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Sharing Work Saves Jobs

New program cuts hours instead of people, helps older workers

En español | At the height of the recession, Jeanne Manhard of New England Copy Specialists (NECS) found life at work very demanding. Everyone in the office had to take one day a week off — and everyone was sharing the challenge of getting more done with less.

See also: Part-time jobs for retirees.

"I had 55 emails this morning when I came back after my day off," lamented Manhard, 60. But she wasn't complaining ­ — especially because she knew that the possible alternative was no job at all.

Work Sharing

— Hugh Sitton, Jupiter, Odilon Dimier/PhotoAlto, all Getty Images

Instead, the Woburn, Mass.-based NECS was taking part in a state program called WorkSharing, in which companies reduce the work hours of employees and then help them collect prorated jobless benefits for lost hours.

In a typical work-sharing arrangement, a company of 100 people needing to trim labor costs by 20 percent cuts work hours by that percentage, rather than laying off 20 people. The setup is often confused with job sharing — two part-time employees who share one job. With work sharing, everyone feels some financial pain, but everyone keeps working.

According to a report by AARP's Public Policy Institute, "Saving Jobs Through Work Sharing,"employer interest in work sharing grew during the recession, with a record number of companies setting up programs in 2009. Nationwide, about 111,000 workers took part in 2001, according to the Congressional Research Service, growing to 289,000 in 2009. In 2010, the numbers slipped to 128,000 as the nascent recovery made some companies strong enough to resume regular workweeks.

Twenty states have programs, variously known as work sharing, shared work and short-time compensation: Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Iowa, Kansas, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Missouri, New Hampshire, New York, Oklahoma, Oregon, Rhode Island, Texas, Vermont and Washington.

President Obama praised work sharing in his 2009 inaugural address, citing "the selflessness of workers who would rather cut their hours than see a friend lose their job."

Workers happy — and unhappy

But the programs are by no means universally popular. Employees who feel secure in their jobs as a layoff looms may resist giving up income to help other employees whom they may not even know.

"Some employees like it a lot because they can spend more time with their kids," said Tracy Gianakos, practice administrator at Crossroads Orthopaedics in Waterford., Conn., a 37-employee medical practice that has a work-sharing program in place. "Others are unhappy because they don't get full pay for their days off."

Next: Good for older workers. >>

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