Job sharing is a phenomenon in which a job is performed not by one person but rather by two (or possibly more) people. Like any relationship, a job-sharing relationship flourishes when the individuals who share the job are compatible with each other. However, compatibility means something rather different in a job-sharing relationship compared to, say, a romantic relationship. Of course, two individuals who want to share a job need to be compatible in the sense that they are both interested in the same job and that they are both sufficiently qualified for that job in terms of educational background and prior work experience. But there is a lot more to job-sharing compatibility than this. Based on the research literature on interpersonal compatibility, which we have applied to the context of job sharing, we define compatibility as a function of three components: competency, similarity, and complementarity.
The first component, competency, refers to the extent to which each of the job mates (i.e., the employees who share, or intend to share, a job) individually exhibits dispositional tendencies that facilitate success in work situations that require interaction and coordination with other people (e.g., the other job mate). In brief, individuals who score high on the personality traits of conscientiousness and agreeableness exhibit high competency; individuals who score low on these personality traits exhibit low competency. In particular, our focus here is on how individuals score with regard to several facets of conscientiousness such as orderliness and facets of agreeableness such as affiliation. Unlike similarity and complementarity, which we discuss next, competency is a property of individuals: each individual can be assigned a score on competency. Thus, for two job mates, competency can be calculated as the average (i.e., arithmetic mean) of the two job mates’ competency scores.
The second component, similarity, refers to the extent to which the job mates are dispositionally alike. In particular, our focus here is on the extent to which the two job mates’ scores on several work-related values are similar versus dissimilar. For instance, job mates who agree about the importance of pay (e.g., both job mates think pay is very important or both think it is not at all important) are more similar than job mates who disagree about the importance of pay (e.g., one job mate thinks pay is very important whereas the other thinks it is not at all important). Unlike competency, similarity is inherently a feature not of individuals but rather of pairs of individuals: it is the degree to which the two job mates are dispositionally similar to each other that matters.
The third component, complementarity, refers to the extent to the job mates balance each other dispositionally. In particular, our focus here is on the extent to which each job mate can fulfill the other’s needs. For instance, job mates for whom each individual’s tendency to seek advice aligns with the other individual’s tendency to give advice (e.g., one job mate seeks a lot of advice and the other job mate gives a lot of advice or else one job mate seeks very little advice and the other job mate gives very little advice) are more complementary than job mates for whom the tendencies to seek and give advice are misaligned (e.g., one job mate seeks a lot of advice but the other job mate gives very little advice, or vice versa). Like similarity, but unlike competency, complementarity is inherently a feature not of individuals but rather of pairs of individuals: it is the degree to which the two job mates dispositionally complement each other that matters.
We can then define a “compatibility cube” whose axes consist of competency, similarity, and complementarity. This is a way of quantifying the overall compatibility of a particular pair of current or potential future job mates—and of comparing overall compatibility levels across multiple pairs of job mates. For instance, if one pair of job mates scores high on both competency and similarity but low on complementarity whereas a second pair of job mates scores high on competency but low on both similarity and complementarity, then the first pair of job mates is more compatible overall than the second pair. All else being equal, the first pair of job mates in this example would be more likely than the second pair to succeed at a job-sharing arrangement—and therefore a firm would do well to hire the first pair over the second pair.
But what of cases where compatibility is lower than desired because the pair receives low scores on one or more of the three components? There are two ways to overcome this. The first way is to optimize the pairing process, such that each individual is ultimately paired with other individuals with whom he or she is most compatible. In other words, after an individual takes a compatibility test, an algorithm calculates his or her compatibility with every other individual and then provides the individual with a few recommendations regarding other individuals with whom he or she is most compatible. The second way is to increase the compatibility of a particular pair of individuals. This is accomplished by inviting both individuals to complete a series of activities that build trust and liking, develop a “common mental model,” structure the situation in a manner that compensates for dispositional tendencies, and so forth.
Job sharing is a multifaceted phenomenon. It requires individuals willing to share a job, organizations open to hiring pairs of individuals for each job, and managers cooperative in coordinating work across pairs of individuals occupying each job. All these aspects of job sharing, however, are facilitated when the job mates paired together in a job-sharing arrangement are compatible with each other.
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