How can we get more employers to consider job shares – a vital tool for career progression in a part-time role?
Earlier this month a group of MPs and others wrote to the Government calling for a change in the way National Insurance works when it comes to job shares.
They said the extra costs involved in employing two people to do one job was putting some employers off using job shares despite how an increase in job shares could improve the presence of part-time workers – many of them women – in senior roles, enabling flexible career progression.
The Government should know more than most about job shares given Civil Service Resourcing won the workingmums.co.uk Top Employer Award for Flexible Working in 2018 for its pioneering work on job shares through the Civil Service Job Share Finder service.
Brian Stanislas, who was tasked with setting up the online job-share database to help civil servants across the service find compatible job share matches, says: “From concerns about the ageing population to returners to career changers to the gender pay gap and dads, there is more and more interest in flexible working and job shares provide a solution to the problem of going to the top without being full time.”
Over the years workingmums.co.uk‘s has interviewed people in senior positions who job share and have progressed as a job share. I have done two job shares myself over the course of my career and WM People has a very successful job share team in marketing. There is ample evidence about the benefits of having two minds and skills in one role and about what helps to make them work.
Yet the figures on uptake seem slow to budge. Over the years, there have been job share campaigns to educate employers about job shares. They include Capability Jane’s Job Share Project, former civil servant Sara Allen’s organisation Further&More and more recently the Association of British Insurers new campaign. The business case is a strong one. As Sara Hill from Capability Jane told us back in 2013: “You get continuity, two different skills sets and research shows there is a minimum of 30% uplift in productivity with a job share because you get the equivalent of two Mondays of high energy every week.”
You also retain valuable talent. High-flying workers who simply want to work part time will go elsewhere if they find themselves blocked from progressing, particularly if, as has been much vaunted, flexible working opportunities increase after Covid. While much of the focus has been on hybrid or remote working, with part-time roles falling over the course of the pandemic, research shows many people have reassessed their priorities over the last year and a half, having spent more time with their families. The demand is there, as evidenced by the enthusiasm for the four-day week campaign. Employers just need to capitalise.
So is it just extra costs that is putting them off? In my experience, there is also a resistance to a perceived lack of continuity, fears about what happens if one part of the job share leaves and concerns about communication, sometimes based on a past bad experience or someone else’s past bad experience. Yet putting all your eggs in one basket can be a risky strategy if something goes wrong and that lynchpin person is, for instance, off sick.
Nevertheless, job share veterans absolutely understand the continuity and communications challenges associated with job shares, which are greater or lesser depending on the role in question. That is why they have developed best practice through speaking to job share partners and to their managers over the years. Much of the success of job share partnerships is due to the part that happens before the job share starts – the matching of partners, the chats about how the job share will work, particularly when it comes to handovers, and the communication of this to colleagues.
One of the job shares I did in the past was a press office job with someone who had different skills to me: I had knowledge of the sector and of journalists covering the sector; she had knowledge of the tv production process. We were plugging a temporary gap and put in for the permanent job. However, the manager was worried about continuity on a longer term basis. He offered me the job full time. I had a portfolio career and didn’t want to work full time in an office at the time. I turned it down. My job share partner left and I moved on to another role.
Could it have worked as a permanent job share role? I believe it could have if we had known then more about what helps to make job shares work. Instead, neither of us stayed covering that brief and I didn’t progress. Indeed, the manager used to regularly say “are you still here?” when he saw me. I don’t think he meant it maliciously. I think he was surprised that I would stay without progressing. He was completely unaware how hard it can be to find a senior part-time role. Unless attitudes change that is a bit of a waste.