Job sharing: A better work-life balance while advancing your career

Photo by: Christina Morillo on Pexels

Job sharing is a flexible arrangement where one full-time position is filled by two or more people working on a part-time basis. It allows parents and caregivers to further their careers while balancing home life and producing quality work — and is also a tool for getting more women into leadership positions. Yet it is not widely implemented or considered by many development organizations.

“There’s something very special about job sharing … you’re in an extremely safe space to communicate about anything and that is not something that can be matched by almost any other structure.”

— Cara Honzak, senior technical adviser for population, health, and the environment, Pathfinder International

Cara Honzak and Cheryl Margoluis both job share the position of senior technical adviser for population, health, and the environment at Pathfinder International. Speaking as individuals — not on behalf of their employer — Honzak and Margoluis talked through some realities of the working arrangement, including the benefits to both employee and employer.

Here, we take a look at some of the benefits and challenges of job sharing.

Career advancement

Childcare, aging parents, or caring for sick family members can affect the working population — care work that often falls to women, Honzak explained. Job sharing can help “women break through the glass ceiling” even when juggling work and other responsibilities at home, Honzak added.

Honzak and Margoluis each work two full days and one half-day a week — overlapping for part of the divided day.

“We both have children at home ... and one of the things I was seeking in a new job was a better way to balance my family life and my career,” Honzak said, who found that other part-time opportunities did not allow as much career advancement.

Job sharing offers “a schedule that allowed us to be present at different times for the children,” Margoluis explained, as well as better career prospects than solely part-time roles because together, job sharers can take on greater responsibility.

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As a part-time worker, not part of a job share, “there’s a lot of hesitation about giving you the responsibility for managing a team of people; managing a project that might have needs on an everyday, weekly basis; or other managerial and higher-level responsibilities,” Honzak said.

But with job sharing, there is someone present every day to stamp out these concerns. This structure not only benefits employees work-life balance but also opens up a wide pool of untapped talent to organizations.

Benefiting organizations

“I know a lot of people who have chosen not to go back to work again [after having children] — who are amazing people — because of the lack of flexibility … companies miss out on a lot of talent,” Margoluis said.

“Organizations can draw upon a wider wealth of individuals — particularly women — by having this flexibility,” she said.  

There are also a number of additional advantages that only job sharers can bring to a role. Having two sets of eyes to review work, for example, is a significant advantage for catching mistakes and bringing different viewpoints to the job.

“We check each other to make sure that we’re really going to give out the highest quality product,” Honzak said.

“If we both do well, we both win ... If one of us does poorly, we both lose,” explained Honzak, adding that this incentivizes them to work at their best level. It’s a working relationship that is unique because of the equal power balance, they explained.

“There’s something very special about job sharing … you’re in an extremely safe space to communicate about anything and that is not something that can be matched by almost any other structure,” Honzak said.

“I sometimes feel like having Cheryl as my partner allows me to be bigger than myself,” Honzak said, adding that they often have better ideas or come up with them more quickly than they would do alone.

In terms of performance, “there is an efficiency gained … in our ability to talk through a lot of the work,” Margoluis said. They are able to “have a conversation about the best way to tackle [complex issues] and the best perspectives to bring in.”

Another benefit — particularly valuable within international development — is that job sharers can be based in different time zones. Honzak is based in Washington, D.C., and Margoluis is in California.

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“A lot of our work is based overseas and the time difference can sometimes be challenging to always connect with the field teams, but because there are two of us ... there’s almost always the ability for one of us to make all meetings,” Margoluis said.

Potential challenges

There are some challenges that come with job sharing — and many revolve around unfamiliarity. Initially, clients and colleagues may not understand that both partners will be completely up-to-date with all goings-on.

“A challenge is making sure that everybody else also equally understands that if you talk to me today, it’s fine if you call again tomorrow and talk with Cara … that this is a seamless job share and that you can speak to any of us,” Margoluis explained. “At the beginning, that was a very new concept for a lot of people and took a lot of explaining and getting comfortable with.”

Another challenge was the risk of the job sharing relationship being unsuccessful. While it has never been a problem for Honzak and Margoluis — the organization would need structures in place to deal with it, Honzak highlighted.

The pair are formally employed as two part-time employees with each receiving their respective benefits.

“It’s ... important for them [the organization] to be able to see us as separate individuals and resources for the organization moving forward, should anything not work out,” Honzak said.

Job share partners also have to be careful of not working excessive overtime. Honzak explained how the pair offered their services with a 50:50 division for everything in terms of salary, contribution, and time — but actually expected to contribute 60 percent. “In terms of keeping it [overtime] under wraps, it’s true that it’s something that needs to be managed,” she said.

Although there are some challenges to staff working in job share positions, the benefits to both organizations and staff mean more organizations should encourage and support more job sharing applicants.

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Next steps

The first step in attracting more professionals to job-share positions is making the idea more widely known and accepted. Organizations can encourage job-share applicants in their job descriptions, especially if looking for people with a certain amount of experience, Honzak advised.

In the same way, applicants shouldn’t hesitate to reach out to organizations and propose a job-sharing application. Margoluis’ and Honzak’s current role wasn’t advertised as a job share. Instead, one made the initial application and once through to the interview stage, proposed the job share with hiring staff. Margoluis and Honzak subsequently submitted a joint application with corresponding CVs and one cover letter signed by them both.

The most important thing for organizations to realize is that job sharing can offer just as many — if not more — benefits and rewards as it does to employees.

This article was last updated on 20 March 2020

About the author

  • Lottie Watters

    Lottie Watters formerly covered career and hiring trends, tips, and insights. Lottie has a background in geography and journalism, taking a particular interest in grassroots international development projects. She has worked with organizations delivering clean water and sanitation projects globally.