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Stuart Snell
UNSW External Communications
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Proposed new job share arrangements promise to increase employment opportunities, enhance productivity, and be more appealing to a workforce and workplaces requiring greater flexibility to manage non-work responsibilities.

Outlined in the new Reimagining Job Sharing report, produced as part of UNSW’s ‘New Economic Policy Initiative’, the new job share models promise to boost job satisfaction, performance and staff development.

The report, being released ahead of International Women’s Day on 8 March, reveals the limitations of traditional job sharing arrangements.

This week, the new models were presented to NSW Public Service employees, of whom only 3 per cent avail themselves of job sharing, in an event jointly hosted by the Institute of Public Administration Australia and UNSW.

A new model of job sharing: flexibility within flexibility

The three new proposed job sharing models are:

  • Inter-generational sharing – Sharing between employees at different stages of their career, to form a partnership between a senior and mid-career professional. This enables the senior partner to reduce their workload and for the junior partner to develop their skills and experience.
  • Flexible time-based sharing – Allocation of working hours in the job sharing arrangement according to the circumstances of the partnership, not based on a traditional division of working days, with the hours ranging from 20-80 per cent to 50-50 per cent split. This provides both partners with more flexibility than the fixed calendar-based model.
  • Vertical sharing – Division of responsibility for the overall relationship resting with one ‘senior’ job share partner. As opposed to a more traditional ‘horizontal’ model of dividing responsibilities, certain ‘senior’ decision-making is vested in one partner.

Report lead author and UNSW Professor Rosalind Dixon said these different models could also be used separately or in combination with each other. “All these new models for job sharing seek to increase gender equality in the workforce, with a particular focus on senior levels of management,” she said. “They reimagine traditional, horizontal job sharing arrangements where work passes from one person to another based on a traditional division of working days.

“We need this type of job sharing to unlock leadership potential by allowing for a more flexible division of responsibility and working hours between professionals at different stages of their careers, and which can be used alone or in combination with other, traditional modes.”

For example, these models encourage men near the end of their careers or looking to reduce their hours to engage in job sharing not only as a means of promoting their own well-being, but also as a means of fostering knowledge sharing and gender equality within their own organisation and society more broadly. This can help bring more women into senior roles.

These non-traditional job sharing arrangements are proposed as a complementary tool in the ‘flexible work’ toolkit. The report finds non-traditional job sharing can set men and women on the pathway to career advancement without sacrifice to family responsibilities, as well as bridging the gap between the increasingly pronounced problems of underemployment and overemployment.

Flexible work

“The changing nature of the Australian workforce is one factor driving the increase in flexible work arrangements. Women now account for a significant proportion of the workforce, 43.7 per cent, and many more Australians are choosing to remain at work past the age of 65,” Professor Dixon said.

“The need to retain valuable employees, especially those with non-work responsibilities such as caring for families, has compelled employers to introduce workplace arrangements that can accommodate different needs and attract skilled employees, and these models help overcome these challenges.”

Professor Dixon said the growing demand for flexibility and reduced hours also corresponds with evidence of a ‘work hours mismatch’ between the work hour preferences of many employees and the hours they actually work, and the success of job sharing is constrained by the scarcity of eligible participants – or the number of people seeking to work flexibly with similar skills and experience, and compatible schedules or flexibility demands.

At the same time, existing job share models seem to have some limits – both in terms of uptake, and their perceived suitability for senior roles. The aim of UNSW’s proposal is to overcome both these limits by imagining new forms of flexibility within job sharing as a tool of flexible work.

Case studies – tests results

Professor Dixon said: “We are proposing these new models after testing them in the workplace. They are not conventional job sharing arrangements but the results show great promise to meet the changing needs of both employers and workers of the future.”

UNSW trialled each model in two job sharing partnerships and they proved highly beneficial for the four employees concerned, and their supervisors.

As part of the research, UNSW Sydney conducted two trials that involved each of the three new job share models over several months in the latter half of 2019. Both trials were also subject to a formal evaluation, as part of the research for the report and for internal UNSW purposes. This evaluation concluded both trials were a success, offering important benefits for both the university as employer and all participants.

Trial A – combination of time based and vertical models

This involved Deputy Vice-Chancellor (DVC) for Equity Diversity and Inclusion, Professor Eileen Baldry, and UNSW Business School Senior Deputy Dean, Professor Leisa Sargent. Professor Baldry was designated as the senior partner of this job share arrangement and retained 80 per cent of her prior responsibilities.

Trial B – combination of time based, vertical and intergenerational models

This involved each of the models however the intergenerational element was part of this job sharing arrangement. Director of UNSW Knowledge Exchange (KE), Mr Warwick Dawson, directly appointed one of his senior staff, Mr John Arneil. Mr Dawson retained 80 per cent of his prior responsibilities. Mr Dawson continued his previous routine of combining office-based work with a large number of internal and external meetings, but attempted to spend one day out of the office focused exclusively on projects, strategic planning and external meetings.

“The trials at UNSW were very successful, and we have seen some examples of this type of thing pop up informally in some progressive organisations,” Professor Dixon said. “But there are also real advantages to adopting a formal structure for such arrangements.”

Costs implications

Professor Dixon said her modelling for these new job share arrangements were costed at 120 per cent of the equivalent cost of a full-time role, but could be costed at 100 FTE after a trial period if necessary. “This additional cost can be justified by looking to the way that access to flexible working opportunities can reduce the costs of lost productivity and overwork, low retention rates and high turnover,” she said.

“One important response to this is for employers to invest more heavily in advertising job sharing opportunities, and ‘matching’ those interested in this kind of flexible work arrangement. The good news is that a number of commercial and government providers are currently rising to meet this demand by establishing online matching and job hunting services for interested participants.”

Media contact: Stuart Snell via or 0416 650 906. Radio grabs available.