It’s no secret that every employer would prefer to have all employees at their desks all the time. Despite the fact that technology keeps everyone connected from any corner of the world, employers like to know they can walk down the hall and solve a problem face to face. For this reason, a job share (essentially uninterrupted face time) makes a lot of sense. But it’s a work structure that has never fully taken off.
There are definitely job shares out there, and more companies should figure out how to make them work. It’s a great way to keep two high-performing, high-potential women from leaving the workforce in search of better work-life balance.
One way to get the ball rolling would be to circulate many more “best practice” case studies. A good source of that information is Lynne Marino, who today is a Senior Financial Advisor at Merrill Lynch. In another professional life, from 1994 to 2003 (long before flexible work was on the rise), she shared several management and senior staff positions at IBM and AT&T. By all measures these were seamless, successful job shares. Lynne and her job share partner (each working 30 hours a week) achieved higher client satisfaction levels as a team than their individual peers. They created new product offerings in IBM’s Global Services Division that generated significant revenues. And at AT&T, they helped manage the governance process after IBM outsourced their telecommunications to AT&T—a $1B contract.
FOR WOMEN THINKING ABOUT A JOB SHARE ARRANGEMENT, LYNNE OFFERS A DOZEN TRIED AND TRUE TIPS:
- Find a partner who has similar values, work ethics and goals. Prior to the birth of their second children, Lynne and her job share partner both knew they wanted to switch to part-time work. They had children the same age and determined that a job share would be a win-win for the boss, the client and for themselves. The idea of pursuing part–time jobs on their own was nixed because they had seen examples of when it led to the feeling of being overworked and underpaid.
- Understand your strengths and find a partner who “fills in your blanks”. Use an instrument like the Myers Briggs Type Indicator to assess individual “gifts” and determine your combined strengths as a team. This helps you divide work and communicate more effectively to clients and managers.
- If possible, choose a boss who will support and advocate your job share concept. Lynne and her job share partner were able to carefully select a boss who was also a mother of young children, and at the time led a new group at IBM that was charged with “thinking outside the box”.
- Consider the relationship with your job share partner as important as the one you share with your spouse. Protect and honor the job share. Once clients, employees and bosses know they can’t play one against the other, you develop greater respect as a team.
- Decide if you can trust your job share partner to make decisions on your behalf. Once the decision is made, understand that you must fully support your partner even if you might not fully agree with the decision that was made.
- Don’t give any manager the opportunity to manage you separately. You should have joint performance appraisals and ask for the same raises and bonuses.
- Raise any problems you have with your job share partner as they happen so they don’t fester or become obvious to your colleagues. Managers don’t want to have to deal with any conflicts you experience as a team (just like they don’t want to know if you are having personal issues at home). Bringing up job share issues with your managers invites an “I told you it wouldn’t work!”
- Create a common name and email address so that neither job share partner is ever left off a communications list. Lynne and her job share partner, Maria, called themselves “Marilynne”, which helped colleagues think of them as one seamless unit.
- Over communicate! Keep detailed logs that are visible to both on your days off. Lynne and Maria had overlapping days where they booked time to catch each other up on projects.
- Manage any direct reports as a job share team. Give negative feedback and reviews as a team, and keep a joint file documenting any and all conversations with employees.
- Check your ego at the door. Put your job share team’s needs ahead of your own. You or your job share partner may have to share the spotlight. Support each other through good times and bad.
- Develop a plan on how to move forward as a team. Take at least a full day every year to evaluate what is and is not working. What are your goals for the next 12 months? What do you want for your next assignment? Who do you want to work for and what responsibilities do you want? How can you help each other achieve personal goals? Lynne recalls that one year Maria wanted to go to Italy for three weeks. She was able to take that trip and be completely “unplugged” because Lynne covered for her full time during that period.
These are all valuable secrets to success, but the fact remains that many employers aren’t willing to veer away from traditional work structures. Lynne believes that the onus is on two smart women to make a professional case for the job share.
“It can’t just be a conversation—you have to submit a proposal that is as buttoned up as one you would prepare to win substantial business from the most demanding and discerning on your client and prospect lists.”
All the different types of flexible work—including job shares—are detailed in my upcoming book, Ambition Redefined: Why the Corner Office Doesn’t Work for Every Woman & What to Do Instead (Nicholas Brealey, Hachette Business Group, October 2018).
(This blog post was originally written in 2012 and updated in 2017.)