Most IT companies frown on job sharing

ITworld.com –

In the '50s and early '60s, men worked full time, women stayed home, and part-time jobs were for students. For better or for worse, the Leave It to Beaver family is a thing of the past. Dual-income families have become less of an exception and, in high-priced areas such as Silicon Valley, an absolute necessity.

However, in a growing number of cases, families are finding that two full-time jobs take too much out of their personal lives, but only one doesn't provide enough income. The obvious solution: one and a half jobs. But in an overheated economy and era of pressure-cooker startup positions, finding half a high-tech job is next to impossible

More companies outside of high tech have been open to alternative work arrangements than those inside. High-tech companies may tout the many amenities they provide their employees -- gourmet cafeterias, workout rooms, and childcare centers -- but they skirt the job-sharing issue.

What really makes employees happy? According to a recent Lucent NetworkCare survey, on a scale of one to four (with four being the most important), the opportunity to learn new skills weighed in at 3.8. Monetary recognition scored a 3.4, just barely above availability of flextime and a balanced workweek, both at 3.3.

In most high-tech startups, where employees tend to devote their lives to the company, job sharing is nonexistent. More established high-tech companies may be a little more flexible. Though networking giant Cisco Systems doesn't offer job-sharing benefits, they're not completely unheard of at Sun Microsystems. Out of 2,961 jobs posted on Sun's Website, only one was a job-sharing position.

A full morning of calls to Silicon Valley firms and headhunters yielded disappointing results. Responses ranged from "Job sharing -- what's that?" to "No, we don't do job sharing." Dice.com, one of the largest high-tech job boards with 241,000 jobs posted, delivered 12 hits from three companies when I entered "job share" in my search parameters. And most of those 12 hits came from Weyerhaeuser, a forest products company.

One of the most family-friendly high-tech employers is Lucent Technologies. Spokesperson Bill Price says that 31 percent of the company's employees have some sort of job flexibility, "ranging from someone with a laptop and phone line for occasional working at home to full job- sharing or telecommuting arrangements." He says job sharing and flexibility in general are very important aspects of Lucent's policy. Though a certain amount of flexibility is necessary in a tight labor market, Price says that "a lot of the technology that makes this possible is technology that we ourselves provide."

Xerox is another company that offers a flexible environment. Though it doesn't have a formal job-sharing policy, the concept is practiced throughout the organization. Spokesperson Christa Carone says job sharing is "one of the many Xerox benefits designed to help workers balance the demands of work and family."

The shortage of skilled high-tech workers is well documented. Though high-tech companies have gone out of their way to offer more money and perquisites, flex time has been conspicuously absent. That has excluded thousands of skilled workers who could fill positions, though only part time. As the shortage continues to grow more acute, high-tech companies will have no other choice but to allow part-timers and job sharers into the workforce.

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