Career progress in a job share

Mandy Griffin is a bit of a pioneer. Not only did she do a job share at a time when it was still relatively rare, but she sustained it through the birth of two of her children and 11 years while continuing to climb the career ladder.

On graduating in the 1980s Mandy went into teaching, but felt she was becoming a bit institutionalised having gone from school to university to teacher training and back to school. Also she was speaking to students about careers in the outside world and realised she didn’t have much experience herself so she decided to take a temporary break and spend some time in the business world.

She joined Nationwide in a temporary job at the Poole branch in 1988 and has been there ever since, mainly because of the kind of support they have provided her with while she has brought up her family, something which has ensured the company was recently named one of the Times Top 50 Employers for Women.

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Fairly quickly Mandy got onto Nationwide’s graduate trainee scheme, but just after completing the scheme when she was on the point of applying for her first management position she went on maternity leave. At the time maternity rights were fairly limited and women did not have the right to return to their original job if they had not worked a full two years at their job.

She returned to work full time when her daughter was just three months old and says her return was made easier due to the support given by Nationwide. However, there was little opportunity at that time to reduce her hours unless she took a step back in her career. Nevertheless, she managed to hook up with another woman who was working in customer services who had come back from maternity leave six months after Mandy had.  She suggested a job share. “I hadn’t heard of job shares before, but I did some research and found one other job share at Nationwide,” says Mandy. She had a good relationship already with her colleague and trusted her – something she emphasises as being crucial for job share partnerships. She has indeed maintained contact with her partner, even though the job share stopped over 10 years ago.

“I knew how she worked and that we had complementary skills. I am very strong on people and developing teams, for instance,” says Mandy.

Business case

The partners had to then persuade their manager and put forward a well researched business case. “At that point it was really a selling job and the manager involved was very open to what we put forward. We made a compelling business case, saying that we offered more as a partnership than one individual even though we would be paid much the same as one person,” says Mandy.

They offered to cover each other’s holidays and also ended up covering each other’s maternity leaves, working full time during those months. Initially the role was for a trial period of six months.

Mandy and her partner, Amanda, thought through all the various aspects of the job, for instance, communicating to their team how they could be sure that they did not need to repeat information to each one as the job partners would make sure they did a full handover. “People who worked with us had real consistency and if someone approached one of us they could be sure that we would pass on the information to the other. We were rigorous in our weekly handover notes and spoke three or four times a week,” says Mandy.

Over the 11-year period the job share was split in different ways and the two women constantly reviewed how it was working. At the beginning, the two women split the week in half with a two hour face-to-face handover meeting on a Wednesday then there would be notes shared over the weekend. As they moved up the management ladder, managing larger and multiple branches of Nationwide, they worked alternate weeks. While this might present others with problems on the childcare front, Mandy had a lot of help from her mother and mother in law and her nursery was very flexible. Her job share had a childminder who was also quite flexible. Mandy says it worked very well from a work perspective, but was harder to manage with things like after-school activities, although her children [by then she had three] soon grasped the A week B week system. She worked this pattern for around seven years and her youngest child was around four by the time she finished.

Mandy says that in the early days with each rise up the career ladder each manager needed convincing of how the job share would work and that it would not entail extra work for them. After working with them for some time they were convinced, she says, that it worked well. “Several managers then took on other job shares,” she says. The same initial scepticism applied to their teams. They worked with nine different teams in 11 years and found different ways of addressing team members’ questions.  For instance, they would both go to out of hours meetings and ensured training was held on days when they overlapped so they presented a united force.

The right partner

Mandy says having the right job share partner is critical to success. She did a study of job shares as part of an MBA she began as the job share drew to a close. She says her research showed people who go into job shares for convenience and see it as all about getting more time at home, with work being secondary, are “much more likely to come a cropper”. “Where both people are committed to their career and to balancing career and home life and get on with the person they job share with they are more likely to succeed,” she says.

Mandy feels she has gained a lot from her 11 years of job sharing, even though she stopped job sharing in 2002 [she had been planning to move on as her youngest daughter was about to start school and she wanted to go back full time, plus her job share partner had the opportunity to work with her husband]. She says she was learning all the time on the job share, about what worked and what didn’t – for instance, jointly line managing members of the team did not work as it was more of a one to one relationship; she learnt from her job share partner’s strengths; she was able to bounce ideas off her; she feels her communication skills have been enhanced and she is better able to create collaborative alliances.

Mandy is now Head of Savings Operations and Customer Case Management, preparing Nationwide customers for major life changes, such as having children.  She says her own experience has made her more confident about hiring other managers on job shares, whether this is done through internal job sharing lists or advertised externally. “I can see who it would work for,” she says, “and because of the importance of the relationship I would always ensure that the job share person sat in on the interview for their partner. It is vital they feel happy they could work with the person.”

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