Ford plays matchmaker in the interest of retaining talent

Carmaker seeks to break traditional boundaries of job-sharing to maximise talent and flexibility

Unlikely as it sounds, the Ford motor company has joined the dating game. However, its foray into matchmaking is not about helping employees find love. It’s about helping them find the perfect job-share partner.

In most organisations, there is no formal pathway to arranging a job-share. It’s down to individuals to identify a like-minded colleague and pitch the idea to their boss. Finding a suitable partner often depends on how good someone’s network is within their organisation and, even though they both want the share, this won’t necessarily make them ideal job-mates. Their personalities and way of working also need to be compatible to avoid conflict later on.

Finding a partner, especially in a big organisation such as Ford, which has 182,000 employees worldwide, is a bit like finding a needle in a haystack. This prompted Ford to put things on a more formal footing with JobShare Connect. It allows any employee interested in a job-share to create a profile, search for suitable matches and contact potential partners.

The web-based tool was launched in the US earlier this year and rolled out in Europe at the beginning of September as part of Ford’s flexible working policy, which aims to help the company attract and retain talent. In the first two weeks, 70 Ford Europe employees uploaded their profiles to the platform.

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Once two employees are matched, they agree a schedule and how to divide the workload. Job-sharing Ford-style does not necessarily follow the traditional pattern of three days on, two days off. In fact, both people may be in the office together or working the same hours from home or they may choose to work mornings or afternoons or to mix and match their hours to suit other responsibilities.

In Ford HR manager Dirk Lungen’s view, a job-share adds up to more than the power of one. It’s the power and commitment of two in one, he says, as the job benefits from the expertise, knowledge and perspectives of both people

Managers ensure that the demands of the role are met before approving the job share and the option to share is open to all salaried employees.

One of the reasons some managers are against job shares is that they feel they are only getting “half a person”. Dirk Lunken, HR manager for talent and culture at Ford Europe, couldn’t disagree more. In his view, a job-share adds up to more than the power of one. It’s the power and commitment of two in one, he says, as the job benefits from the expertise, knowledge and perspectives of both people.

Positive change

At its simplest, the Ford system will help match employees who want to work reduced hours. However, Lunken also believes it will change how jobs are filled in a very positive way for his organisation.

“With JobShare Connect we can bring very different cohorts of employees together with huge knock-on benefits for the transfer of learning within the company,” he says, adding that there is no good reason why a young person starting their career shouldn’t job-share with a colleague coming close to retirement as a means of gaining experience they would find difficult to get any other way.

Secondly, Lunken says it’s time to stop perpetuating the prejudice that job-sharing is only for women. Thirdly, he says there no reason why people from different functions/backgrounds shouldn’t apply for a job-share together if their skills fit the position. Finally, he believes there is no compelling reason why roles that have traditionally been seen as one-person jobs should not be shared by two equally competent individuals – something that would be particularly beneficial for employee wellbeing where a role is inherently stressful.

Sian Hodgson-Wood works for Ford’s finance arm, Ford Credit. She has been job-sharing for seven years with her colleague Gillian Humphries and was instrumental in adapting the JobShare programme for Europe. The pair recently received a joint promotion to the role of digital experience portfolio manager.

‘Job-sharing is almost more intensive than being married to someone. You have to share everything. I spend more hours a day with Gillian than I do with my partner’

“Your job-share partner will become your confidante, critic, supporter and adviser, so it’s really important that you get on,” she says. “Before JobShare Connect, the process here was very much dependent on who you knew in Ford and, in a company of our size, that’s not a great way to find a successful job-share because you don’t have visibility on all the options. JobShare Connect lets people see who is looking to share and gives them the ability to take control of finding someone they can work with, possibly beyond their own job function and location, as in someone they have never met, let alone worked with.

“Job-sharing is almost more intensive than being married to someone. You have to share everything. I spend more hours a day with Gillian than I do with my partner,” Hodgson-Wood adds. “In the early days, we met every three months to review our relationship and we had to get quite down and dirty with our discussions to understand each other and be aware of how our actions were coming across to the other person. With a job-share, you have to be able to put somebody else’s views and priorities alongside your own and compromise to find a good balance.

“The big advantage of a job-share is having someone who’s always got your back, even when you go on holiday. Hardly any job is like that, even if you are full-time. In most cases, two minds really are better than one and we look after each other’s careers because we can’t succeed alone.”