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  • Writer's pictureHannah & Rachel

Debunking job sharing myths...

The prevalence of job sharing is still very low within the UK, which is surprising given the benefits that this type of working arrangement can bring to individuals and organisations alike. We believe that the reasons for this are largely the preconceptions that some may have. So, here are 8 debunked myths using some real case studies, research and statistics, and our own experiences…

1. Job sharing is only a working arrangement for returning mums into the workplace.

Being straight, the majority of job sharers are working mums, and for us job sharing was the difference between returning to or leaving the workplace after our respective first maternity leaves. It is a fantastic way to support new mothers back into the workplace, giving them the new flexibility they may require, and retaining the roles that they had worked so hard to achieve prior to having family commitments. We believe that more job sharing can ensure there is no lost talent pool, and vitally, improve the gender pay gap (watch this space for a blog post on this in the forthcoming months). However, job sharing should not be a way of working that is exclusive to mums. It is for dads too, as well as those without children or caring responsibilities. Job sharing is a great enabler of work life balance, whatever ‘life’ entails...

Our research has found that job sharers want to work in this way for a variety of different reasons. It can help individuals achieve their ambitions of starting their own business, give flexibility around caring for elderly or sick relatives, give back to the community through volunteering, allow flexibility for other commitments e.g., sporting, and is a fantastic arrangement to ease into retirement, transferring vital skills along the way.

Here are some great case studies to debunk this myth:

  • Hannah Matthews’ (of the Irish International Hockey team) job shares her role as a primary school teacher to fit around sporting and training commitments.

  • Sam White and Will McDonald, surely the highest profile and senior male job sharers, who share the role of Group Public Policy and Sustainability Director at Aviva.

  • Ian Shepherd, who shares the role of Deputy Director at the Department for International Trade, with Liz Davidson, “because I want to, I think it makes me happier and better at my job.” In his spare time Ian volunteers and studies.

2. Job sharing only really works in administrative roles.

Job sharing can work well in administrative roles. But that’s not where it ends. We ourselves are examples of how job sharing works, and research has shown that it works particularly well in relationship led roles, such as Marketing or HR. Research has also shown that over the past ten years job sharing has also made its way up the pay scale of many businesses across a broad array of industry sectors, and there are far more examples of senior job sharers, so many that the phenomenon has coined its own popular moniker, “top sharers”. In fact, many organisations are seeing the benefits of two minds, two sets of experience, complementary skills and two networks, and we have seen a growth in joint leadership models over the past five years.

We are pleased to be able to point to an increasing number of roles that are undertaken by job sharers right across the UK, including Engineers at Ford, Head Teachers, Asset Managers, Editors, the Leader of the Green Party and even the Twirlywoos (if you do not have toddler-aged children, you will probably need to google that one).

Whilst job sharing can certainly work in administrative roles, we have also seen them make a success in highly operational and technical roles, as well as strategic and client-facing ones. We have seen examples of job sharers leading huge teams (500 staff plus in some instances) as well as managing very high budgets and fee targets. We truly believe that job sharing can work in most roles if there is leadership, management backing and a working culture that allows it.

Here are some of our favourite case studies to debunk this myth:

  • Mark Brown and Reuben Thorne, who job share the role of Coach of Canterbury Rugby Football Union in New Zealand.

  • Hilary Cross and Lynda Thomas, CEOs of cancer support charity, Macmillan. Thomas has stated “the only reason I have this role is because I started a job share 15 years ago.”

  • Lisa Tye and Kathryn Jump, who share the role of National Head of the Planning Team at Shoosmiths LLP – leading a team of 16 they have a fee target of £4 million per annum.

3. Job sharing is a short-term working arrangement.

As with any role, job sharing can be fluid and subject to change. Some job sharers see it as a time in their career where they need additional flexibility, or as an opportunity to increase their skillset and learn from their partner to then move back into full-time employment. Other job sharers are career job sharers, and could not go back to working full-time, given the incredible number of personal benefits this way of working can bring. The biggest piece of research into job sharing in the UK, The Job Share Project, reported that the average length of a job share partnership was 2 years.

However, we have seen some great examples of job sharers who have retained their partnership and been through promotion over several years, including:

  • Perhaps one of the most high-profile job share partners, Maggy Pigott and Judith Killick, who job shared together for 23 years, ending their career as joint Chief Executive of the Judicial Studies Board. They have both been awarded the CBE.

