Job sharing – 2 for the price of 1?
Flexible working is not something that is common practice in Asia. Job sharing – and at the departmental head level – is a rare occurrence in Hong Kong.
We have known each other for many years and we have been job sharing at Linklaters as co-heads of the Hong Kong Employment & Incentives Practice since April 2016. Testament to the success of the arrangements is the fact that in November 2017 we were jointly awarded the Euromoney Legal Media Group Asia Women in Business Best in Labour and Employment Award 2017 and Linklaters received the Most Innovative Firm Award at the same awards ceremony.
Our reason for wanting to work part time is that we both have young families. However, at the same time, we still wanted to maintain our career in law. (We feel passionately, however, that flexible working should not be perceived as purely a woman (or mother) thing and should be something that all employees should feel comfortable considering.) Our current working arrangement is such that we both work three days a week with our overlapping time being on Monday and Wednesday mornings. During this overlapping time we often discuss handover arrangements, arrange client meetings, seminars and plan marketing initiatives. We ensure that clients are not charged for any overlapping work or handover time.
Globally there is a stronger spotlight on diversity and inclusion in the workplace these days. For example, we are witnessing a push for greater female representation at the executive level, on boards and in board committees. Yet at the same time, law firms in Asia in particular, seem to be slow at allowing lawyers to work flexibly. Linklaters is setting the trend amongst law firms in Hong Kong – in fact, we are not aware of any other senior job shares in the Hong Kong legal community. We are often approached by our peers and asked how we managed to convince Linklaters to agree to the arrangement. For us, we have never come across anyone at Linklaters who was opposed to our job share or who hasn’t supported our working arrangement. And the big question – What about clients? One client - the APAC Employment Counsel at one of the leading global tech companies- recently commented after hearing about our recent award win:
“That's awesome news. I agree that it's a well-deserved recognition - sometimes I don't even know who I'm talking to when I work with you both because it's so seamless!!”
Having had experience working in a job share arrangement, we set out some reasons why employers should be stopping to at least think about job sharing as a viable option.
Some of the key benefits we see are:
- Two heads are better than one: In a job share arrangement, having two employees can increase collaboration/innovation by adding two different perspectives on a matter. Having two employees also means potentially reaching a wider client base as both are involved in marketing initiatives. Linked to this, employees can divide tasks amongst themselves depending on their specific skill set.
- Retaining talent: Valued, loyal employees who may have otherwise resigned, are retained.
- Increased coverage: Work will still be progressed when one employee is on holiday or on another type of leave. (In a purely part-time arrangement (with no job share) there is often no one in the office to effectively progress matters when the employee is absent.)
- Sets the company apart from competitors: In our experience, we have received very positive feedback from clients and generally in the market on our job share arrangement.
Our main tips for employers for establishing a successful job sharing arrangement are:
- Keep an open mind: Have an open mind as to which jobs could possibly be done using a job share arrangement. Some jobs may be difficult to share but employers should not immediately dismiss the idea without giving it some thought. Just because a job is a management position, does not necessarily mean it can’t be shared.
- Employee input: Allow employees a say in who they will job share with and allow them to prepare a first draft of the job-sharing proposal. The job share will run much more smoothly if the employees are able to come to their own arrangement on how best to work effectively together.
- Proper handovers: Insist that job sharers provide a proper handover to each other and ensure people within the organisation are aware of the job-sharing arrangement.
Our main tips for employees who are embarking on a job-sharing arrangement are:
- Make sure there are regular communication channels: Since job sharers are covering for each other, it is critical that they have a regular and effective communication channel between them.
- Be flexible yourself: It is important that each job sharer can be contacted by the other in case of questions (even on non-working days). In a client facing role, e-mails still need to be checked when you are not in the office to make sure nothing falls through the cracks. Additionally, sometimes it doesn’t always make sense to handover a specific discrete matter if one person has been working on it. In any flexible work arrangement, flexibility works both ways.