Just a few years ago, the notion of an executive or business leader working part-time would have been unimaginable. The concept is gaining increasing appeal in Switzerland.
More than a third (37%) of the 4.5 million employed individuals work part-time in Switzerland, marking a 7.2% increase over the past decade. In this context, the phenomenon of "job sharing," involving the shared responsibilities of a position between two part-time individuals, typically with a single job description, has significantly gained traction in recent years. According to the Swiss Federal Statistical Office (OFS), this practice now involves 9.6% of part-time employees and 3.6% of the overall workforce. The trend is also appealing to an increasing number of managers and executives, who are increasingly inclined to request "top sharing." What are the advantages and limitations of this practice? We have insights from Irenka Krone-Germann, a Ph.D. in economics and an expert in job and top sharing.
What is the definition of job and top sharing?
Irenka Krone-Germann: Job sharing involves entrusting the equivalent of a full-time position to two or more individuals with interdependent tasks and shared responsibilities. Top sharing specifically refers to high-responsibility positions, often involving management tasks. In practice, there are "pure" job sharing duos where all tasks are interchangeable, and hybrid job sharing tandems where specific tasks are allocated between partners based on their skills.
For employees, what are the advantages of this new way of working?
Krone-Germann: The main advantage of job sharing lies in its ability to meet evolving career expectations. For young professionals, it offers an interesting way to integrate into the workforce through intergenerational exchange, working alongside a more experienced senior colleague. For parents or those with caregiving responsibilities, it allows them to balance their professional activity with various family constraints. Young retirees looking to remain active may see it as a means to pass on their experience while reducing their work pace.
Can top sharing contribute to a more equitable distribution of leadership opportunities?
Krone-Germann: Yes, especially for women. Part-time work remains highly gendered in Switzerland, where it is three times more common among women (57.9%) than men (18.7%). Top sharing allows access to leadership positions while remaining part-time. Women often achieve higher levels of education than men in many sectors, such as law or healthcare, but this is not reflected in leadership roles. Societal reasons, such as reducing working hours when having a child, contribute to this disparity. Top sharing addresses this systematic issue by enabling women to access leadership positions even while working at 70% or 80%. For example, at the Centre Hospitalier Universitaire Vaudois (CHUV), women hold chief clinician positions in top sharing while working part-time.
What is the benefit of top sharing for an employer?
Krone-Germann: First and foremost, it becomes imperative to meet the expectations of a new generation of professionals who no longer see the need to choose between a successful career and a fulfilling personal life. Additionally, productivity tends to decline after a certain number of weekly working hours. Therefore, two individuals sharing the same role will be more productive and efficient, as the exchange and juxtaposition of skills lead to more informed decisions.
In competitive sectors like IT or healthcare, it's also a way to attract the best talents by presenting an appealing image in the job market and retaining them by providing access to stimulating positions. Retaining existing talents is much more cost-effective than having to recruit new ones. Companies that lack a minimum level of flexibility can expect real recruitment challenges.
What are the challenges associated with implementing a job sharing arrangement?
Krone-Germann: Contrary to common belief, organizing the sharing of a position is not particularly complicated. In most cases, it involves offering part-time contracts with an amendment specifying the working arrangements for the duo. However, the involvement of HR and top management is also crucial to support this model, even setting an example at the highest level. Top sharing is already a reality in some SMEs.
What advice would you give to a company looking to embark on this path?
Krone-Germann: Given that job sharing currently only involves 4% of the workforce in Switzerland and is still relatively unknown, I believe it is crucial to seek guidance from experts, such as the association PTO (Part Time Optimisation) that I co-founded, which operates with the support of the Confederation.