Is Job Sharing The Future Of Flexible Work?

Photographed by Beth Sacca.
Job sharing, where two or more part-time workers perform the work of one full-time person, has been steadily declining in the UK since its peak in 2013. But our hyper focus on flexible working, propelled by the pandemic, has seen it edge back into the debate, with a lift in Google searches over the last 18 months. We're hunting for any possible solution to shake up the traditional work lifestyle – the forthcoming four-day working week trial has excited many – and reclaim our purpose beyond the confines of dated labour models, so why not give job sharing another look?
There were 122,000 employees on job-sharing contracts in the UK in 2021, up by around 3,000 on 2020. At its 2013 peak – when 185,000 people were on job-sharing contracts – it was a bit of a buzzword. Job sharing was heralded as a way to get more women with family commitments into senior leadership roles which require a five-day work week. There are many benefits to it, say job sharers Hannah Hall-Turner and Rachel Maguire of The Job Share Pair. "We call our off days 'home days' because they're definitely not days off with toddlers in tow. But on the days that I'm not working I know that Rachel is progressing the role, which means I don't worry about it and have some proper time with my children," Hannah tells R29 UK. There are benefits for the employer, too. "Organisations are losing out on an amazing talent pool," she adds. "The business also doesn't lose out on any urgent deadlines and it helps with business continuity, succession planning, and retention."
Yet it's not considered mainstream practice – only around 0.4% of people work this way in the UK. In summer 2021, MPs and nonprofit groups called on the government to make job sharing less expensive by reducing employers' National Insurance contributions for job-share roles.
Even if it were more of a mainstream option, who, today, would be available to take it up? Many of us would love the option or opportunity to work fewer hours – handing off to a role-share partner who swoops in on a Wednesday to save the day – but it simply isn’t financially viable. For those of us who can't afford it, we can safely say that a job share is not on the cards in the same way that part-time work generally is not available to us. But what about the third of the workforce who are thinking about quitting their job in the so-called Great Resignation, going freelance or scaling back in pursuit of work-life balance? Maybe if a job share were on offer, they would consider that instead, retaining some sense of security in the form of a monthly paycheque but offering real freedom to pursue other interests, too.
Jacqui Taunton Fenton helps run Share My Telly Job (SMTJ), a job-sharing community for freelancers which was started in response to this demand for work-life balance and the distinct lack of part-time roles in the television production industry. "We want to encourage [TV] productions to consider job sharing as a viable option," she tells R29 UK. "Our programme finds job-share couples who work in the same roles, gives them training, speaks to and educates productions on the advantage of job shares and then finds placements for the pairs." SMTJ champions job sharing as a practical solution, acknowledging that this kind of work appeals to parents but also works well for those who care for a partner or family member with additional needs. "Job-sharing can also be beneficial to freelancers with their own physical or mental health issues or with disabilities," reads SMTJ's mission statement. "Job-sharing can benefit those wanting time to pursue their own creative interests, business ideas or just want more time [to] enjoy their life outside of work a bit more!"
In other words, job sharing is a solution in industries and roles that rarely offer part-time positions. Presenting yourself as a job sharer to your employer is a way of setting your own boundaries around what time you can commit – a seemingly helpful method to keep people working in their chosen area, in a more inclusive way. It's up to the employer to respond with a package that fits – something they may be more willing to do in 2022, if employee retention is as big a concern as it's being painted to be.
"One thing we are seeing more of is pairing younger people [who are] eager to enter the workforce with older people who are in a position to cut back hours, as a way of skill sharing," says Graham Joyce, cofounder of DuoMe, another hybrid work platform that helps potential job sharers to find each other. "It's a great way for young people to get their foot in the door with companies, learn new things and eventually take on more hours, should they wish to."

What if the other person in the role share is actually better than me? Or fucking up the job?

Tia, 23
But do twentysomethings actually want – or would they consider – a job share? We asked a few young women at different stages of their careers. "Why not?" said Kay, a journalist in her late 20s who would spend her time off working on personal projects or writing for other publications. "It would make the stuff I work on more diverse." "Absolutely not," said Holly, a recently graduated social worker in her early 20s who feels compelled to keep working for the children she supports five days a week. "That's where I want to be right now."
Emma, 31, works in HR and would be up for a job share because they've seen it work elsewhere. "It’s something I saw a lot when working in a forward-thinking company in Australia, where some of the team worked three days a week with one crossover day in the middle." But again, it was mainly offered to returning parents as a way to get comfortably back to work.
Tia (now 23, living and working in London) got her first job at a fishmonger aged 16. It was a job share with another young person and allowed her to continue her studies, which she welcomed. She was able to build up some savings while still living at home and it worked for the employer, too. But Tia remembers feeling annoyed at her coworker because they were getting along better with the full-time staff. This touches on the person-centric problems and anxieties that seem an obvious side-effect of sharing your role with another human. "If it was the right person I would feel comfortable letting go of control but then there is a possibility I would be anxious about it too – what if the other person is actually better than me? Or fucking up the job?" she says. "The role I’m in now, I’m not particularly passionate about so I would absolutely welcome a job share so I could go off and do other things for the rest of the week, knowing that my day job was being taken care of."
This is one of the key benefits of a job share as opposed to working part-time, says Graham. "You can fully switch off when you're meant to, trusting that another person has taken the reins, and not worry about the amount piling up in your inbox." He has seen this issue plague many part-time office workers who, he says, often end up working five days a week but getting paid for three.
When you have a great job-share partner, any anxieties around competition or incompetence can vanish, too. "People often think you need to find a clone of yourself to make a successful job share," says Graham. "But actually, if you can find somebody with complementary skill sets – like a really analytical person and a really creative person, they can complement and learn from each other brilliantly."
Successful job shares seem to prove that there are functional, practical alternatives to the traditional nine-to-five, five-days-a-week model that can work for both employee and employer. Any and all ways of disrupting this now outdated system are worth exploring – across ages, industries and workforces – as employers respond to calls for more flexibility. Good job-sharing models can show that employers are receptive to building a job opportunity that works for their people, not just the other way around.