CHICAGO -- When Suzanne Smith and Barney Olmsted of San Francisco founded New Ways to Work in 1972, a group of New England teachers and social workers were "job sharing" as part of an experimental project.
But the idea of two people, each a part timer, voluntarily sharing the responsibility, salary and benefits of one full-time position hadn't caught on nationwide.
"We started our organization to be a full-service vocational resource center with an emphasis on the quality of life, so when we heard about job sharing, we grabbed hold of it," said Smith, who job shares as co-director with Olmsted.
The non-profit agency has a staff of 10 and an annual budget of $550,000. It consults with businesses, unions and state agencies and does training and surveys on non-traditional work hours.
"In the past two decades, job sharing has been slowly increasing, and one reason for that is it really doesn't cost companies more money to implement," said Smith, who co-authored with Olmsted "The Job Sharing Handbook" (Ten Speed Press, $7.95). "Job sharing also makes sense if you have a job with hours that can be split down the middle -- although it doesn't have to work that way -- and if you have two qualified people who are able to work well together. It allows people, in particular women, not to have to choose between their work and home."
Smith's two children and Olmsted's three -- the reasons the women decided to share their job -- are now grown, but the co-directors still work 2 1/2 days each, with the half-
day hours overlapping.
In 1989, New Ways to Work did a study with the Conference Board, a New York business think tank, of 521 large corporations. In it, job sharing was reported by 22 percent of the firms. A study done this year by Hewitt Associates found 28 percent of 412 firms asked have job sharing; 32 percent more say they would consider the arrangement.
"The percentage of job sharing and those interested in it was a little bigger than we expected," said Linda Foster, family resource specialist at Hewitt, an employee benefits consulting firm based in Lincolnshire, Ill. "A lot of companies have job sharing on an informal basis and may only have two people doing it."
The Hewitt study also shows that 17 percent of manufacturers and 33 percent of non-manufacturers have job sharing. Broken down by industry, job sharing is offered by 62 percent of the health-care firms responding; 30 percent in banking and finance; and 25 percent in insurance.
The critical question is what happens to benefits. "Most job sharers come under the firm's part-time arrangements for employees who work 20 to 29 hours," said Foster. Sixty-one percent of those who have part-timers in that range offer medical benefits; 49 percent life insurance; 56 percent sick leave and disability; 75 percent paid holidays; and 76 percent paid vacations.
"Firms offer coverage to job sharers because they want to keep valued employees, even if it doubles their expenses in benefits," said Foster. "Usually, part-timers pay a greater portion of the cost than full-timers." She added that the recession might decrease job sharing, but "smart employers will accommodate employees they don't want to lose."
Job sharing reaches all the way to the top at the First Chicago Highland Park bank, where Carol Clark Coolidge and Cathy Pratt share the job of president. Coolidge, who has one child, and Pratt, who has three, have been job sharing at First Chicago in the Loop since 1983. Together, they've advanced through the ranks, and when First Chicago bought Horizon Federal Savings and Loan in Highland Park in March, the women applied to be president. They assumed the post that month.
"I feel strongly about being a mother and wanted to take advantage of doing things for my child," said Coolidge, who started at the bank in 1972 as an assistant vice president. "Not only were Cathy and I the first to job share, we also were the first part-time officers. The most important thing in job sharing is to be comfortable working with another person and able to share the glory -- and anything that's wrong."
The two, who share salary and benefits, work three days a week each -- the bank is open six days -- and do not overlap. "Job sharing allows me to have the best of both worlds," said Pratt, who started in 1979 as a loan officer. "What makes it work is having two people with compatible work patterns, similar goals and a driving desire to make the situation work. It allows me to continue my career, perhaps at a slower pace but with my finger on the pulse."
And there are other rewards to job-sharing: Pratt's school-age children proudly announced her new post at show and tell.