Roswitha Obermann and her colleague Elina Zobel have been sharing the team leader position on the global human resources team of Daimler Financial Services in Stuttgart since 2014. Both women are mothers who work part-time for 25 to 30 hours per week.
Mrs. Obermann, how did you get to share a team leader job?
I was immediately thrilled when I saw the job opening. Although it was advertised as a full-time position, I nevertheless applied for part-time work. Elina Zobel independently applied for the same position as a part-time job. Our boss at the time thought that we would be the right people for the position, she asked us to share the job. However, job sharing at human resources is not as rare as some people might think. Shortly before Elina and I began to work in tandem, the neighboring team filled an equivalent position with two part-time managers.
"We jointly make decisions about personnel and team-wide issues."
How can you split the management of a team?
I think that job sharing works especially well if you can split the work by topic, as is the case with us. Elina has her topics and I have mine – we also organized our team under Elina's and my leadership according to these topics and reflected it in the team's structure. We always have an overview of each other’s topics and know the deadlines and what is important at any particular time, but we don’t need to know all the details.
Job sharing becomes more difficult when two colleagues serve the same customer and continuously have to coordinate operational processes. Project work can also be difficult, because you have to deal with unexpected peak times when you have to handle high workloads and are largely responding to external factors. However, job sharing is very good for anything that can be relatively well-planned in advance.
How do you make decisions?
We jointly make decisions about personnel and team-wide issues. Decisions regarding our topics are generally made by the person who is responsible for the topic in question. When making critical or extremely important decisions, Elina and I often serve each other as sparring partners. In fact, I do this much more frequently with Elina than with any other colleague. We also substitute for each other and make decisions independently in such situations. At the end of the day, we have to live with these decisions, of course, even if we would have perhaps done things differently.
Did people initially look at you with a critical eye?
Although I never felt as though people were critical of me, I noticed that I attracted more attention and that people were very curious about what I was doing and maybe had some doubts about it too. They weren’t sure whether it would work out or not. They also asked themselves whether job sharing might be suitable for them some day. Young people, in particular, take a close look at job sharing. That’s why we had to make all the tasks and topics fully transparent from the start. For example, whom should the employees talk to when one of the team leaders is on vacation? And should they contact the team leader who is present if a decision desperately has to be made in the area of responsibility of the manager who is currently unreachable? In addition to answering such questions, we had to let people know whether the decisions made by the substitute were still valid after the responsible team leader returned and who needed to be involved in processes and to what extent. We had to determine how to put job sharing into practice not only with regard to each other, but also with respect to our supervisor. We had to know how regular communication activities should be carried out and what our supervisor’s expectations would be when we substitute for each other. It makes an incredibly good impression if everything runs smoothly.
How does the company benefit if people share a team leader position?
The company gets two highly motivated team leaders, who can fully substitute for each other and also contribute to a very open and cooperative work culture. A management duo also enables the company to obtain a much broader range of skills than a single person usually has. If the budget is available, work capacity might actually increase, because each job sharer can work up to 30 hours per week. Last, but not least, we become even more appealing as an employer if we can also make exciting management tasks and professional development possible during stages in life when people want to have more time for their families.
Why do you think job sharing is still so rare?
Most of the people who work part-time are mothers or, sometimes, fathers. Certainly there will be some who don’t want a part-time leadership position, because they aren’t aware that such job sharing is possible or because they want to focus on their families first. However, many managers don’t seem to be open to new work models yet. This is perhaps because there are so few positive examples. That’s why I don’t just want job sharing to work for me, my topics, and the people around me — I also want to show others that it works. I see it as a great opportunity, a fantastic gift that enables me to keep on developing in both worlds — in my job and in my family.
What is job sharing?
In job sharing, two part-time employees share a single position. At Daimler, each person sharing a job can work up to 30 hours per week. Together, the two employees can therefore work up to 60 hours. Such a solution opens up many opportunities for employees and Daimler alike. Job sharing gives part-time employees better opportunities to develop professionally even in periods when they want to have more time for their private lives. The company, on the other hand, benefits from a broader range of skills than it would get from a single full-time employee. Job sharing can even increase work capacity if the budget is available and it can also simplify the provision of substitutes. Last, but not least, such offers increase our appeal as an employer. It should be noted, however, that job sharing can only work if it is backed up by well-thought-out communication agreements, and tasks and employees are clearly assigned.