  • Tina Walker and Deanna Caszo, Higher Executive Officers at the HMRC, who have job shared for over a decade, beginning within the role of PA.

  • Nikki Walters and Julie Matthew, Directors at Wood Group UK Limited, who have job shared for 20 years – they have been promoted three times as a duo and have encouraged members within their team to job share too.

4. Job sharing is the same as part-time working.

This is technically incorrect. Whilst job sharers are part time workers individually, the role that they occupy and have both ownership and accountability for is normally a full-time one.

The performance metrics job sharers are given are those of a full-time role, whereby the ownership and responsibility lands on the duo. Part-time roles are limited to those that can exist with reduced hours. The unique quality of job sharing is that it allows those seeking reduced hours to carry out a full-time role, maintaining stretch, challenge, and seniority.

5. You need to already know your job share partner prior to beginning the working arrangement for it to be successful.

We can, from first-hand experience, quash this myth. Whilst Rachel began her second maternity leave, Hannah worked with another incredible HR professional whom she had not met prior to the interview process. The partnership proved very successful as the duo proved to be extremely high performing, meeting all targets from the outset. They found immediate chemistry through their combined careers, similar values, and were bouncing ideas off each other from day one.

The Job Share Project reported that 54% respondents knew their partner beforehand; 46% did not, proving that this is not essential. You do not need to know your job share partner prior to working with them, and in fact, you do not need to be friends with them as you work with them. What matters is that there is professional chemistry, a shared work ethos and values, and the same approach to ownership, to ensure that you are productive and have positive working outputs.

A fantastic case study that we have showcased is that of Sally Holden and Lucy McGill, Head of Media at the learning disability charity, Mencap. Incredibly, at the time of writing, they have briefly met just once in person, becoming job sharers mid-pandemic.

6. Double the heads means double the management time.

You will often hear job sharers talk about a higher level of accountability, felt through the desire to perform well not just for their team, clients, and organisation, but also for each other. No job sharer wants to hand over unmet deadlines or unfinished work, and as such the arrangement almost manages itself.

Obviously, individuals need to be managed, but with clever organisation and time management this will not mean double the management time. Best practice suggests that the job share duo should have an operational one to one with their line manager together, and then shorter meetings individually to discuss individual performance and development.

7. Your stakeholders will need to say the same thing twice.

With key working principles in place at the outset of a job share partnership, a commitment to a seamless delivery and effective communication will ensure that this does not happen.

It is all about communication. Handovers are critical and should focus on the absolute critical “need to knows” as you walk through the door on your first working day: the facts, the background, the decisions made, and approaches taken. But you also need to handover the emotion; you need your job share partner to understand the lay of the land and walk into their first working day of the week feeling as if they have been with you for your part of the week. With key messages and information shared there should be no need for a stakeholder to need to repeat themselves. Instead, you should be able to seamlessly pick up that piece of work and progress. However, if a job-sharing arrangement is new to a stakeholder, you, or your organisation, the onus may fall on you to show others realise that the arrangement will not duplicate the workload for them. If a stakeholder starts to tell you the same story stop them and explain you already know, focussing on the next steps. This will not only help your credibility but will show your job share partner you have their back. In fact, you want to get to a point where you walk in on your day one and there is no question of whether you understand the state of play...and your stakeholders confuse which of you is which!

8. The crossover day is an additional expense to the organisation.

There is a small element of truth to this. In those job shares where both partners work three days each, there is an addional day’s overhead in terms of employee costs, plus in certain cases additional overheads related to company equipment and development costs.

However, we regularly see that crossover time is critical to the success of any job share, and the time that the partners can have together brings about outputs and benefits that far outweigh the financial costs associated to it. Time together means time to brainstorm, review options and problem solve, and this is where organisations will truly see the benefits of two minds and skillsets. The additional cost to the business is outweighed by the huge benefits of insight from two minds, two trains of thought, two perspectives and two people who are dedicated to making things happen.

Job sharing, for us, allowed us to return to a senior role of influence. It allowed us to balance the needs of home, with our own ambition, drive and need to retain our professional identity and our love of work. We passionately believe that job sharing offers a solution to so many in varying circumstances and to businesses, two heads really are better than one.

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