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Job-sharing in the HR Department

July 1, 1993
Related Topics: HR Services and Administration, Work/Life Balance, Featured Article
Pierie O'Connor and Kim Murphy share a desk and a chair. They also have the same boss and the same job. Why? O'Connor and Murphy share the position of executive assistant to the VP of HR, Robert Lambert, at Cambridge, Massachusetts-based The Stride Rite Corp. Job-sharing is one way that the company is helping working parents balance work and family. The opportunity to implement job-sharing first arose a little more than a year ago, when Murphy was pregnant with her second child. She had been working as the assistant to the president of Stride Rite's Sperry Top-Sider™ division and knew she didn't want to work full time after the baby was born. "I was honest and told them that I would like to come back part time," she says.

Meanwhile, over in HR, O'Connor (who was Lambert's assistant) was pregnant with her daughter, Jamie. Like Murphy, O'Connor knew that she didn't want to return to work full time after completing her family leave.

Lambert asked Murphy and O'Connor whether they'd consider sharing a job. "At the time, I was starting to think a lot about how we could increase productivity in the company by introducing a more flexible work environment," says Lambert.

Stride Rite hired a full-time assistant for the president of Sperry Top-Sider™ before Murphy left. Lambert filled O'Connor's position with temporary workers while she was out.

When Murphy and O'Connor re-turned, all three met to agree on a job-share schedule and terms. "I said to them very simply, 'This arrangement needs to appear seamless to the outside world,'" says Lambert. "They had the responsibility to develop a seamless kind of communication."

O'Connor and Murphy now work 2-1/2 days a week each. Currently, they're the only workers at Stride Rite who job-share. Says O'Connor, "It was something [Stride Rite] had wanted to do, and it was something we wanted to do, so we worked it out."

Lambert says that the job-share works because both employees were highly motivated to make it work. "They knew that the company was helping them realize the type of life-styles and work styles they wanted. That really motivated them."

Because both want a successful job-share, they say they go the extra mile. They speak often by phone during the day to make sure that the one at work gets all her questions answered. "We're overkill on this because we want it to work," says Murphy.

O'Connor concurs. "We're very accommodating," she says. Checking in isn't required. "I don't do it as a favor to Kim, I do it as a favor to Stride Rite. We do it because we're professionals," she says.

What does the company get in return for being flexible? Loyal, dedicated and hardworking employees, according to Lambert.

O'Connor agrees. "Stride Rite gets an extra value because Kim has some qualities that I don't have, and I have some that she doesn't have," she says.

"I'm very much a people person; Pierie's more detail-oriented. It wouldn't work if our strengths and weaknesses were the same," Murphy says. "We complement each other."

What do the workers get out of job-sharing? They have a part-time job with benefits. They receive prorated, paid time off and health coverage, although they must pay twice as much because they're working half the regular schedule. Lambert indicates that the cost, however, is less than COBRA coverage and far less than what they'd pay if they sought outside coverage.

They also have the opportunity to spend more time with their families. "I have the best of both worlds," Murphy says. "It's perfect. Stride Rite is really trying to meet the needs of working mothers."

O'Connor agrees. "Coming in part time, I get that adult-world feedback and self-esteem from the work environment, so I don't think that I'm going goo-goo, ga-ga all day."

Sharing the same job has gone well from the start for Murphy and O'Connor, but there are two ingredients that Murphy suggests job-sharers need to have. "You need to be friends," she says. "That didn't happen overnight. As time went on we learned to trust each other. You need trust in any relationship, including job-sharing."

Personnel Journal, July 1993, Vol. 72, No.7, p. 54.

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