Laurie Cremona and Elaine Miller have shared the same job for 10 years. It started when Laurie was working at BEA Systems prior to its acquisition by Oracle, where she says she worked “24/7.”
“My nanny was sending me messages saying, ‘Your kids miss you,’” she recalls.
She needed to cut back, and recalled Miller from a previous work engagement. Cremona proposed a job-share arrangement. Miller had been in a previous job-sharing arrangement that was unsuccessful, so the two got together and had a long talk to work out the details of how to make this one work. It was so successful that they were recruited as a pair and now run job-sharing consultancy Mission Job Share in Palo Alto, California. Their philosophy is that any job can be shared, she says.
Job sharing is “a little like a marriage,” says flexible-work consultant Pat Katepoo, founder of Work Options. You don’t have to be best friends, but you do have to at least like each other, she says. If you’re cutting back to spend more time with family or pursue other interests, your coworker should have a healthy respect for that, she says.
Giselle Kovary, managing partner at performance management and training firm n-gen People Performance, says it’s important to have similar levels of experience, too. If one person is more adept than the other, coworkers may wait to work with the more-skilled member of the partnership, or the more-skilled person might always be cleaning up messes the other has made.
And don’t be tempted to choose someone just like you. Cremona says the arrangement she has with Miller has worked for so long and across so many different positions because they both have different strengths that work together. Cremona has a strong creative side, while Miller’s strength is in execution and attention to detail. However, they both share a commitment to doing what it takes to get the job done well, she says.
“I think the key to a good job share is that you think the other person is going to do a better job than you,” she says. That type of expectation makes you bring your A-game to the partnership.
You’ve identified the right person–now it’s time to sell it to your boss. Katepoo says it’s important to highlight the benefits: The employer gets the power of two brains in one full-time post. The job sharers can cover for each other and brainstorm solutions with each other. It’s also a retention tool for workers who need more flexible options, she says.
In many cases, the job sharers work a little more than half-time so that their in-office time can overlap. In the case of Miller and Cremona, one works Monday, Tuesday, and part of Wednesday, while the other works part of Wednesday and through the end of the week. Their in-office time overlaps on Wednesdays. Katepoo says that shared positions may work out to 1.2 full-time employees, since the workers generally need some overlap time to coordinate work and meet with each other. Sometimes one or both workers can keep their benefits since they’re sharing a full-time job, but that depends on the company’s benefits policies, she says.
It also has to be seamless. Laurie and Elaine assure their bosses that there will be no additional work–every task, project, and negotiation would be worked out between themselves. They even receive their performance reviews together, Cremona says. Katepoo says that her experience has been that job-sharing employees do work closely together, but may be reviewed separately. Your boss doesn’t have double the time to manage the two of you, Katepoo adds.
Once you’ve sold the arrangement to the powers that be, you need to lay the groundwork for success. First and foremost, you need a contract, says Cremona. This document outlines the details of the work relationship for you, your job-share partner, and the company. It includes scheduling, responsibilities, pay, and other details.
If you’re managing employees, it’s important to present a seamless front, but perhaps divide work on the administrative side to keep things running smoothly. Cremona says having one person manage things like HR systems–expense reports, performance ratings, etc.–was easier than trying to track what the other was doing. Having specified responsibilities for such detail-oriented work helps ensure nothing falls through the cracks.
Kovary says you need to work out how you’ll communicate with your partner, as well as how you’ll resolve disagreements and other issues. It’s best to create that protocol before there’s a problem. Being detailed in communication during your overlap time and keeping careful, specific records about job status, next steps, and the like will help you avoid calling on each other to answer an urgent question or put out a fire during your time off.
“I think it’s about setting boundaries like you would in any role,” Kovary says.