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How job sharing is going mainstream

01:12pm June 22 2021

Mariebelle Malo says job sharing acceptance is “definitely growing”. (Provided)

For the past six years, Mariebelle Malo has lived and breathed “job sharing”. 

Not only has she worked several flexible job share roles at multination consumer goods company Unilever, she uses the rest of the week to work on her own business, a job share matching platform called Gemini 3. 

“I love the variety. I can't imagine ever going back to a full-time job and just doing one thing,” the Sydney-based change manager Unilever says. 

While there’s an increasing number of ways job sharing is structured, Malo works three days a week and is the more senior member, with the employee she job shares with working five days a week and having distinctly different responsibilities.

“Job sharing used to simply be a means of enabling people to work part-time,” Malo says. “The traditional structure sees each person working three days a week, with one day overlapping. This is not really what the future of job sharing is about. It can be so much more flexible.” 

After first making headlines in the 1970s and 1980s, the Australian Human Rights Commission defines job sharing as a “flexible work arrangement where one job is done by more than one person” and that “can be an option if employees want to work part-time but the job that is available needs to be worked on a full-time basis”. 

But University of New South Wales law professor Rosalind Dixon agrees job sharing need not be primarily centred around part-time work. 

Having undertaken multiple flexible job shares herself – including a university leadership position that she shared with her husband for two and a half years – last year she designed a pilot job share trial at UNSW. One job share involved the director of UNSW knowledge exchange, Warwick Dawson, appointing senior staff member John Arneil as his job share partner. 

Dawson retained 80 per cent of his responsibilities and spent one day out of the office on separate projects.

It was so successful that the pilot job shares at UNSW have continued, and the findings were published in a report outlining three new types of job sharing. 

UNSW law professor Rosalind Dixon says job sharing need not be primarily centred around part-time work. (Provided)

Flexible time-based sharing enables co-workers to job-share according to their time needs, not according to any traditional division of working days. 

“Intergenerational sharing” involves employees at different stages of their career sharing a job, such as someone close to retirement tapering off their workload gradually, while giving someone more junior the chance to step up for part of the week. 

“Vertical sharing” sees a more senior co-worker divide up the responsibilities of the job and ultimately has the final say on most decisions.

Elements of each can be blended to create a bespoke job share arrangement.

While many companies, including Westpac, offer job sharing, The Australian Bureau of Statistics has no data on it because it is typically absorbed into part-time work figures. But according to a survey by recruitment firm Robert Half, 47 per cent of Australian businesses are offering job-sharing arrangements in 2021, and Malo believes that COVID-19 has made companies more open to it, as flexible work practices have become mainstream. 

She says that Gemini 3 is helping an increasing number of corporates and government agencies develop job share policies and guidance for employees. 

“Job sharing is still small in terms of numbers, but acceptance is definitely growing,” she says. “The nature of the conversation about it has changed – companies are now asking how we can help them make it happen.”

According to Dixon, flexible job sharing can be a panacea for overwork.

“It can be centred around taking what is clearly more than a full-time role and reducing it to full time,” she says. 

“We know that there are all these people, especially in banks, who have too much work and not enough time. They are working 120 per cent in their role, you could say – so that 20 per cent could be backfilled by someone more junior. 

“If the overworked person was given the chance to stay full time in a key role, but take a tiny bit less remuneration and have a bit more time for their health and family, I’m confident they would take it in a heartbeat.” 

Meanwhile, the more junior employee benefits from increased recognition and remuneration as a consequence of acting up for 20 per cent of the week. They may also climb the career ladder more quickly than they otherwise would.

“Overwork hurts everyone, but it makes it particularly tough for women with family responsibilities to stay in really high-level jobs,” Dixon adds. 

Malo agrees, saying: “When women go part time due to family responsibilities, it is often not actually part time: it’s squeezing five days of work into four. This is especially true in more senior roles. 

“So, when it comes to a job share, they say, ‘fantastic: when I’m off, I’m off and someone else is carrying the baton’.”

The views expressed are those of the author and individuals interviewed, and do not necessarily reflect those of the Westpac Group.

Jessica Mudditt is the author of Our Home in Myanmar. She is based in Sydney and as a freelance journalist, she has an interest in workplace issues and technology.

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