The Age (Online)

Work flexibility may be mandatory under the new employment laws, but part-time work and job sharing has become a boon for smaller businesses seeking and retaining talent.

A survey by Grant Thornton International Business Report reveals 78 per cent of Australian businesses with between 20 and 299 employees are seeking to increase staff salaries (with a quarter intending more than an inflation adjustment), compared to the global average of 51 per cent.

Tony Markwell, national head of the company’s privately held business division, said the ability of SMEs to hold onto staff through last year’s economic crisis via part-time work and redeployment had held them in good stead.

HR adviser Jenni Pavlou observes that job sharing has become increasingly popular in administration positions.

When she suggested the restructure of a receptionist job for an IT business, the advertisement drew 200 candidates in 24 hours, compared with 80 applicants for the full-time position in the same period.

Ms Pavlou said the real challenge for employers considering job sharing in the workplace is to recruit workers carefully in terms of compatibility and longevity.

“There’s the likelihood of a bigger on-cost with two employees instead of one,” she said.

“You’ve got more superannuation costs, but in the long run, less churn and more cover so you may not have to use temps for holidays. That could even the extra cost out.”

Student Kelly Chandler job shares with Lee Anne Wolterman – who wanted to spend more time on her horses and equestrian interests – at law firm Maddocks in Melbourne.

“I’d recommend job sharing; I actually like it,” Ms Chandler said of her two-day-a-week job. “You have to be organised. We’ve learned to work together.”

Job sharing has become so popular that the firm’s environment and planning division now has three pairs of administrative assistants.

Juliet Bourke, founder of Aequus Partners – advisers on flexible work practices – has an office of nine people and desks for only four, given that most staff are part-time workers or telecommuters.

Speaking at an executive women’s seminar recently, Ms Bourke said job design needed to be ‘jiggled up’ to accommodate flexibility.

“In senior jobs, schedule creep is a problem. Job share is often under-utilised. Every job can be done with flexibility.”
In the top ranks, Cassandra Kelly and Nigel Lake job share in their role of CEO at boutique investment bank Pottinger, which has a staff of 18.

Coaching helped the pair to refine their listening skills, and respect each other’s point of view and differences.
“Not everything is a joint decision; it would be inefficient to know every move,” Ms Kelly said.

“But we entirely believe that we are stronger together than if we operated as individuals.”

It helps that the two bosses are also married, and good communicators.

Ms Kelly says she’s sometimes more involved in the people, performance and culture matters, while Nigel Lake focuses on his projects.

“We don’t job share; we job split. We actually work five days each, and we have different client relationships. But we do like pitching together.”

There have been a number of joint CEOs in financial service firms, as well as several senior job shares, such as two female property fund managers at the GPT Group.

Administration is generally easier when it comes to job shares, adds Jenni Pavlou.

“It’s task-based, and hours-based. But if you’re a customer-facing professional services person, it becomes time-consuming to hand work over each time. It may be simpler to have fewer clients and then work on those yourself.”

The public service has had a long history of flexible work practices since the advent of maternity leave in the 1960s, so should form a good model, but challenges remain, says Dr Sarah Squire, who heads up policy for the NSW Office for Women’s Policy.

She said job sharing is best achieved by breaking down jobs into tasks, and focusing on outcomes rather than face time.
A self-confessed ‘‘file Nazi’’, Dr Squire says good systems are essential when there are multiple team members, who are working together in a part-time way, as is a sense of team spirit.

A lot of it still comes back to recruiting good staff.

“People will often be harder to select (for flexible arrangements) but the key thing is hiring well,” Ms Pavlou explained.
“The statistics show you (the employer) have a 50 per cent chance of getting it right.

“This is where you need compatibility of workers. They must have similar motivation, and drive.

“Most important is their willingness to share information, and to be secure about themselves; otherwise, that’s a problem!”