Take This Job and Share It: How to Make Job-Sharing Work

Last Updated Sep 16, 2010 3:26 PM EDT

In the spectrum of flexible work options, from flexible hours to telecommuting, job-sharing is one of the least used. As few as 2% of all workers have arranged to split the duties of a full-time job between two co-workers.

Leave it to two engineers to crack the code.

Julie Rocco and Julie Levine are, together, the product manager for the 2011 Ford Explorer product team. They're the ones who make sure all the elements of the product launch are on point and on time. They coordinate the actual production of the line of cars, and collaborate with marketing and sales.

It's a big job: Product managers typically work at least 80 hours a week; half of that job is still a 40-hour week jammed into three days, plus evening hours spent updating each other. Both women are mothers of young children who realized in 2007 that they weren't willing to sacrifice either time with the kids or career advancement. They found each other by networking internally and then, well, engineered the collaboration.

They immediately agreed that they'd each work three days a week, overlapping on Wednesdays. And their shared top priority was to make their arrangement seamless and invisible to colleagues. That's accomplished with nightly one-hour briefings to ensure that the Julie du jour walks in with everything she needs to know to keep the ball in the air. Key meetings are held on Wednesdays.

One point of unity: they share responsibility for each task and don't divide responsibility. "People naturally want to divide up the work, meeting with one of you, or give one thing to one of you," says Levine. "But that doesn't work. Either of us have to know the answers to any question whenever we pick up the phone."

They have discovered some unexpected advantages. Together, they've nearly doubled their internal networks, so they save time finding the right contacts in other departments. Their nightly briefings include interviewing each other, a process that often uncovers problems and evokes solutions more quickly than if each was flying solo. They swap favorite techniques for getting through key tasks, multiplying efficiency.

A critical test came when a new director inherited the duo's year-old arrangement. He was skeptical at first. One day, after hours of collaborating on a critical presentation to Ford brass, the director anxiously asked Levine, "You'll be here, tomorrow, right?" Her response: "Julie's here tomorrow. You have to trust us." The next day, Rocco coached him page by page through the last-minute changes to the presentation. She didn't miss a beat, and neither did he.

"We can tell we're seamless when people say, 'I met with one of the Julies, I don't know which one,'" says Rocco.

Here are the Julies' tips for structuring your job-share:

  • Make the business case. Show your manager how your collaboration will enable the company to retain two high-potential people and will ensure that all bases are even better covered than with one person.
  • Ask colleagues who know you both if your personalities, work styles and work ethic are congruent. Neither Julie wanted to be paired with someone who wouldn't pull her weight.
  • Talk with your mentor about the impact of job-sharing on your career path. At your workplace, will you get extra credit for pioneering a new path? Could you parlay your successful job-share to build your brand as an innovator, leader, and mentor for other working mothers?
  • Most people, say Rocco and Levine, don't really care what arrangement you have as long as it doesn't make their jobs harder. Show how your job-share will be either neutral or beneficial to the rest of your team, and you will increase your chance of success.

Photo courtesy Flickr user Johnathan!; CC 2.0