By Katherine Reynolds Lewis
c.2005 Newhouse News Service
Photo by Jane Therese
Mary Kay Ross and Sharon Snyder share a lot.
Together they fill a single full-time position of human resource manager at AT&T Corp. in Bedminster, N.J. They share a phone number, e-mail address, cubicle -- even a resume.
Each works about 25 hours over three days every week, overlapping in the office on Wednesdays. They've kept that schedule for a decade, through four different jobs and a joint promotion.
"We're able to hold challenging jobs together that as individual part-timers we might not be able to secure," Ross said. "I just feel very, very fortunate that we've had this opportunity for so long."
People who job-share say the arrangement lets them care for their children, attend school activities, volunteer in the community or ease into retirement while continuing to enjoy career success and earn a paycheck.
Yet only 19 percent of companies surveyed this year by the Society for Human Resource Management allow job sharing.
When business people started talking about work-life balance two decades ago, they envisioned job sharing as one of a range of new and exciting choices for workers, including flex-time, compressed workweeks and telecommuting. Job sharing has turned out to be the least utilized flexible option.
"Job sharing is the most foreign from the manager's perspective," said Pat Katepoo, founder of WorkOptions.com in Honolulu. "It's the laggard of the flexible work options. It's a tougher one to pitch and manage, but the benefits are really, really worth it and it should not be ignored."
Indeed, companies are taking a fresh look at job sharing as a way to retain valuable employees, boost productivity and prevent burnout in high-stress, demanding jobs.
People who have job-shared for many years can't imagine working any other way. Two minds focused on one job, with two sets of experiences, find creative solutions to business problems more efficiently than one, they say.
"We always say that we don't know what would happen if we had to go out on our own, since we share a brain," said Sharon Cercone, who has job-shared with Linda Gladziszewski for 15 years at three different companies. They currently fill a vice president position at PNC Financial Services Group in Pittsburgh.
"We bring a lot more energy to the job because we're off half the time," Cercone said. "When you come in after being off, you're ready to dive into it."
Karen Muyskens and her husband Mark split the job of chemistry professor 17 years ago, when they joined Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Mich. Their grant proposals are stronger because one wrote and the other edited, she said.
"We each have different strengths and weaknesses in the lab," Muyskens added. "Mark has always been very strong in terms of computer programming, and he's also very good at troubleshooting instrumentation when it's not working properly. One of the areas that I'm strong in is thinking about the theoretical side of the research."
In fact, a successful job share is much like a marriage, advocates said. The pair must communicate efficiently and often, so compatibility is vital.
"The most important piece of job sharing is to find the right partner," said AT&T's Ross. "You really need to find someone who has very similar work ethics and career goals. We have longevity because we have similar personal and career priorities."
Professionals with demanding schedules find that a job share lets them continue up the career ladder while actually working part-time hours. Without a job share, a challenging position compensated as part time often creeps to full-time hours.
"I personally know people who tried to take part-time work in a law firm setting and I'm not aware of any case in which it works," said Jeanne Runne of Haddonfield, N.J., who shares a deputy general counsel job in Fannie Mae's Philadelphia office. "The discipline of a job share is the best way to control it from turning into a second-class full-time job."
Employers also sing praises.
"I find that I get more out of two employees job sharing than a 40-hour workweek," said Keith Wernli, marketing manager at Allstate Insurance Co. in Northbrook, Ill. The team Wernli supervises splits the week exactly in half.
"The last day of the week they're here, they're sometimes here longer to make sure all their t's are crossed and their i's are dotted," he said.
At AstraZeneca Pharmaceuticals, a pilot program for field sales representatives is enormously popular, with managers rating job-share teams among the most productive employees, said Andrea Moselle, the company's senior manager of Work/Life in Wilmington, Del.
Calvin College, despite being small, boasts faculty with a wide variety of specialties thanks to the half-dozen married couples sharing tenure-track professorships, said Provost Joel Carpenter.
For instance, a job share filled a vacant history spot with both a medievalist and a specialist in early modern Spain.
"It adds another talented mind and committed heart," Carpenter said. "It's good for the students to see more people."
Job sharing also lends flexibility. If a department needs to add a course or two, Calvin administrators first approach the job-share professors to see if either wants to pick up a little more work (and salary) that semester.
Vacations have less impact on productivity in a job share, since one partner is in the office half the week that the other is at the beach.
"There's never a week or two weeks in a row when nobody's here," said Dana Meade, who shares her vice president job at the online survey company Zoomerang in Mill Valley, Calif. "You get better coverage, quite frankly."
If job sharing is so great, why doesn't everyone do it?
Money, for one. Job sharers make less because each works fewer hours, and health care and retirement benefits are usually proportionately less valuable.
"If we were in a society where professionals felt they could live the kind of life they want on one salary, this would be a great solution for a lot of families," said Gary Kornblith, who shares a history professorship at Ohio's Oberlin College with his wife, Carol Lasser.
Sometimes people in a joint position regret the loss of individual identity.
From the time that Laurie Hovell McMillin and Anne Trubek took a shared professorship at Oberlin, they were compared to each other.
"I didn't like it," McMillin said. "It was important for us to differentiate from each other."
And if your circumstances change, you might have trouble resuming a full-time position.
Trubek was divorced shortly after starting the job share, and found it financially impossible to support herself and her son without taking extra outside work.
"There have been times when it's been quite stressful and I've had moments of real regret and frustration," she said. "As the years go on, I realize how it allowed me to be more creative and inventive in my career."
This article was originally published on Friday, Nov. 18, 2005.
(Katherine Reynolds Lewis can be contacted at katherine.lewis(a)newhouse.com.)