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The benefits of senior job shares

Job-share roles are becoming increasingly popular, even at senior levels

Part-time and flexible working have long been popular employment choices for many British workers. Such ways of working help employees fit caring responsibilities, volunteering or other interests and jobs into their lives.

But several pieces of recent research have shown this kind of arrangement doesn’t always work. Working Families and Bright Horizons’ The Modern Families Index 2018: How employers can support the UK’s working families found that 81% of parents who work flexibly still have to bring work home in the evenings or at weekends.

Meanwhile Deloitte and Timewise’s Manifesto for Change: A modern workplace for a flexible workforce report recently found that 30% of respondents felt that they were regarded as having less importance because of their flexible working patterns; while 25% felt they were given fewer opportunities and missed out on potential progression.

In need of fixing, according to both reports, is the culture backing flexible and part-time arrangements – with much more supportive approaches needed. But also coming to the fore as a potentially more effective option in some cases is the job share. It’s a form of working that not only allows people to redress their work/life balance, but also progress their careers at the same time – the element apparently missing from other non-traditional working arrangements currently.

Increasingly attractive

In the UK workforce 8.5 million people (6.3 million women and 2.2 million men) were in part-time employment between December 2017 and February this year, with job sharers included in that figure (Office for National Statistics, April 2018).

While there are currently no separate statistics on the incidence of job shares in the UK, various surveys suggest the nation’s higher earners are increasingly seeking less traditional arrangements. One such study, published by Timewise, shows the number of people working part time in higher income jobs (£40,000-plus) in the UK has risen more than 10% in the last 12 months to 849,000.

The figures were released earlier this year as part of the Timewise 2018 Power 50 awards, which celebrate the UK’s most senior part-time and flexible workers. This year’s job-share award recognised nine senior-level job shares, up from two in 2017.

So it would seem that job sharing could be an increasingly attractive option for senior leaders who want to balance progressing their careers with other personal life priorities. This includes in HR, with notable examples including the Bank of England’s HR executive directors Jonathan Curtiss and Lea Paterson, and Dyson’s joint HR directors Alix Ainsley and Charlotte Cherry.

“We don’t all have to fit into the traditional Monday to Friday nine to five in the office,” says Timewise joint-CEO Karen Mattison. “Flexibility is the answer and job sharing is a really clever way of making it work when coverage across the week is needed. There is a real growth in the interest in job shares and a rise in the openness to do it.

“What I’ve noticed is some businesses are using these roles to progress people,” she adds regarding increased openness to senior job sharing specifically.

“The benefit of job sharing in a senior role is that someone else is there; it’s as simple as that,” says Mubeen Bhutta, who until recently was joint head of policy and campaigns at Working Families. “Things are happening when you’re not there, which means things are still progressing.”

She adds the considerable benefit of having someone to bounce ideas off: “Sometimes at a senior level you have some really challenging issues to deal with and may not be sure on how to approach them.”

There is, however, limited evidence on just what areas of business and in which industries senior job sharing is particularly popular. Known advocates include Deloitte, KPMG, BT, DHL, RBS, Kellogg’s and British Gas, with director and manager roles across finance, HR, sales, planning and customer services.

Mattison says the winners of the 2018 Power 50 job share category paint a picture of a pretty balanced landscape. Winners included both men and women (22%/78%) and came from the Department for Transport, BBC Breakfast, Ford, HSBC, IBM, Surrey Square Primary School, Tesco, M&S and Aviva, with job share roles including director general, group divisional director, head of HR, head teacher, area manager, deputy editor, and senior managing consultants.

Making it work

But with senior-level job sharing still fairly rare, there’s not a huge amount of advice out there for employers in terms of management and implementation, with the majority aimed at helping prospective job sharers design and manage successful partnerships.

