Job sharing: increasing equality and productivity through flexible working

Woman shaking hands with man

Flexible employment is on the rise, and one form of flexible employment is the job share - a way for two or more people to take on the duties of one job, and split the benefits. On 6th March 2016, the UK government announced a new initiative aimed at making teaching a ‘more flexible long term career for women’ to increase the number of female head teachers. The initiative saw the launch of a new website to help female teachers find flexible work, including job share partners. The announcement of this proposal got us thinking about job shares, and what benefits they can provide to both employees and employers alike.

Improving gender equality by offering flexibility

An obvious group of workers who would benefit from greater job sharing opportunities are women who have had, or wish to have, children. A 2013 Business, Innovation and Skills Committee Report on Women in the Workplace discussed the poor provision of flexible employment opportunities for women returning to work after having children, suggesting that not only does limited flexible working affect women and their families badly, it affects companies negatively too. Dame Heather Rabbatts argued that ‘there are mechanisms [...] for trying to encourage women back into the work force, but they are pretty sparse, and not that effective. We leak huge amounts of talent out of the system.’ Consequently, by failing to provide flexibility to talented female employees, companies are at risk of losing key female talent.

The report also cited research conducted by Dr Hazel Conley which showed that just 6.5% of part-time workers are employed as managers and senior officials. Sir David Normington, First Civil Service Commissioner and Commissioner for Public Appointments, stated that organisations must begin to look at retaining female managers by providing them with more flexible work which will allow them a more sustainable work-life balance. He argued that ‘it is easier to do that at first-tier senior management than at the most senior management level, though it is not impossible at that level... If you lose touch with your excellent women managers at that point, you will probably not get them back and they will go off and do something else. This is very bad for the organisation and also for them’. There is currently a lack of job sharing in senior posts, due both to the full-time culture at the top of most businesses and the negativity that people feel towards a position of high responsibility being split in two. However, job sharing in such posts would boost numbers of women in high positions and help break that glass ceiling.

Other reasons for job sharing

Job sharing is not just important for new mothers, however. There are a plethora of reasons for job sharing, including:

  • Commitments at home:
    Employees may need to look after elderly or disabled relatives.

  • Career enhancement:
    Some employees may find job sharing attractive because they wish to embark on portfolio careers, take part in more voluntary or charity work, or wish to retrain and up skill.

  • Stress reduction:
    Job sharing can also provide a way for employees who work in high stress, high intensity environments to carry on working at a certain level of competence that wouldn’t be possible if they worked full time.

How job sharing can benefit employers

Not only does job sharing prevent the risk of losing valuable talent, it provides many other benefits to employers, as well as to their employees.

  • Recruitment:
    Broaden your talent pool by attracting valuable employees who do not want to work full time in the first place.

  • Productivity:
    Job sharing many also help to increase productivity as each partner is more likely to do their fair share (and more) if they do not have to work for a full week. By working fewer hours, each partner is at lower risk of fatigue or burnout, can remain energised and is therefore, more productive.

  • Output and skills:
    It may enhance output because the partners are able to collaborate with each other, exchanging ideas, and combining their different skill sets- thus being more fruitful. In this case, two heads are most definitely better than one.

Consequently, despite the reservations that many may have towards the idea of job sharing, it could actually be a positive way of ensuring that both employer and employee interests are looked after.