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Job sharing at the executive level

With flexible working front of mind for HR, job sharing at leadership level is on the rise

What was once thought of as solely a solution for working parents is now being adopted widely, with employers recognising that job sharing can drive productivity and enhance a business.

Behind this trend is the significant value these partnerships can add to forward-thinking employers, by ensuring that the most talented individuals are not cast aside in favour of those capable of fulfilling a full-time on-site position. The model can also allow for much-needed diversity of thought in leadership teams. For instance, business strategy and branding expert Claire Hyde and Louise Wadman, a specialist in employee engagement, play to their own strengths and combine effectively as head of communication and creative services at Lloyds Banking Group.

As more firms look to explore job shares and capitalise on the benefits they provide, there are a number of key factors needed to make them work for both employers and employees.

When two become one

Successful job shares harness technology – with platforms such as Skype, Slack and Google Hangouts enabling 24/7, direct, real-time communication between individuals working together. However, the adoption of tech and digital must also be underpinned by a seamless approach that works for the company and broader staff base. It is critical that the tech ensures employees and stakeholders can access, communicate and work with the job sharers simply and seamlessly.

A case in point is Claire Walker and Hannah Essex, co-executive directors of policy and campaigns at the British Chambers of Commerce. The duo uses a shared Microsoft OneNote, inbox and phone number to encourage their colleagues to think of them as one person – also avoiding an admin overload.

Another great example is Hannah Pearce and Angela Kitching, behind the role of head of external relations at Age UK. With a 'two together' mindset, including double-sided business cards and a joint email signature, they make sure all their communications and working practices present a united front.

Finding the right model

Every job share is different, so it’s important that leaders work towards the most suitable model for them. As an example, and to ensure their own structure works in the short and long term, Hyde and Wadman invest in quarterly off-site ‘thinking days’ to assess the strategy and effectiveness of their role against key business objectives – including input from their team – before adapting accordingly. If job sharing remains flexible and responsive to change the partnership can benefit both the individuals and the employer.

For Pearce and Kitching the job-share model began as a means of navigating childcare. However, it swiftly became a value-adding partnership yielding strong results, with the pair helping to secure Age UK’s position as one of the top-10 most effective influencing charities at Westminster, rated by MPs.

A one-size-fits-all approach won't work though. Employers and leaders need to maintain an open mind to find what works. Being ready to adapt to changing needs and go above and beyond is essential to make sure the arrangement is, and continues to be, a positive one.

Honesty is the best policy

Honesty is vital in effective job-sharing roles. At the outset of the relationship partners need to be upfront about their career aspirations, future plans, strengths and weaknesses, and challenges and opportunities to understand each other and divide responsibilities accordingly. This honesty should then continue throughout the job-share lifecycle. In the case of Essex and Walker the provision of regular and truthful feedback is key to making their partnership work. Importantly it was also agreed that any constructive criticism would never be taken personally, avoiding any friction between the two of them.

For forward-thinking businesses looking to attract and retain the best talent, job sharing can unlock significant benefits. When looking to embrace it, those that adopt a unified approach, tailored model and honesty from the outset will move beyond traditional full-time structures without sacrificing quality; done in the right way it will enhance it.

Christina Hargreaves is a leadership specialist in the not-for-profit practice at Berwick Partners