthermore, job sharing and other family-supportive practices have been viewed by parents as most important in dealing with work-family conflicts that interfered with job goals rather than with family goals.
Although family-supportive workplace practices have been examined in recent research and calls have been made for further study of job sharing and flextime practices, the specific option of job sharing has received limited attention. This may be due at least in part to the relative infrequency of job sharing. In a national survey of 1,057 employers, the Families and Work Institute found that 37.5% of responding companies provided job share opportunities, compared to 55% that allowed employees to periodically work from home and 68% that allowed flexible scheduling. However, job sharing was the most frequent flexibility option under consideration for future implementation, suggesting that it may become more generally available for employees seeking to balance work and family demands.
The Chronicle of Higher Education has run several stories on job sharing options in the past decade, noting the increased demand for family accommodations among faculty and the benefits to college administrators who need to attract faculty couples. There is anecdotal evidence of increased job sharing among faculty members, particularly in smaller colleges. Testimonials about these experiences suggest that the costs, which include reduced salaries and challenges to earning tenure, are outweighed by the benefits of flexible employment for the majority of job sharers. Research into the experience is certainly warranted.
Job Sharing to Accommodate Restricted Work Schedules
In addition to seeking more time to accommodate family-work conflict, many workers need to decrease or have limited work hours to accommodate health or ability factors. Other workers are able to use less than full-time employment to transition into or out of the workplace. Job sharing can be an important option in both of these situations.
One population that is likely to benefit from the accommodation of flexible or reduced work hours is that of disabled workers. According to a 2003 report of the U.S. Census Bureau, approximately 18.5 million disabled Americans are employed, which is about 56% of all disabled people between 16 and 64 years of age. The U.S. federal government identifies job sharing as one of several strategies to accommodate employees with both psychiatric and physical disabilities. Employers have also indicated a willingness to consider job sharing in the hiring of people with disabilities.
Increasing unemployment rates in the late 1990s prompted some European countries to develop creative solutions to work transitions among older and younger workers. In Nordic countries, a system of job sharing was established to support phased retirements. Older workers cut down their weekly work hours, and new employees are hired in part-time positions to fill the remaining hours. In addition to providing employment opportunities to more workers, there is initial evidence that this strategy also provides some economic benefits.
Job Sharing as an Alternative to Employee Layoffs
Several national and state governments recognize work sharing programs as a way of preserving employment for all (or at least more) workers during temporary decreases in productivity or economic downturns. Although these job share programs result in fewer hours for previously full-time employees, they generally do not reduce employee benefits. In addition, employees are frequently eligible to apply for unemployment insurance to compensate for the amount of hours reduced by the work share, although this is regulated by individual state and/or national governments. This kind of work share program differs from other job sharing arrangements in that it is typically monitored by government agencies and initiated by the employer, whereas other job sharing strategies are more often individually negotiated arrangements and most frequently initiated by the employee(s).
In a national evaluation of work share programs, Human Resources Development Canada found that an average of 10,302 (ranging from 2,264 in 1999-2000 to 32,524 in 1990-1991) layoffs were averted annually between 1990 and 2002 due to work share program participation. The International Labor Office identified several advantages and considerations for both employers and employees in work share situations. For employers, advantages include greater ability to adjust to fluctuations in market demands and less time in retraining new employees when economic downturns reverse; disadvantages include the need to attend more carefully to employee scheduling and communication in order to avoid confusion and lowered productivity. For employees, advantages include job security; disadvantages include decreased wages.
Opportunities and Challenges
Regardless of the specific nature of the arrangement, several advantages and opportunities are presented by job sharing. An important benefit of job sharing is the flexibility allowed the participants in the share. Assuming good communication and coordination of duties, job sharers are able to synchronize their schedules in a way that allows maximum productivity at work as well as adequate time to attend to other matters. Successful job sharing arrangements are likely to contribute to higher employee morale as well. Job sharing also allows employers to attract more talented employees and to organize work assignments to maximize individual worker skills. Job sharing also provides a way for employers to make work accessible to people who might otherwise be at a disadvantage.
Job sharing also brings with it several potential challenges. In situations in which two people are sharing a single job, good communication and complementary work skills are essential. Some overlap in hours is generally necessary, and this can reduce some of the flexibility that comes with the arrangement. Other employees might perceive job sharing employees as less involved or invested in the workplace, as might some supervisors. This could result in negative evaluation or lost opportunities, suggesting that organizations need to set up very clear expectations for job sharing employees so that everyone knows the criteria by which they are to be reviewed. Job sharing employees might themselves feel as if they need to put forth more time and effort, thus negating some of the benefits of the arrangement, reinforcing the need to have very clear expectations for all involved parties.
Job sharing is one of several strategies for making the workplace more accessible and/or welcoming for workers with a diverse set of employment and personal needs. Further research is necessary to determine how job sharing compares to other practices, such as compressed work weeks and flexible scheduling. In addition, claims that job sharing results in higher productivity and employee morale need to be further explored. Given that there is increasing interest in job sharing by both employees and employers, this area of vocational development warrants greater attention by scholars and clinicians in the counseling and psychology professions.
- Brough, P., O’Driscoll, M. P., & Kalliath, T. J. (2005). The ability of organizational “family-friendly” resources to predict work-family conflict and job and family satisfaction. Stress and Health, 21, 223-234.
- Kossek, E., & Ozeki, C. (1998). Work-family conflict, polices, and the job-life satisfaction relationship: A review and directions for organizational behavior-human resources research. Journal of Applied Psychology, 83, 139-149.