A Two-for-One Promotion Strategy

Just 18% of companies are open to the idea of having two employees share a single job, but more are expected to follow. Here’s how to turn the opportunity into a career booster.

Published: Nov 22, 2019

It’s the kind of arrangement that might initially seem like a head-scratcher: two employees, each talented and ambitious in their own right, want to share a job role typically held by one.

But according to a recent article in the Wall Street Journal, job sharing is finding increased support in workplaces as organizations seek ways to cultivate flexibility, diversity, and the retention of key talent. Initially conceived decades ago as a way of giving working mothers part-time administrative roles, the arrangement is no longer confined to any particular organizational level. In fact, according to the Journal, high-ranking executives at large US companies are looking at job sharing as a way of moving up the ranks faster and with more visibility than they would on their own. It also can be a boon to a company’s bottom line, as job shares could reduce costs and create efficiencies and employee engagement that ups the value of a workplace. “This arrangement is the epitome of becoming a ‘work spouse,’” says Sean Carney, a career coach at Korn Ferry Advance. “This is not a Vegas thing where you can rush into something and annul it right after.”

Job shares work best when the two people involved bring different but complementary skills and experiences to the table.

With only 18% of US employers open to such arrangements, making the case for sharing a role with a colleague can be a tough sell—particularly in a work culture that continues to prize doing more with less. Here’s how to decide if it’s a good move for you—and how to convince higher-ups to give it a try.

Find the right partner.

There’s no universal definition for job sharing: in some cases, it means those involved divvy up days of the week to work but share all responsibilities; in others, it means they overlap workdays but divvy up individual responsibilities. Regardless of the situation, experts say job shares work best when the two people involved bring different but complementary skills and experiences to the table. For example, if your strength is in marketing, you might make the case to join forces with someone whose expertise is in finance. The differences will help you learn from one another and bring more well-rounded skill sets to the role.

But more than anything, experts say job sharing comes down to finding someone you trust—a person you’ve worked with in a variety of situations, whose personality you jive with, and who respects communication, transparency, criticism, and continuous learning. You don’t, for example, want to get into such a situation only to find out later that your partner is one to throw people under the bus or to take sole credit for projects. It’s also about getting a little bit lucky in terms of timing: you may have a great person in mind to partner with, but if he or she doesn’t need work flexibility, the arrangement may not sync up.

Develop a game plan.

When pitching a job share, it’s crucial to anticipate your employer’s pain points. Your employer is going to want to know what this is going to cost them (hint: ideally you want to show them how this will be net neutral or even possibly save them money); explain how it isn’t going to complicate existing processes. For example, will this change how other people within the organization email you and slow down response times? Or will it confuse colleagues and clients about who’s responsible for what? In making your case, experts say you’ll want to detail every piece of how your job share will work. One way to make a stronger case is to do some digging to show how job sharing has worked well within other organizations. The key is to show that as a committed, problem-solving duo, you’re stronger for the organization together than apart.

Be ready to accept setbacks together.

Having two ambitious people working in one role can sound like a Hunger Games-type situation in waiting, especially when mistakes arise or setbacks occur. That’s why it’s important to establish regular milestones and checkpoints to make sure you’re both moving toward the same goals together. It may also be worth enlisting a person of influence within the company as a sponsor who can not only help evangelize your job-share partnership across the company but act as a third-party mediator should you encounter difficult situations. “It’s all about setting the ground rules,” says Frances Weir, a career coach at Korn Ferry Advance.

Have an exit strategy.

You may go into a job share with the best intentions, but things don’t always go according to plan—perhaps one of you wants out, or your company undergoes a merger that puts your job share in question. The best thing you can do, experts say, is to spend time building strong bonds within your organization and industry, and to make it your business to promote the good work you’re doing, both individually and with your partner. As part of that, you also should keep in mind what your next steps may be, including the choice to move up together or separately. “You want to keep your network warm,” Weir says. “Companies are bought and sold at way faster rates than they used to, so you have to decide what your priorities are.”

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