Australian Job Sharing Surged During Pandemic Lockdowns
Job sharing has become increasingly popular in Australia throughout the pandemic, particularly during lockdowns, as employers explore more innovative work arrangements to deal with the unprecedented situation.
- Job postings on Indeed’s Australia site offering job sharing arrangements have increased considerably in recent years, particularly during pandemic lockdowns.
- Job sharing skews toward white-collar occupations, with project management and a range of engineering roles most prominent.
- Jobseekers search for job sharing opportunities infrequently, preferring broader search terms such as part-time or casual.
Job sharing is on the rise in Australia, with an increasing fraction of job postings on Indeed offering sharing arrangements.
The growing popularity of job sharing reflects how workplace flexibility has evolved over the years — from part-time and casual hours to embracing work-from-home and job sharing arrangements. Job sharing may be less well understood than other forms of flexible work. Under job sharing, a single job is done by more than one person. It’s useful when employees want to work part-time but available jobs need to be performed full-time.
Job sharing typically takes one of two forms. In some circumstances, two employees share the same workload — they work on the same tasks, but on different days of the week. In other circumstances, two employees share the same job, but take responsibility for separate duties.
For many large employers, job sharing has become an integral part of flexible work policies. In 2020-21, 79% of large employers had a formal flexible work policy or strategy, up from under 73% two years earlier, according to the Australian Workplace Gender Equality Agency. Meanwhile, around 64% of such employers offered job sharing arrangements, indicating the practice is now pretty common in the Australian workplace.
Yet, a striking disconnect is evident in the responses of employers and workers. While Indeed data show that job ads offering sharing arrangements have become more common in Australia in recent years, particularly during lockdowns, jobseeker searches for sharing opportunities remain relatively low.
Lockdowns fueled job sharing trend
Job postings on Indeed’s Australia site using sharing keywords such as ‘job share’ or ‘work share’ increased sharply during periods of extended lockdown, first from April to June 2020 and then later from July to October 2021. During the first lockdown, job share opportunities peaked at 0.8% of Australian job postings. During the second lockdown, which was centered in New South Wales and Victoria, they jumped to 1.1% of postings.
Excluding lockdowns, the share of postings using job sharing keywords rose from 0.4% on average in 2018 to 0.7% in 2021.
Following the 2021 lockdown, job share postings remained elevated, in contrast with the 2020 lockdown. In January and February 2022, such keywords featured in 1.0% of Australian job postings on Indeed, only slightly below the earlier peak. This suggests that job sharing is not just a response to lockdown but also the spread of COVID-19 itself. High case numbers could keep job sharing rates elevated in the near-term.
A key question is why does job sharing become more prominent during times of heightened economic stress, such as lockdowns. One reason is that it allows employers to protect workers from unemployment by letting staff absorb the economic hit through reduced hours rather than complete job losses. Job sharing may also protect employers by providing backup in an environment where workers can unexpectedly be forced into quarantine.
Project management and engineering lead the take-up of job sharing
Job sharing also appears to skew toward white-collar occupations that require formal higher education rather than blue-collar fields. Women’s employment may also be a major contributor given women work part-time more often than men.
In 2021, around 3.1% of project management postings contained job sharing keywords in job descriptions, almost four-times the national average. The share peaked at 5.5% of postings during last year’s economic restrictions.
Civil engineering followed at 2.9% of postings, while electrical engineering was at 2.6%. Other occupations with high fractions of job share postings included mechanical engineering at 1.7%, and some healthcare professions, such as nursing at 2.4% and medical technician at 1.8%.
Jobs that involve collaboration or teamwork lend themselves more readily to job sharing. For example, project management roles can easily be split in ways that distribute core project responsibilities to different people. And many engineering projects utilise large teams, facilitating sharing.
Despite this uneven distribution, around three-quarters of occupational categories experienced a lockdown-related spike in job share postings from July to October last year.
Project management led not only in the percentage of job ads containing job sharing keywords, but also in the rate of growth of such postings. In 2021, the share of project management postings with job sharing keywords rose 2.2 percentage points from 2019. It was followed by logistic support, up 1.6 percentage points, banking & finance at 1.3 percentage points and security & public safety at 1.2 percentage points.
Job sharing became less prominent in only a handful of occupations, most notably therapy roles, down 1.2 percentage points, and medical information, down 0.6 percentage points.
Jobseekers aren’t searching for job sharing opportunities
Interestingly, ‘job share’ and similar phrases are not popular search terms and are used only infrequently. That makes sense given that job sharing represents a small subset of part-time or casual work — consistently two of the most popular jobseeker search terms. Workers who might be open to a job sharing arrangement would probably also consider other part-time or casual roles, or they might also be searching more generally for flexible work.
Job sharing is an integral and growing part of the broader trend toward greater workplace flexibility. Job postings containing job share keywords have steadily increased in recent years across most occupational categories, spiking sharply during lockdowns.
The shift toward greater flexibility and the rising utilisation of practices such as job sharing support greater participation in the Australian workforce, particularly among women, people with disabilities and older Australians. The sharp rise in labour force participation over the past decade among these groups may be in part a result of the increase in workplace flexibility.
The growth of job sharing during lockdowns shows how some Australian employers have responded to an unprecedented challenge. Job sharing has allowed them to keep staff on at reduced hours. In addition, it may have reduced the risk of losing staff temporarily to quarantine.
We define job share postings as those that feature phrases such as ‘job sharing’ or ‘work sharing’ in job descriptions. What employers list in their job descriptions isn’t always exhaustive, so some postings which allow job sharing are not captured.
Callam Pickering is an Economist at the Indeed Hiring Lab with a focus on Australia. Previously he was an economist at the Reserve Bank of Australia focusing on household spending and house prices. He also worked as the economic editor at online publications the Business Spectator and Eureka Report where he covered economic issues relating to Australia. Callam earned a Bachelor of economics and Accounting from Monash University.