Businesses are being urged to rethink full-time work and allow for more flexibility and job sharing as Australia faces the dual problems of under- and over-employment.
A study by the University of New South Wales found traditional job-sharing arrangements – when two similarly-skilled workers split a full-time job in half – should be redesigned to suit the changing nature of work.
“Traditional work is under pressure from a variety of directions,” UNSW law Professor Rosalind Dixon told The New Daily.
“Australia’s done well to respond and we’re still in a strong position economically in general, but the threats in the long run, from automation in particular, mean work is going to change in the long term.”
The report said job sharing in the future should allow:
- Senior staff to share with junior colleagues
- Job-sharing employees to work unequal hours
- ‘Senior’ job share partners to take responsibility for decision making.
Workers would be paid on a pro-rata basis under the model.
These three options give employers and employees a range of options to help both over-worked and underemployed staff find better working arrangements.
“We’re living in a world where some people are working too hard, and some people can’t get enough work,” Professor Dixon said.
“If we can redesign work to be better tailored to sharing all roles then some people will have better work-life balance and other people will have more meaningful work opportunities.”
Implementing these three strategies could also help to close the gender gap within many organisations’ senior ranks.
While job sharing clearly benefits both men and women, women’s currently disproportionate engagement in child care and other family responsibilities can mean that this is especially beneficial for female labour force participation,’’ the report said.
“Like other forms of flexible work, job sharing can therefore increase female participation in the workforce and the retention of women in highly skilled roles.”
Over-employed workers struggle to share
Australian Industry Group (AiGroup) chief economist Julie Toth doubted the effectiveness of job sharing in fighting over-employment.
Ms Toth told The New Daily over-employed workers are mostly highly-skilled specialists who would struggle to share their role, such as engineers who exclusively design bridges.
The problem isn’t related to job design, but rather a mismatch of skills within the Australian workforce.
“If you look at the industries and the occupations that have very high underemployment rates, they’re typically at the low-skilled, low-wage end of the spectrum,” said Ms Toth.
“Whereas the over-employment – or if you like people that work long hours and are doing overtime where it would be nice to say we could share the jobs around – they’re typically at the high-skilled, specialised end.”
That’s a problem that would require collaboration between government and industry to help young Australians move into in-demand jobs.
Conversely, underemployed workers entering into a job-sharing arrangement would likely still be underemployed.
Underemployment weighing on wages
Underemployment – when someone is available to work more hours and wants to do so – has been growing rapidly in recent years.
That’s bad news for wages growth because it creates an excess supply of labour, meaning there are more people looking for work than suitable jobs.
The increased competition means employers can keep wages low.
But although it’s far from ideal, working too few hours is better than not working at all.
“Back several generations ago, workplaces were more rigid and whether you were working or not was more black and white – you’re working or you’re not,” Ms Toth said.
“That’s why we saw high rates of full-time employment, but also at times high rates of unemployment.
“What we’ve seen since the industrial relations changes in the 1980s and the 1990s is that work hours are able to be adjusted more easily than in the past, and that’s meant that rather than people becoming unemployed, they become underemployed during times of stress.”
That’s part of the reason underemployment spiked in 2008, during the global financial crisis.
Instead of mass layoffs, workers kept their jobs but wanted more hours.