For Sharon, job-sharing was a last resort. When the mother of two found out she was having her third child, she says, “I knew I needed to change my schedule.”

Sharon had been in her role as an HR manager for a mid-sized, family-owned transport company in Edmonton for almost 10 years.

“Not working wasn’t a financial option for our family, plus I really enjoy my job,” she said. “I just needed a bit more flexibility. I knew they needed a full-time person in my role. The nature of the job meant being able to be on the floor as well as in the office — so working from home wasn’t an option. It was only when I’d run through every possibility that a colleague suggested I approach the owner about a job-share.”

Job-sharing vs. working part-time

A job-share is an arrangement where one full-time role is split between two people. Often confused with two part-time jobs, it’s actually two long-term, parallel roles.

A job-share offers an employee the benefits commonly associated with part-time work (reduced hours and a more manageable schedule) along with the ability to work on challenging and high-profile assignments that generally require a full-time commitment. For an employer, a job-share arrangement is a cost-effective way to retain talent and benefit from having two people committed to one role.

Despite these benefits, job-share arrangements are still rare. In a report on alternative work arrangements, Statistics Canada found they are the least-common option at the moment, with only one in 10 Canadians being in or having tried a job-share.

Much like any innovative arrangement, the success or failure of a job-share depends on the upfront work you do to establish how it will work. If you are interested in proposing or implementing a job-share, what should you keep in mind? Here are a few tips gleaned from my interviews with more than 500 working mothers about how they created career success after starting their families, as part of the research for my book, The MomShift: Finding the Opportunity In Maternity. Approximately 50 of them had been in a job-share at some point in their career journey. (I use their first names only, to protect their privacy.)

Find the right partner

A job-share is not so much like finding a colleague you work well with, as it is like finding a business partner who fills in your skills gaps and shares your long-term objectives. “I would say it’s as important a relationship as the one you have with your partner or spouse,” says Jen, a Kingston mother of two who had a negative job-share experience in her last role as a producer at a local radio station.

“Looking back, I would say it’s important to share a similar work ethic, values and long-term goals with your job-share partner — but it also helps to be at the same life stage. I have two little kids, but my job-share partner didn’t — and in retrospect this caused some problems.”

Make your case

When Sharon first pitched the idea of turning her role into a job-share, she had several months of discussion with her manager, the company owner, her team and the other groups that they worked with in the firm.

“There was very little understanding about how the day-to-day details of a job-share would actually work, so I had to be prepared to answer all the questions, often a couple times, before people seemed to really get it,” she says.

Since the idea was also new to Sharon, she enlisted a consultant to help her make her case: “The consultant helped me understand how it would work and then advised me on how to frame my case for the different stakeholders so they could see how their operations would be unaffected or, better yet, benefit from having two minds addressing their issues.”

Confirm the details

Generally, job-sharers each work two days a week and then overlap one day to hand over work to their partner.

Organizational psychologist David Javitch suggests that job-sharers look to nurses as a model for how to seamlessly hand over work, noting that nurses have always begun each shift by establishing sufficient time to brief the person coming in on tasks in progress, critical needs and potential patient or HR issues.

The successful job-sharers I interviewed all referenced the importance of establishing guidelines for the relationship in advance, addressing questions such as:

  • What decisions can each make without consultation with the other?
  • How will handovers be documented each week?
  • When will long-term objectives and strategies be set?
  • How will computer and paper records be sorted and stored?
  • How will emails be shared and filed?

Stop thinking “I” and start thinking “we”

A truly successful job-share depends on the ability to blend two people into one single, strong voice and presence.

“I’d always considered myself a team player” said Sharon “But a job-share actually requires a genuine shift in thinking, so that my goals and my success became our goals and our success.”

Three years into her job-share, Sharon’s arrangement is considered such a success that her company recently approved a second job-share arrangement in the IT department.

“I would also advise women to share their stories, tell people they are in job-shares and explain to them how it works,” she says. “If someone hadn’t told me about this option, I would have missed out either at home or at work. Now I feel like I have the best of both.”