Life at Work
Two for the Job
Sunday, December 18, 2005
Martha Mensch works three days a week as the director of strategic development in the finance department at Booz Allen Hamilton Inc.
And so does Andrea Pesta.
After years of struggling with trying to be mother and executive, hoping to hang on to a career in finance while also trying to hang on to sanity, Mensch and Pesta heard a suggestion from their boss that it was time for them to put their heads and lives together and share one job at the firm. At that time, it was an idea that had never been tried before at Booz, particularly at such a high level of the company.
When their boss suggested the arrangement to Mensch more than a decade ago, he asked her to think about it, think about what it might be like to partner with Pesta (they barely knew each other) and then get back to him. As she was walking out of his office, she asked if it was too early to give him her decision.
Pesta and Mensch were on the first edges of job sharing. They are also among the few who have succeeded at a job share at such a high level in an organization. But it has worked. The two have shared four jobs now and have even been promoted together. The concept of job sharing is still not incredibly popular with most companies. But as workers attempt to come up with alternatives to an 80-hour workweek, and as baby boomer retirements threaten companies with a major loss of workers, the cliche "work-life balance" is getting a second look. Postings asking for a job-share partner are becoming more common on company bulletin boards, among listings on job Web sites and, naturally, at working women's organizations.
"If you're able to keep on the professional track, and you're coming in three days a week, you're able to really make a contribution but you're not consumed by the job," said Pat Katepoo, director of WorkOptions.com, a group that helps employees come up with alternative work schedules and situations.
But the idea of two brains for one job is still a foreign concept to many employers and employees.
According to the Society for Human Resource Management's 2005 benefits survey, just 19 percent of companies allow some sort of job-sharing program. That compares with 33 percent of companies that offer a compressed workweek, 56 percent that provide flex time and 37 percent that allow telecommuting.
When the job-share proposal first came up, Mensch, now 46, and Pesta, 43, who work for the consulting company in Parsippany, N.J., had both hit a strange point in their careers. They were working many more hours than they were comfortable with, but they were professionally successful and wanted to remain that way.
Mensch had been hired barely a year before the new arrangement as a part-time manager of consolidations. She really wanted the job, but only on the condition that she have a couple of days per week at home with her two small children.
Although she had two workdays "off," she still worked almost as many hours as a full-timer. "I knew the position had always been a full-time job that was probably 50 hours or so," Mensch said. "So to hear I was given that opportunity on a part-time basis, I should have thought twice."
On her days off, she was always available. During her busy season, she went back to full time for three months.