En español | After her doctor warned that the stress of her 100-mile round-trip daily commute could shorten her life, Mary Kaye Stuart decided to pursue a job-sharing situation.
"I had been wanting more balance in my life, and this was the answer," says Stuart, 63, an account executive at a broadcasting company in Austin, Texas.
Last year she teamed up with a former coworker, who had worked in radio sales for another company and left to be a stay-at-home mom, to devise an arrangement where they each worked the same job at Stuart's company three days a week, overlapping on Wednesdays. Stuart says she is much happier — and healthier — with a four-day weekend every week.
Sharing a job is a good option for employees at any stage of their careers, but it can be especially appealing for workers 50-plus who might want to start scaling back their hours.
"Job sharing is a great way to work in a part-time capacity in a senior role," says Melissa Nicholson, founder of Work Muse, an Austin, Texas-based job-sharing support firm that helped Stuart get her new work arrangement off the ground.
Job sharing can also benefit employers, says Betsy Polk, cofounder and copresident of the workplace consultancy the Mulberry Partners in Chapel Hill, N.C. "They're getting two very seasoned professional people who bring much to the table and can be trusted in their commitment," she says.
In addition, Nicholson points out that offering greater flexibility and workplace balance to employees helps keep them happy and productive for longer. "Job sharing is a great solution to keeping people from burning out and preventing turnover," says Nicholson.
Here are six tips for making job sharing work for you.
1. Be proactive. If you'd like to start job sharing, you and your potential partner will probably have to propose the arrangement to an employer. It's rare to see job-sharing positions advertised, since many employers don't understand job sharing and aren't familiar with its benefits.
2. Get specific. To increase your chances of success, put together a detailed and persuasive proposal, demonstrating how the arrangement will benefit the employer and how you and your partner will collaborate. You'll also need to negotiate any benefits, like health insurance, associated with the arrangement.
"The strongest way to get a job-share approved is to make the business case to the employer," Nicholson advises. "Most employers haven't worked with a job-sharing team, so they have a lot of questions, concerns and worries."
3. Find the right partner. Part of the process, too, will be making sure that your potential partner is a good fit for you and that your skills and personalities complement each other. "You need to know that you have the same approach to your job and have a similar outlook," says Nicholson.
4. Draw up a contract. Together with your job-share partner, specify who will do what and how the partnership will work. This contract will help get the partnership off on the right foot and head off potential problems down the road. You can always make updates and revisions later.
5. Consider overlapping one day a week. Often job sharers find it helpful to have one overlapping day, giving them a chance to catch each other up on what they've been doing. They also usually stay in close contact via phone and email throughout the workweek, so that each person knows what's happening on the job. The partners don't need to be in constant contact, but they do need to keep each other in the loop.
"The key is how you communicate," says Polk. "So often people assume that good communication is communicating all the time, but it's really about finding the right amount so it's not overwhelming."
6. Share the good and the bad. Job sharers also need to let go of some of the individualism common in the business world. That means sharing in both the successes and the failures of the team and being willing to think of the partnership as its own entity. This collaborative way of thinking can require an attitude adjustment for people who have spent their whole careers getting ahead as individuals, but it's vital to having a successful job-sharing arrangement.
"You're sharing the positives and negatives of the job," says Nicholson. "If your partner makes a mistake, you share in that together. You need to be someone who takes a lot of pride in your job and doesn't necessarily need all the personal accolades."
A successful job-sharing relationship can, ultimately, have both personal and professional benefits. You're no longer facing your work life alone. If one person in the partnership gets sick or has to take time off to care for an aging parent or spouse, the other can step in and pick up the slack. A good job-share team can, in other words, help both members manage the complexities of both work and life, all while making sure the job still gets done.