Job sharing, the answer to work-life balance?

OCTOBER 25, 2016

With the rapid onset of technology speeding our lives up considerably, the modern workplace is becoming more and more demanding. With the reality of long hours and increased performance expectations becoming the “new normal”, employees are often left with no choice but to compromise their work-life balance.

This is according to Kay Vittee, CEO of Kelly - South Africa’s first recruitment agency of choice for rapid permanent and contingency staffing solutions - who says, “The more pressure exists in the workplace, the more severe the impact on quality and productivity. Subsequently, this also has a detrimental effect on employees’ wellbeing in general.”

To reduce the stress related to infinite to-do lists, and to increase “free-time” and promote a healthier work-life balance, many employees are now considering job-sharing. The latter is a flexible work arrangement in which two (or possibly more) employees share a single job.

“Many employees who have opted to job share in the past, cited ‘a remarkable improvement in lifestyle and quality of life’ as the main reason why they chose this particular employment route.

“While many do not consider the job sharing trend feasible in a local context, specifically due to high unemployment rates and a volatile economy, the reality is that job sharing provides a feasible solution to various issues facing the recruitment sector in South Africa,” explains Vittee.

Recently, Solidarity, a South African trade union that negotiates on behalf of its members and attempts to protect workers' rights, developed a Social Plan focused on the issue of downscaling and retrenchment of staff in the country (April 2016). This plan highlights that employers need to seriously consider job sharing as an alternative to avoid retrenchment of staff*.

Vittee says, “Be that as it may, job sharing definitely has its pros and cons, and both employees and employers need to consider the mitigating factors closely before making a decision to implement it in the workplace.”

Advantages of job-sharing for employees include:

  • The most obvious advantage is being able to work part-time in order to spend more time with loved ones.
  • The ability to study further and pursue other personal interests.
  • New mothers can continue with their careers, all the while taking care of their children, and they will not be required to put them in full-time day care.
  • Employees can pursue more than one career path at the same time.
  • Senior workers can cut back on their taxing jobs while still continuing their careers.
  • Job sharing also eases up on the work-related stress and burnout which employees often experience.

Vittee emphasises that employees must consider the following when arranging to share their jobs:

  • Employees would have to communicate effectively and frequently with a second, job sharing employee. This interaction could prove to be challenging as both parties would need to share all necessary information to effectively contribute and meet the daily requirements of their joint job.
  • Both employees would have to constantly deal with the different ways in which the other party approaches various aspects of their job. Both employees would need to align, exercise open-mindedness and be flexible enough to compromise and learn new ways of working together.
  • It is primarily up to the employee to ensure that job sharers’ personalities are compatible. In most cases, when both job share partners are not compatible, the arrangement will fail epically.

Further to this, employers need to be cognisant of the following:

  • Ensure that the needs of your business are being met – it is up to you and the two job sharing partners to agree on the arrangement upfront. 
  • Both the job sharing partners must be willing to invest the maximum effort to ensure that this work arrangement succeeds and does not compromise the business, or impact negatively on other employees.
  • There must be solid communication between work partners and management, as well as other employees who are not a part of the job sharing programme.
  • Be clear and upfront around how employment evaluation will be handled. Job sharers need to know how much of their evaluation will be based on the work product of the other job sharer.
  • Be clear on the salary expectations of a position that is split between two parties, as well as the hours to be covered, sick leave, vacation days, and the division of employment benefits between both job-sharers.

“When done properly, job-sharing has the potential to benefit both the employer and employees immensely. While the employee will be able to continue in the job they love and obtain greater balance between their career and family, the employer will also have an opportunity to retain top staff members. Job sharing provides both parties with a solution that has the potential to leave them happy and satisfied with their work-life balance,” concludes Vittee.