However, recognising the growth of flexible working and job sharing some recruitment agencies, such as Capability Jane, offer training for employers through research such as its 2011 ‘Job Share Project’, workshops, webinars and manuals. Advice is also accessible through organisations such as the CIPD, HR consultancy face2faceHR and work/life balance organisation Working Families.

Bhutta advises that HR professionals must take the time to understand when job sharing senior leaders should be treated as individuals, and when they should be approached as two halves of one role. This is particularly important for senior individuals, she says, where ego and differences of opinion can be more pronounced.

“They need to be treated as individuals by the organisation when it comes to payroll for example, but then be offered a joint appraisal. The manager needs to be confident enough to supervise and appraise two people on one job,” she explains. “For example, being able to think about how you’d be able to mediate differences of opinion either between the job-share partners or even between one of the partners and the manager.”

The other side of the senior job-share coin is to carefully consider how job sharers will manage others in their teams, says Bhutta.

“You need to think about line management and how to split direct reports, because you don’twant people having two line managers,” she says. “They need to think about who’s responsible for which bits of the role and how to communicate to their team about their responsibilities, and how they deal with one-to-ones, for example.”

Organisations must be careful to celebrate successes and address underperformance jointly, says group director of public policy and sustainability for Aviva Sam White, who shares this role with Will McDonald.

The pair were among those receiving the Timewise 2018 Power 50 accolade. They chose to job share to allow them to share the parenting of their respective children – McDonald has three under six-years-old, while White has two under two – and at the same time progress their and their wives’ careers. The role came together after McDonald stepped up into it while White took six months’ Shared Parental Leave. Ahead of his return they devised a job-share business plan to present to their employer.

“It wouldn’t be a healthy thing if credit was given to one of us for something just because they happened to be in on that day. We always take joint credit and likewise joint responsibility for any difficulties,” says White.

He adds that, while many job-share partnerships are created in a similar way to theirs (from two colleagues that have already worked closely together), other options are out there. “We’ve seen things like Tinder for job shares so that employers and individuals can find others to match people with. But in our case we’d worked together a lot so there was a great deal of trust and understanding of each other’s working styles, which made it much easier,” says White.

Taking ownership

Both White and McDonald are firm that making a senior job share work is as much about taking responsibility for this themselves as it is being managed well by their business. “The shared vision for us means that we should appear seamless from the outside; that is one of our key principles,” explains White. “The company should expect to see at least as good a level of service as it was getting from one person and shouldn’t have to worry about things dropping through the gaps. The responsibility is ours.”

Both White and McDonald acknowledge a certain degree of initial scepticism among Aviva’s board, but say that after completing a six-month trial of the arrangement any uncertainty had been turned on its head. One of the key factors of making a job share work is undoubtedly the relationship between sharers, something McDonald refers to as their “work marriage”.

He adds: “I would say to anyone contemplating doing a job share that it is well worth the initial investment in the relationship; spending time together to understand each other and most importantly map out your shared vision together so you are both operating from the same set of shared assumptions –and your employer should want to see this from you too. It shows that they understand what you are trying to do.”

The pair highlight the need for them to treat their role as one job, not two part-time jobs, where they are both mutually responsible for everything.

“We didn’t want any of our processes and decisions to be slow or bureaucratic with second guessing and two permissions, so whoever is in charge takes charge,” says White. (Job sharers might even look to the example of joint senior strategic planning and content managers at Acas Clare Carter and Annie Russell, who have a joint Twitter account.)

McDonald says the job share is a win-win for the business, with both working a three-day week including one crossover day. He adds that more employers should open up to it for both men and women – not least to help redress gender pay gap issues.

Bhutta agrees that job sharing in general is hugely underutilised and that employers should consider it an option before advertising vacancies. “Think about your average person doing a nine to five job,” she says. “They’re pretty tired by Friday. But if you have someone who is only on day two or three you have five days’ worth of energy, high performance and creativity being put into those two or three days. It’s a no-brainer.”

Further reading

Senior job sharing: HR case study

Top tips for taking on or managing a job share