Study Attempts To Dispel Five Myths of Job Sharing

By Stephen Miller May 9, 2007
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ORLANDO, FLA.—After compensation, the most important contributors to work satisfaction for 30- to 40-year-old exempt women are work/life balance and flexible working opportunities, according to the "New Career Paradigm" study by The American Business Collaboration. Among men and women, exempt and non-exempt, 84 percent of survey respondents rate flexibility as important, very important or extremely important to their work satisfaction. And 64 percent overall report using some type of flexibility in their current job on a regular or occasional basis.

Another finding of note: Among survey respondents, a mere 1 percent participate in job-sharing. However, 96 percent of job-sharing respondents say they have the flexibility they need, compared to only 77 percent for the rest of the workplace using other types of flexibility programs.

Most Important Factors Contributing to Job Satisfaction
by Gender and Job Category

Overall

Exempt Women

Exempt Men

Non-Exempt Women

Non-Exempt Men

Compensation & Job Security

Salary/wage

49%

44%

48%

53%

48%

Job security

20%

16%

22%

16%

25%

Benefits

19%

13%

14%

26%

22%

Managing Work & Personal Responsibilities

Work/life balance

13%

16%

14%

12%

11%

Flexibility

11%

15%

13%

10%

9%

Nature of Work & Developmental Opportunities

Meaningful work

10%

15%

11%

8%

6%

Advancement opportunities

9%

8%

13%

8%

8%

Opportunity to learn and grow

8%

14%

7%

4%

8%

Management

Relationship with immediate manager

7%

7%

9%

7%

7%

Source: The New Career Paradigm: Flexibility Briefing, American Business Collaboration and WFD Consulting, 2007


"It's no surprise that employees using work flexibility exhibit more resilience and commitment to their organizations. These two factors are most frequently associated with greater effectiveness and productivity at work,” Kelly Watson, founder of Career Partners, an executive search and talent management firm, said at the 2007 WorldatWork Total Rewards Conference here May 7. "The trend in career women leaving the workforce due to lack of flexibility, combined with an imminent workers’ shortage predicted for 2010, is forcing employers to look at new ways to retain valued workers to stay competitive in the marketplace.”

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Watson noted, by 2010 the United States will face a potential labor shortage of more than 10 million skilled workers.

Increased turnover, particularly in the executive ranks, has had a substantial financial impact on businesses. According to recruitment and staffing firm Spherion, Watson said, one accepted method for calculating the cost of turnover is to multiply the lost employee's salary by 1.5. In the case of women, many do not return to their previous employers after “opting out.” Instead, many start their own businesses, where they can control their work environment and flexibility, often posing a competitive threat to their former employer. By losing talent, companies also lose momentum, intellectual property and succession planning.

"We've learned many lessons from companies that started to deploy work flexibility programs in the late ’90s, but failed,” Watson added. "Whether they tried telecommuting, flextime or other options to accommodate working mothers, the programs only worked if the company lowered turnover and gained productivity. Research findings show that job sharing does both.”

SHRM Video

Kelly Watson 

Kelly Watson, president and founder of Career Partners, discusses her company's experiences helping employers create and manage job sharing.
VideoWatch video clip

Watson identified and dispelled five myths or misconceptions that many employers have about job sharing for exempt employees, an option she says has been the “unsung hero” in the workplace for achieving flexibility and work/life balance.

Myth No. 1: Cost
It's Too Expensive

While some employers fear that job sharing will be cost-prohibitive because they will have to pay benefits twice, the fact is that few executive moms need them. For the few that do, the added cost of benefits does not compare to the cost of turnover and re-training, estimated by Spherion at 1.5 times salary. Some insurance premiums might increase by adding headcount, but even so, these premiums are a tiny portion of most exempt employee pay packages.

Vacation time, sick days and 401(k) matching are all programs where the benefit is accrued based on the number of hours worked. In a job-share situation, these are reduced for each individual, so the total cost is the same. Further, many employers have found that job-sharing employees have fewer absences and work more productively when they are in the office. This could be because they are more balanced, are less stressed and take care of their personal needs on their own time.

Watson suggests splitting the total compensation package for a job-share role proportionately, appropriate to each candidate's experience and contribution to the role. Individuals who do require medical benefits can cede salary or other elements in exchange. With this kind of flexibility, suited to the needs of the employee, employers can get the benefits of two collaborative brains for little more than the cost of one.

Myth No. 2: Management
It's More Difficult To Manage Two

In today's global organizations where management structures are flattened, executives often lead large teams of widely dispersed individuals. Moreover, with the pressures of shorter measurement horizons and increased competition, managers have less time to manage. In this context, adding people might seem to increase the problem. However, job sharing does not have to tax managers any more than individual employees do. By seeking candidates that are closely matched and pairing their shared values and complementary skills, experience and personality styles, companies can create powerful work teams that communicate so well that they act like a single individual. In fact, most job-share partners feel a vested interest in making the team successful.

Myth No. 3: Pandora's Box
If We Offer It to One Person, Everyone Will Want To Do It

Some companies worry that giving a little bit of flexibility will create a workforce of slackers. Or that accommodating one employee will lead to other requests, ultimately breaking down the standardized processes and HR procedures they have worked hard to build. However, job sharing is one flexibility program that is easy to implement logistically and provides companies with more than what one single employee can contribute. Companies get built-in backup, more combined hours, refreshed workers, the collaborative brain power of two and the loyalty of two happy employees.

Myth No. 4: Recruiting
It's More Difficult to Match Candidates into Job-Share Teams

Not all companies have a giant pool of available employees interested in job-sharing similar roles. Moreover, most job boards and recruiting companies target only full-time employees and base their criteria on skills and experience, not personality, communication styles and logistics. So employers worry that they will not be able to find great candidates. However, it is possible to find ideal job-share matches.

Contacting former employees who have retired or "opted out” for family reasons is a great start, because these folks already know the company and might need less training and onboarding. Also, existing employees might be able to provide excellent referrals. There are many closely knit alumni associations and networks where job-share candidates connect to each other every day. When companies find such creative avenues to advertise a job-share program, they often reach a hidden pool of exceptional talent while building substantial brand equity.

Myth No. 5: Accountability
Things Will Surely Slip Through the Cracks

Some companies worry that when two people are responsible for something, nobody is responsible; that a job share sets up the ultimate finger-pointing situation. However, with job sharing, it is often the opposite. Offering work flexibility has the powerful effect of motivating individuals to make the situation work. Further, treating the teams as single employees, and rating and rewarding their collective effectiveness, can ensure that each individual holds themselves accountable to their partnership.

Stephen Miller is an online editor/manager for SHRM.

Related Articles:

Best Companies: Work/Family Benefits Get a Boost, SHRM Online Comp & Benefits Focus Area, January 2007

Revisiting the Work/Life Balance Agenda, SHRM Information Center, April 2007

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