By Susan Lovegren, Senior Vice President, Human Resources, Juniper Networks
Flexible work options. Choices about where, when and how to work are recurring themes in many of the “future of work” studies. While it’s been many years since I had a job share, I remember how flexibility was key to my ability to stay in the workforce and keep my sanity.
This resurfaced for me recently at Juniper Networks when we announced new maternity and paternity benefits and amplified our policies related to flexible work options, including job sharing.
Not all jobs lend themselves to job sharing, but when they do, the odds of maintaining challenging assignments are often better for a job share team who can maintain the continuity of the role than for a full-time or part-time employee. Since I have some firsthand experience, specifically with job sharing, I thought it would be helpful to provide some insights, should you consider this path.
Find the right partner. Sharing work is a very intimate experience and the compatibility of you and your partner is essential. Fundamentally, your values and goals need to be aligned. Your commitment level to the success of the job share is paramount, as you will be under a higher level of scrutiny—especially during the early days of the arrangement. Consider selecting a partner that you have some history with—or at least a solid understanding of skills and attributes that would be complementary to yours. It’s not a bad idea to participate in a Myers Briggs assessment; what you learn about each other’s personality preferences may be helpful down the road to discuss conflicts that may arise.
Remove the fear and anxiety. Your management team will inevitably have some trepidation once you approach them with a job share proposal. While leadership has proven to become more progressive, it is still a new muscle for most managers to manage two individuals doing one job. Providing a potential problem analysis and risk mitigation plan is a thoughtful way of removing barriers and illustrating your commitment to making the arrangement successful. This should include a wide variety of scenarios that are critical to the role, as well as an exit clause for both the employees and the employer should the arrangement fail.
Leave your ego at the door. Are you truly comfortable being accountable not only for your own results at work, but your job share partner’s, too? Can you handle not being in the office on a day when something really great happens and you don’t get the credit, even though you did half of the work leading up to the deliverable? What if your partner made a different decision than you would have? You have to be content with the team output and the collective results versus just your own. This is a much more significant mindset shift than most people recognize, especially in light of traditional merit-based rewards systems that value the individual’s contribution over the team’s. Lastly, people will call you your job share partner’s name by mistake at least once or twice while they are getting used to the dynamic.
Strengthen communication and interpersonal conflict skills. A great job share experience is contingent upon effective communication. Consider the amount of energy, planning and organizing it will take to keep your partner updated on the day’s events. For handoffs to be smooth, communication has to be precise. You have to be able to articulate situations, decisions, moods and the nuances that take place to transfer knowledge and stay aligned. In the beginning, this will take considerably more time and effort, but as the partnership develops, it will become second nature. There are a variety of methodologies, including technology tools that will help the team manage a repository of items so that each person is always up to date. Managing conflict before it gets out of control is essential. Being able to read the signals of your partner and understand his or her interpersonal and work patterns will allow you to balance and complement each other’s work.
Don’t downplay your contribution and value. A flexible work arrangement should not diminish the contributions you are making to the role—or your value to the company. Your role in the company is still equally important, but is now being completed by two people. Job sharing does not mean you are any less serious about your career or aspirations. It’s simply an administrative way in which work gets done.