Magazine

Two For The Cubicle


They share a title and a salary, a desk, a phone, and an e-mail account. Their r?sum?s are nearly identical: For the past 15 years, Sharon Cercone, 48, and Linda Gladziszewski, 45, have been partners in seven human resources jobs at three different companies. They are now compensation consultants at PNC Financial Services Group Inc. (PNC) in Pittsburgh, where one executive describes them in a way that might unnerve even the most collaborative among us: "I think of them as a single individual," says Valentine Przezdecki.

Successfully sharing a job is more demanding than pretty much any other flexible work arrangement. Partners have to trust each other with their careers. They receive the same recognition, and if one falters, both take the blame. They have to communicate the details of their days precisely and without fail. Theirs is an intricate pas de deux, requiring a certain familiarity and ease, and like most things in life, it can't be forced. "All of the stars have to be aligned. You have to be able to complete each other's sentences and have a manager who doesn't mind adding another level of complexity," says Kathleen C. D'Appolonia, a senior vice-president at PNC. "When it doesn't work, it is very disruptive, and it can not work for all kinds of reasons. It's sort of like marriage." She says that nearly half of PNC's 25,000 employees have some kind of flexible arrangement; a total of 12 share jobs.

The decision to share a job is usually the result of a cool appraisal of the workplace: that the arrangement confers more status than a part-time job does. "If the position is full-time, it's less likely that the contribution will be marginalized," says Pat Katepoo, the founder of WorkOptions.com.

No one has an estimate of how many workers share jobs nowadays. But as companies try to retain talented women (and men) with young families as well as those baby boomers who want more time to themselves, the number that offer job shares is rising. The 2005 National Study of Employers by the Families and Work Institute found that 44% of businesses allow some employees to share jobs; in 1998, 38% did.

CEMENTING THE BOND

Sharon and Linda happened upon the idea at a time of transition in their home and work lives. In the late 1980s, Mellon Financial Corp., where they were full-time compensation consultants, was in turmoil. The bank had cut 20% of its workforce and was looking for ways to encourage its most talented employees to stay. After the birth of her first child, Sharon proposed sharing her job and was matched with another woman. When her partner left Mellon to teach, Sharon asked Linda, who had just returned from maternity leave and wanted more time with her son, to apply for the job. In October, 1991, they began to work together.

The practice of constant communication and intense organization that they developed then remains intact today, though made vastly easier by mobile phones and e-mail. Sharon works Mondays and Tuesdays, Linda Thursdays and Fridays; they alternate Wednesdays. They talk or exchange text messages several times a day, and more often on Wednesdays. They check in at night. They keep project notes and a phone log, and even describe the body language of those with whom they meet. "We overcompensate so people understand that we don't let anything fall through the cracks," says Sharon. "We make references to our notes when talking to others." The back-and-forth can add up to three hours to their workweeks, but, says Linda, "We know the arrangement could end at any time, so whatever we can do, we do." They even schedule face time; colleagues tease them about planning lunches weeks ahead.

In the early days of their job share, co-workers weren't always supportive. "People would try to drive a wedge between us," says Sharon. They'd say, 'Yesterday, Linda told me this.' And I would know she hadn't. Or people would say, 'Wow, you're so lucky.' And I would say, 'You do realize we only get half pay."'

JOINED AT THE HIP

The pair moved from compensation to recruiting at Mellon in 1995, a job that proved far more demanding on their time than they'd expected, with a boss who was less comfortable with the arrangement than they'd hoped. "We were told that if we wanted to be on the A-team, we needed to work full-time," says Sharon. "So we decided to look elsewhere."

It didn't take them long to find another compensation consultant job to share. The financial-services industry in Pittsburgh is relatively small: Sandy Short, a colleague at Mellon who'd helped set up Sharon and Linda's job share, had moved to PNC and was hiring. But even Short needed some convincing. PNC was in the midst of a reorganization, and she wondered about having to manage two people instead of one. Sharon and Linda assured her that they would manage each other. In 2002, after five years on the job, they moved to another that was created for them but soon eliminated in a restructuring.

Following a two-year turn at Crown Castle International Corp., which leases cell tower space, they were rehired at PNC by Renee Rossi, a senior human resources manager who initially was unsure that two people could share the position. Sharon and Linda's work as compensation consultants didn't require daily interaction with colleagues outside their department. The role of a human resources generalist would be different, and the finance managers who Sharon and Linda would be advising worried that the job share would complicate their lives. As Rossi says: "They had to be reassured that if they had a conversation about an employee issue with Sharon on Tuesday that they wouldn't have to start over with Linda on Wednesday." After extensive interviews and reference checks, Rossi could tell the managers they wouldn't.

By then, Sharon and Linda were expert at one of the most important things anyone can do for their career: managing a boss's expectations. As Rossi recalls: "Sharon warned me, 'Remember that you didn't hire two people who are on call all the time.' And I did find myself excited that I had two people. I had to remind myself that they were really one person." Rossi also had to resist the tendency to divide assignments based on each one's strengths. Sharon is very organized, Linda less so. Sharon is a confident public speaker who likes leading group training sessions; Linda prefers one-on-one interactions.

A year and a half ago, Linda and Sharon's position was eliminated. They returned to dealing with compensation at PNC, their seventh job together. As is often the case with them, the move was lateral. As Linda says: "Would we be in the same place if we both worked full-time? No." But over the years they have rejected offers of full-time jobs. "There may be certain situations we don't like, but we're willing to do pretty much anything because we treasure working with each other," says Sharon.

This spring, Sharon began working at home on her days off on an independent project for PNC. Her department is short-staffed, and she is ready to work more now that her kids are older. But she's uneasy about the new situation. "I'm not used to it, and I don't really like it," she says. "Linda and I are not as connected."

By Susan Berfield


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